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Kansas City Jazz- The Sunset Club

February 13, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: The Sunset Club

The Sunset Club was one of the legendary Kansas City nightspots and was located at 12th and Highland very close to the famous intersection of 12th St. and Vine. It opened in the fall of 1933 as the East Side Musicians Sunset Club.  It was also known as the Sunset Crystal Palace although there was nothing regal about it.

It was a long narrow room featuring a saloon up front and a gambling room in the back.  Beer was served in tall tin cans by the quart.  The cost was 15 cents. The club was owned by Felix Payne and managed by the popular Piney Brown.

The house band consisted of two pieces.  Pete Johnson on piano and Murl Johnson on drums. Pete’s left hand was so strong they didn’t need a bass player. The bartender was Big Joe Turner.  When the feeling hit him he would join Pete and Murl and start shouting the blues.  Felix Payne had installed a PA system for Big Joe’s use.  It was connected to a loudspeaker mounted outside the club above the door.  When Joe started shouting the blues it could be heard for blocks.   Crowds would hear Joe’s voice and flock to the club.  Joe referred to it as “calling my children home.”

Pete and Joe might start a blues which would sometimes go on for 75 choruses. Pete always had a full jigger of gin near the keyboard that he would sip on throughout the night.

Pete is immortalized in the song “Roll Em Pete.”

Piney Brown was a ladies man and gambler and a friend to all the musicians.  He took care of all the musicians by helping them however he could.  If they needed money for rent they could go to Piney. When musicians came to play they didn’t have to pay for anything.  Piney’s generosity insured there would be plenty of participants in the nightly jam sessions. Piney is immortalized by Joe Turner and His Fly Cats in the 1940 recording Piney Brown Blues:

“Yes I dreamed last night
I was standin' on 18th and vine
Yes I dreamed last night
I was standin' on 18th and vine
I shook hands with Piney Brown
An' I could hardly keep from cryin'"

San Diego Music Awards 2019

Blog Name:Home Page News

Blog Author:San Diego's Jazz 88.3

Posted on:February 12, 2019

Jazz 88.3 is proud to support the 28th Annual San Diego Music Awards, happening TONIGHT (6PM). The San Diego Music Awards started in 1991, as a way to recognize the achievements of our diverse local music community. Now in its 27th year, the San Diego Music Awards presents awards in over 20 categories, recognizing many different genres of music including Rock, Jazz, Hip Hop, Americana and World Music. Past performers include Jewel, Jason Mraz, Switchfoot, P.O.D., Sara Watkins (Nickelcreek). The San Diego Music Awards is the primary fundraising vehicle for The Guitars for Schools Program. For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here

Kansas City Jazz- Jam Sessions

February 12, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Jam Sessions
After the stock market crash of 1929 most of the Territory Bands broke up and many of those musicians descended on Kansas City to take advantage of Pendergast’s wide open nightlife policy. After hours jam sessions started to spring up all over the district and those nightly gatherings became a way of life for the young musicians.
The jam sessions were serious business and reputations were won and lost every single night.
None of these after hours affairs were recorded or documented but there are many legendary tales of victory and defeat that have passed down through the generations.
The most famous Kansas City jam session legend took place at The Cherry Blossom club which was a few steps north of 18th and Vine.

Coleman Hawkins was in town with Fletcher Henderson and was the undisputed king of the tenor saxophone in jazz.
Kansas City was loaded with great tenor players who had been honing their craft at these nightly cutting contests for years. The outside world hadn’t heard of them yet but they had developed into brilliant players while under the cloak of the Pendergast-controlled Kansas City nightlife.
"Hawk" usually didn’t take part in jam sessions because there was nothing for him to gain. That night was different though.  He was challenged by the local musicians and he decided to go to show them who was boss.

The session got underway around 2 in the morning with Hawk taking on all comers. The locals would try to call tunes Hawk didn’t know but he knew everything. Hawk would call hard keys and that eliminated quite a few challengers right off the bat. After a couple of hours all that was left was Hawk, Lester Young, Herman Walder, Herschal Evans and Ben Webster. The rhythm section was tired by this point so Ben Webster went and woke up Mary Lou Williams and got her to come take the piano chair. By five a.m. Herman Walder and Herschal Evans dropped out leaving just Hawk, Ben and Lester. Another hour or so went by and finally Ben dropped out leaving just Hawk and Lester.  No matter what Hawk played he couldn’t top Lester. He could call whatever key he wanted and Lester was right there and his creativity was so genius there was nothing Hawk could do. By morning Hawk finally gave up and Lester was victorious.

The Fletcher Henderson band had an engagement that night in St Louis and legend has it that Hawkins blew up the engine to his brand new Cadillac racing across Missouri to catch up with the band.

Mary Lou Williams summed it up nicely:  “Hawkins was king until he met those crazy Kansas City tenor men."

Kansas City Jazz- The 1929 Brunswick Sessions

February 11, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: The Brunswick Sessions
Other than Bennie Moten, most Kansas City groups and Territory Bands did not have much opportunity to record.
One notable exception was a 6 day series of sessions that took place in early November 1929.

Winston Holmes was a local entrepreneur who owned a music store, represented artists and produced some early recording sessions.  Eventually he started his own record company called Meritt Records. He was forced to give it up in 1927 and returned to freelance producing for other small labels in the Midwest.
In the fall of 1929 he worked a deal with Chicago based Brunswick Records to record a number of Kansas City artists.

Brunswick noticed that Ralph Peer and Victor Records had found good talent in Kansas City and wanted to get in on the action.
Brunswick executives Jack Kapp and Dick Voynow came to Kansas City in November 1929 accompanied by their supervisor of race recordings J. Mayo Williams.  
Word spread that Brunswick was in town to audition bands and singers to record for the label and they held the auditions at the Pla-Mor Ballroom which drew a large turnout of local groups and bands coming into town from the territories.

From this audition they selected Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy, The Oklahoma City Blue Devils and George E. Lee.

The sessions were set for November 6 through the 11th.  Since there were no recording studios in Kansas City they used WDAF radio station which was located in the Kansas City Star newspaper building.

George E. Lee’s band recorded four sides on November 6 featuring arrangements by Jesse Stone and the saxophone of Budd Johnson.
Andy Kirk recorded four sides on November 7. At the audition, Kirk’s pianist Marian Jackson failed to show, so Kirk had saxophonist John Williams send home for his wife Mary Lou. Kapp and Voynow were extremely impressed with Mary Lou and insisted that she be on the session. In addition to playing piano Mary Lou also wrote some originals to be featured on the date. These Kirk sessions introduced Mary Lou Williams to the jazz world in a big way.

On November 8, Kirk recorded one more title before giving way to the George E. Lee band once again. This time two sides were recorded to feature George’s sister Julia and the record was issued as Julia Lee accompanied by the George E. Lee Orchestra.

On November 9, the Kirk band recorded again only this time under the leadership of John Williams. The record was released as John Williams and His Memphis Stompers and once again featured his wife Mary Lou.

The November 10 date featured two sides recorded by The Oklahoma City Blue Devils. It’s unfortunate that those are the only documents of the legendary band but under the circumstances it’s lucky they were recorded at all.

Finally on November 11 Andy Kirk did two more sides including Mary Lou Williams "Froggy Bottom."

Kansas City Jazz- Thomas J. Pendergast

February 8, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Thomas J. Pendergast
At first glance, Kansas City seems an unlikely location for the development of a unique style of jazz. It happened because of a wide open atmosphere that featured all types of entertainment and fostered every kind of vice and corruption imaginable. All of it due to the leader of an all-powerful democratic political machine-Thomas J. Pendergast.

Pendergast rose to power by 1911 when he took over for his brother who had been in charge before him. He immediately formed alliances with powerful figures within the county and set up several legitimate businesses including the T.J. Pendergast Wholesale Liquor Company, The Ready-Mix Concrete Company and the purchase of the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Kansas City.

He also gained control over the entire city government including politicians, law enforcement and judges. Under his control numerous nightspots opened throughout the city all run by gangsters on the Pendergast payroll.

When prohibition came into law it was ignored by Pendergast and his associates. The Pendergast Wholesale Liquor Company was unaffected as the bootleg alcohol flowed freely. This helped establish over one hundred entertainment venues of all types.   This created lots of jobs for musicians and they flocked to Kansas City to take advantage of the opportunity.

To hide much of this illegal activity Pendergast presented a different face to the average Kansas Citian by creating programs that fed the poor and helped the community.  He created a public works program that built many buildings and highways and put many people to work.  At a result his Ready Mix Concrete Company prospered.

When the stock market crashed in 1929 it didn’t have much of an effect on the nightlife scene in K.C. either. Pendergast saw to it that things carried on as normal. This drew even more musicians to town which enhanced the local jazz scene immeasurably. 

To maintain this type of power, Pendergast’s Kansas City became one of the major crime centers of the United States including the Union Station Massacre in 1933 and the Bloody Election of 1934.
The machine was finally broken up in 1939 when Pendergast was indicted for income tax evasion. It was the end of the last great political machine in the U.S. and the beginning of the end of one of the most important jazz centers of all time.

Kansas City Jazz- Territory Bands

February 6, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Territory Bands
During the 1920s, while Bennie Moten and George E. Lee reigned supreme in Kansas City there were more than 100 bands working throughout the mid-western territories.

Each band was associated with a larger city and had staked out their territory within that particular region and protected their turf very seriously.  If you wanted to play in another band’s territory you had to get permission from the home band to do so.  

For example, if Bennie Moten wanted to play in Oklahoma City he had to get permission from the Oklahoma City Blue Devils.

This led to many battles of bands that featured the visiting band taking on the home team. It was a gunslinger mentality with both bands shooting it out to establish superiority and build reputation. Usually the band with the best arrangements and the best soloists were the winners.

The territory ranged from Minnesota and the Dakota’s to the North, south to Texas, East to Denver and West to St. Louis.
They traveled by bus and car and played a variety of roadhouses, hotels, outdoor amusement parks and local halls and lodges.
It was rough conditions and low pay.   The bands usually had a commonwealth set up where everyone shared the profits equally.  
They played night after night in very high pressure situations leading to the development of many great jazz soloists.  

Most of these bands never recorded and the few that did only recorded one or two records for small independent companies.
Some of the important bands included:  Gene Coy’s Happy Black Aces, Boots and His Buddies, The Jeter-Pillars Plantation Orchestra, Alphonso Trent, Art Bronson’s Bostonians, Jesse Stone and His Blues Serenaders, T Holder’s Clouds of Joy, Zach Whytes Chocolate Beau Brummels, The St. Louis Crackerjacks and the most legendary and feared of all;  The Oklahoma City Blue Devils.

It all came to a halt in 1929 when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began.  The financial hardship made it impossible for the bands to continue to travel.
Since Kansas City was right in the middle of the territories and since Kansas City had plenty of work for musicians, many of the leaders and sidemen descended on the local scene adding to an already vibrant atmosphere.

The membership roles of Local 627, the black musician’s union, swelled from 87 members in 1927 to 347 by 1930.
With so many seasoned musicians in town, the stage was set for a musical explosion unlike anything before or since.

The Mission Bay Preservationists go to Japan in 2019!

Blog Name:Home Page News

Blog Author:San Diego's Jazz 88.3

Posted on:February 5, 2019

The Mission Bay Preservationists, from Mission Bay High School, are known as one of the finest traditional youth jazz bands in the country and have played prestigious gigs like Preservation Hall, WWOZ Radio, The Old U.S. Mint Performance Hall in New Orleans, The House of Blues and here at the KSDS, Jazz 88.3 studios. In April of 2019 they will be headed back to Yokohoma, Japan to perform and are raising money for their trip. The Japanese Friendship Concert Series takes place at Balboa Park's Japanese Friendship Garden and is held on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month (through April). All monies raised will go towards travel and accommodations for the trip. Click here to support them!

Kansas City Jazz- George E. Lee

February 5, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: George E. Lee
George E. Lee was the chief rival to Bennie Moten for the top spot of the Kansas City Jazz scene of the 1920s. Lee was born in Boonville, Missouri but moved to Kansas City with his family as a small child. He learned music at an early age and came from a long line of musicians including his father who led a string band in which young George played while in grade school.

During World War 1, he served in the Army and entertained the troops in France. He played several instruments and sang.
After his discharge in 1919 he came back to Kansas City and formed a Quartet with his sister Julia Lee. It was billed as the George E. Lee Singing Novelty Orchestra.

Lee had a great stage presence and much charisma but didn’t have the organizational skills as Moten and had a difficult time keeping his talented sidemen.
In the early twenties Moten and Lee were both competing to be the top band in town but in 1922 Moten was able to raid the Lee band and take his best players.
Lee was a very tough taskmaster that didn’t treat his musicians well. He was overbearing and often levied fines to make his point.
Moten was much more generous to his musicians and the Lee sidemen were glad to leave when they got the chance.
Just like Moten, Lee helped establish a Kansas City style that featured a stomp down blues approach that was popular with local audiences.

Lee only got the opportunity to record 8 songs during his career, two in 1927 for the small local Meritt label and 4 more for Brunswick in 1929.  One tune in particular, Ruff Scufflin, gives us an  idea of what the band sounded like at it’s best.

By the time Lee recorded, Moten already had a national reputation.

Lee’s difficult personality cost him what was probably his finest band in 1932 when several of the men defected, joining the new band of Thamon Hayes.   Hayes took Herman Walder, Baby Lovett and Jesse Stone and combined them with Harlan Leonard, Booker Washington and Woodie Walder who were all recently fired by Moten.
Hayes was determined to put together a band that would destroy Moten so they rehearsed secretly in Hayes basement waiting for the chance to enact their revenge.  
At the Musician’s Ball in 1932 they ambushed an un-expecting Moten and humiliated him.

This drove Moten to make more changes in his band and in 1933 after being rivals for years, Moten and Lee teamed up and formed the Bennie Moten-George E. Lee Orchestra which stayed together for a few months. From 1935 to the end of the decade Lee kept a band going with minor success.  In 1937 he played an extended engagement at Musser’s Tavern in the Missouri Ozarks.   A young Charlie Parker played with Lee at Musser’s where he practiced intensively and returned to Kansas City a force to be reckoned with.

In 1941 Lee retired from the music business and managed a tavern in Detroit.  By the late forties he retired to San Diego where he lived out the rest of his life passing away in 1959. His sister Julia became a big star in Kansas City during the forties and fifties and will be profiled later this month.

Gregory Porter @ Balboa Theatre

Blog Name:Home Page News

Blog Author:San Diego's Jazz 88.3

Posted on:February 4, 2019

Jazz 88.3 is proud to support San Diego Theatres as they present multi-Grammy award winning jazz vocalist, Gregory Porter, THIS Sunday, (7PM) at Balboa Theatre. He will perform songs with his outstanding band, from his highly acclaimed five albums. Raised in California, Porter’s mother was a minister, and he cites the Bakersfield Southern Gospel sound, as well as his mother’s Nat King Cole record collection, as fundamental influences on his own sound. Porter began singing in small jazz clubs in San Diego while attending San Diego State University on a football scholarship, where he played outside linebacker. Eventually it was music that Porter chose to pursue full-time at the encouragement of local musicians including his mentor Kamau Kenyatta. For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here

Kansas City Jazz- Bennie Moten

February 4, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Bennie Moten
Bennie Moten was the first important jazz figure in Kansas City. He first appeared on the scene
in 1918 and by 1922 was one of two bands that dominated the local scene. The other was the
band of George E. Lee. In 1922 Moten raided the Lee band and took his best players. He also
formed a relationship with local music publisher Winston Holmes. Holmes also distributed race
records and arranged for OKEH talent scout and A and R man Ralph Peer to hear the group.

This led to a recording contract with OKEH records beginning in 1923. Moten decided to call
the band Bennie Moten and His Kansas City Orchesrta. At the time the band had a distinct
New Orleans flavor but in 1924 he adds saxophonist Harlan Leonard, expands to 8 pieces and
begins moving away from the New Orleans sound and creating a Kansas City style.

In 1925 Peer leaves OKEH for Victor and takes Moten with him. Victor was a major label with
major distribution giving Moten a national reputation.

In 1927 he does a double bill with Fletcher Henderson at Paseo Hall in Kansas City and aspires
to sound like the Henderson band. He enlarges to 11 adding Jack Washington and Ed Lewis.
In December he takes the band on a 9 month east coast tour further establishing their national

In 1929 Moten’s old nemesis George E. Lee beats Moten in a battle of the bands and
challenges his local supremacy.

Moten doesn’t take the loss lightly and decides he needs to modernize the band. He adds his
nephew Bus Moten but more importantly adds trombonist, guitarist and arranger Eddie

During the summer of 1929 a young piano player named Bill Basie desperately wants to join
Moten but Moten already has two piano players and doesn’t need a third. Basie and Eddie
Durham were close friends and began hanging out together at jam sessions. Basie has lots of
ideas for musical arrangements but can’t write music so Durham helps him. Moten is
impressed with Basie’s music and adds him to the band.

By October of 1929, when the band records again for Victor, the Basie-Durham influence is
beginning to show. By fall Basie and Durham take charge of the musical direction of the band
and recruit blues shouter Jimmy Rushing and Hot Lips Page to join them.

After another eastern tour they return to Kansas City, take part in another battle of the bands
and is humiliated in another embarrassing loss. Moten, once again was enamored with the
east coast bands and tried to emulate them but the people wanted the sound they heard on
the records.

Moten makes yet another change and fires the old guard including Harlan Leonard and Booker
Washington. Thamon Hayes resigns and forms a new band made up of the ex-Moten

Moten and Hayes meet up in 1932 in a battle of bands and the Hayes band destroys them and
gets their revenge.

This inspires Moten to recruit more top musicians so he gets Ben Webster, Eddie Barefield and
Oklahoma City Blue Devil leader Walter Page.

With those editions the band is at it’s peak.

The depression is on but Moten heads to New Jersey anyway and and they end up getting
stranded. They were able to make a recording session for Victor that showcased the new
soloists and is among one of the most outstanding big band sessions of all time. Two of the
songs recorded on December 13, 1932 are classics: Prince of Wails and Moten Swing.

After they made it back home to the safety of the Kansas City scene they stayed in town
working locally and dominating the scene.

In 1933 there was a bit of an upheaval with Moten being voted out as leader and Basie voted
in. This lasted a few months until Basie and Moten reconciled and came together once again.

In March of 1935 the band headed west for an engagement in Denver but Moten stayed behind
to have a routine tonsillectomy. In a still unexplained tradgedy, the Dr. slipped and Moten died
on the operating table.

Buster Moten tried to keep the band going but by summer the musicians had gone their
separate ways.