Black History Month 2019

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Kansas City Jazz- Julia Lee

February 28, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Julia Lee

Julia Lee’s musical career coincides with the very beginning of Kansas City Jazz in the 1920s.  She was featured with her brother George E. Lee’s band and made her first recordings in 1927. In 1935 she began a solo career at Milton Morris’ new club known as The Tap Room.

Milton was a long-time fixture of the Kansas City nightlife scene beginning with the Hey Hay Club in the 1920s and continuing through the 1980s with Milton’s Tap Room. Julia Lee was his regular attraction for many years. Julia didn’t like to travel so she elected to stay in Kansas City long after the Pendergast-controlled nightlife scene was over.

She was married to Frank Duncan who was the star catcher and manager of the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team. 

She performed all kinds of material but was most well known for her double-entendre songs such as “King Size Papa,” “Snatch and Grab It” and “My Man Stands Out.” Julia was one of the last Kansas City musicians who enjoyed national success after the fall of the Pendergast Machine. The fall happened at the end of 1938 when the clean-up began in earnest. Pendergast was indicted for income tax evasion and just like that the glory years of Kansas City Jazz were all but over. 

Many of the clubs were padlocked including Milton’s who was shut down because of Julia Lee’s risqué songs. Milton fought the decision and eventually won. He was allowed to re-open and continue to feature the piano and vocals of Julia Lee. 

In the early days one of Julia’s biggest supporters was journalist Dave Dexter. In 1944, while Dave was a producer for Capitol Records in Hollywood, he began recording her for the label. Between 1944 and 1952 she recorded fairly prolifically for Capitol usually as Julia Lee and Her Boyfriends. The Boyfriends were always an all-star aggregation including the likes of Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, Red Norvo, Red Nichols and Red Callender. The mainstay was her long-time Kansas City drummer Sam “Baby” Lovett who made all the sessions.

For Capitol she recorded standards and blues and plenty of the risqué songs she was known for. Some, like “King Size Papa,” became jukebox hits.
In his book, The Jazz Story, Dave Dexter wrote: “As Julia’s producer for seven years, it was a labor of love for me to select songs, assemble musicians and try to capture her good-natured piano and vocal talents on record.” At times she was Waller-ish, at times Morton-ish, but her delightful rhythm piano and husky vocals could always be quickly identified as Julia Lee.

Kansas City Jazz- Charlie Parker

February 27, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City Kansas in 1920.  His mother moved the family to the Missouri side when Charlie was a young boy.  The house was located within walking distance of the 18th and Vine district and it wasn’t long before young Charlie was immersing himself in the sights and sounds of the wide-open nightlife scene.

By the time he enrolled at Lincoln High School he played baritone horn in the marching band and started playing a beat up alto saxophone that his mother bought at a second hand store.   He joined a band called The Hottentots but was soon fired for lack of musical ability.   It didn’t deter him as he continued to take part in after-hours jam sessions.  In 1935 he attempted to sit in at a higher level session under the supervision of saxophonist Jimmy Keith.  Things started out okay until he tried a double-time passage on Body and Soul that quickly fell apart.   He was humiliated and laughed off the stage.

The experience made him work harder and he was able to do a few jobs with a band called the Ten Chords of Rhythm.  He also hung out regularly behind the Reno Club to listen to his idols Lester Young and Buster Smith.  Sometimes he was able to sneak inside and hide in the rafters to get a closer look. A few months later he tried once again to sit in at one of the high powered sessions.  This time it was with Basie musicians from the Reno Club.  Once again, Charlie wasn’t able to take the ideas in his head and execute them on his alto.  Jo Jones took his cymbal off the stand and threw it at Parker’s feet, symbolically gonging him off the stand. He left in tears vowing to come back someday and “show them all.” 

In the fall of 1936 he got a job at Musser’s Ozark Tavern in Eldon, Missouri. Musser’s was a Pendergast-controlled resort. Charlie never made it because the car he was in crashed. One person was killed and Charlie was severely injured. So much so that they feared he might never walk again.
He did recover but paid a heavy price by becoming addicted to the heroin that was used to alleviate his pain. The addiction remained with him throughout his entire life.

By the spring of 1937 he was fully recovered and took another job with George E. Lee at Musser’s Ozark Tavern. This time he took the first Basie recordings with him and practiced intensely. It was at Musser’s that his amazing transformation happened. When he returned to Kansas City he was a different musician. The ideas that he couldn’t execute before were now handled with ease.

He started working with Buster Smith at Lucille’s Paradise on 18th street Buster became like a father to him and was his primary musical mentor. Buster taught him everything and Charlie soaked it all in. In the summer of 1938 Buster decided to go to New York and left Charlie in charge at Lucille’s.  By September that job fell by the wayside and Charlie joined Jay McShann. He stayed with Jay a couple of months then joined Harlan Leonard’s Rockets.  In early 1939 he headed to New York by way of Chicago to find Buster Smith.  He got a job as a dishwasher at Jimmy’s Chicken Shack which was run by ex-Andy Kirk reedman John Williams.  Art Tatum was the piano player at Jimmy’s and Charlie heard him every night.  The speed and agility that Tatum possessed had a big influence on Charlie. He started sitting in after hours at Monroe’s Uptown House, one of the incubators of modern jazz.

One night, while sitting in at Dan Wall’s Chili House he had an epiphany.  In an interview a decade later with Down Beat magazine, Parker recalled that he had tired of the stereotypical chord voicings then in use. “I kept thinking there’s bound to be something else,” he said. “I could hear it sometimes, but I couldn’t play it.” One night in 1939, improvising over the Ray Noble tune “Cherokee” it all fell into place. It was the big bang of modern jazz.

Soon after, he got word that his father had passed away and returned to Kansas City for the funeral. In January of 1940 he re-joined Jay McShann. The McShann band was starting to get a lot of attention and soon signed a recording contract with Decca Records. Charlie, now known as Yardbird or Bird, was the band’s star soloist next to McShann. On a trip to Nebraska the car Charlie was in hit a chicken in the road and Parker insisted they stop and pick it up.  He took it to where they were staying in Nebraska and had someone cook it for him.  From then on he was known as Bird.
When the McShann records hit the market the jazz world heard Bird for the first time.

Everything about him was different. He possessed a unique sound, his harmonic concept was advanced, his creativity was never ending and his dexterity on the alto was unprecedented. Bird was the great genius to emerge from the glory days of Kansas City.   He absorbed the best of all that had come before him and added his own originality. Once he hit the national scene nothing would ever be the same.

Kansas City Jazz- Harlan Leonard

February 26, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Harlan Leonard

Along with Jay McShann, Harlan Leonard was one of the last major bands to come out of the Kansas City Jazz era. He had been part of the Kansas City scene right from the very beginning.  He was born in Kansas City Missouri and was a member of Bennie Moten’s original recording band from 1923 to 1931. Leonard was a casualty of one of Moten’s decisions to change his band which led to Leonard leaving in 1931 and becoming a member of the newly formed Thamon Hayes Kansas City Skyrockets.

In 1937 he took over Tommy Douglass’ band and started Harlan Leonard and His Kansas City Rockets. After an engagement at the Harlem Club on Troost Ave. they departed on a long tour of southern states. The band really came together on the road and Leonard was able to mold the young musicians into a polished ensemble. The one thing missing was an arranger that could give the band its own unique sound and style.  Basie had Eddie Durham, Andy Kirk had Mary Lou Williams but Leonard was forced to use stock arrangements purchased from Jenkins Music Store.
Realizing the need to correct the problem if he wanted to compete against the better bands, he hired Rozelle Claxton who created a new book of arrangements and originals.

The band became popular and packed local ballrooms wherever they played. One night, while the Benny Goodman Orchestra was in town playing an engagement at the Tower Theater, Goodman heard the Rockets and were impressed. He recommended them to his booking agency Willard Alexander who promptly came to Kansas City to audition them. Even with Goodman’s seal of approval Alexander passed on signing them.
This forced Leonard to re-think things and he decided to bring in stronger musicians. Over the next few months he bolstered the sections with a different level of jazz soloist.  He convinced Charlie Parker to leave McShann. Parker only lasted a few weeks before heading out of town. By the end of 1939 the band included saxophonists Jimmy Keith and Henry Bridges, as well as, drummer Jesse Price, trombonist Fred Beckett, guitarist Efferagee Ware and trumpet player/arranger James Ross.
Journalist Dave Dexter championed the band and predicted they would follow in Basie’s footsteps and soon be a national sensation. Dexter helped get them signed to a record deal with Bluebird Records. He also convinced John Hammond to help get them signed by MCA.  
The first Bluebird session took place in Chicago in January of 1940.  While in Chicago they picked up the outstanding vocalist Myra Taylor.
The next session happened in March while the band was playing an extended engagement at the Golden Gate Ballroom in New York. Leonard continued to find himself short of material and got arrangements from Buster Smith and Eddie Durham to fill out the session. He decided he needed to fix the issue of not having enough music and hired a young unknown arranger, Tadd Dameron to write for the band.
Dameron wrote a number of outstanding arrangements over the next few months although the Dameron charts moved the band away from the Kansas City style.

They did another session for Bluebird in July, then a final session in November. Both of those sessions feature a number of Dameron arrangements and showcase the band at it’s peak. What had started out so promising soon started to come apart. The first blow happened when MCA dissolved their race department. There was also an ASCAP strike at the beginning of 1941 which affected the band as well. 

By spring the band had really began to struggle and some of the members started to jump ship. Leonard replaced them and tried to keep going but World War II took its toll, just like it did with so many others.

Losing Jesse Price was the last straw and Leonard decided to dissolve the Kansas City band and try his luck in Los Angeles. He figured there was more opportunity on the west coast so he moved and formed a new band there. He had some luck right at first including a year engagement at the Club Alabam on Central Ave but it wasn’t enough to keep him going. After the Club Alabam Leonard decided he’d had enough. He retired and took a job with the IRS in Los Angeles where he remained the rest of his life.

Kansas City Jazz- Jay McShann

February 25, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Jay McShann

Jay McShann first came to Kansas City in 1936.  He was taking a bus from his native Oklahoma to Omaha to visit an uncle in hopes there might be some work for a piano player. During a stopover in K.C. he headed to the Reno Club to hear the Basie band but Basie was already gone and had been replaced by Buster Moten.  Making the rounds, he ran into his old friend, the bassist Billy Hadnot. Hadnot said don’t bother going to Omaha, this is the place to be. McShann stayed, established himself and lived there for the next 70 years becoming Kansas City’s favorite son and the ambassador for Kansas City Jazz around the world.

He was born in Muskogee Oklahoma in 1916 and became hooked on the blues at a very early age. He mastered blues, jazz and boogie woogie on his parents upright piano in the parlor.  He would hear broadcasts of Earl Hines from the Grand Terrace in Chicago and try to emulate what he heard. While in High School he played in a combo under the leadership of classmate Don Byas who was also from Muskogee. After high school he played with a variety of territory bands including Eddie Hill and His Bostonians. As jobs got scarce he decided to visit his uncle in Omaha and see what he could find there.

Once Billy Hadnot talked him into staying in Kansas City he started freelancing along 12th and 18th streets and developed a strong local reputation. One night, hanging out with some of the local musicians, he had a little too much to drink and everyone started calling him Hootie, a nickname which stuck throughout his career.

He ended up with a regular job at the Monroe Inn. Journalist and jazz enthusiast Dave Dexter became a big fan and used to go hear him every night.  Dexter began writing about him in the Journal-Post and in 1937 gave him a small write up in the national Metronome Magazine calling him the top local pianist.  The Monroe Inn job ended early enough that he could check out the late night after hours sessions. One night he met Charlie Parker who was just back from an extended engagement in the Ozarks. The two hit it off and hoped to be able to play together in the future.

The rise of Jay McShann on the local scene coincided with the fall of the Pendergast Machine.  The clean-up effort began in earnest in early 1938 and Pendergast was soon behind bars. All liquor and nightclub laws were strictly enforced and the scene changed rapidly. There were less and less jobs for musicians at that point. Luckily for Jay, he was backed by a local businessman named Walter Bales. Bales championed McShann and helped him get jobs that catered to the social elite. He ended up at Martin’s on the Plaza which was located in an upscale shopping district. He started out with a 5 piece band that grew to 7.  Dave Dexter continued to write about the band on a local and national level.  After several months at Martin’s they moved over to the Club Continental and Jay expanded to 10 pieces. One of the added musicians was Charlie Parker who was back from another trip to the Ozarks.

Dave Dexter continued pushing the band which led to a recording contract with Decca. The band returned to Martin’s on the Plaza and Jay expanded once again with Walter Bales financing.  He went to Omaha and raided Nat Towles band.  It was common practice for a band with more to offer to raid a lessor band and take their best musicians. After the Omaha raid the nucleus for the big band was in place and refined over the next few months. Trumpeters Buddy Anderson and Piggy Minor, saxophonist John Jackson, bassist Gene Ramey, drummer Gus Johnson, vocalist Walter Brown and most notably the return of Charlie Parker who had followed Buster Smith to NY but returned in time to re-join McShann.

It was with McShann that Charlie Parker got his nickname. They were traveling to Nebraska by car and the car Parker was in hit a chicken in the road.  Charlie made the driver go back and get it and took it into town and had it cooked for dinner.  From that point on he was known as yardbird or bird for short.

They did their first session for Decca in the spring of 1941 and one of the songs recorded that day, "Confessin the Blues," became a big hit. That session also introduced Charlie Parker to the world. The band was instantly catapulted into the national spotlight. An eastern tour took them to the Savoy Ballroom in New York where they did a battle of the bands with Lucky Millinder. The Millinder band joked that they had nothing to fear from these “hicks from the sticks.” McShann and the band tore Millinder up that night further establishing their reputation.  The McShann band had a lot of stocks they played for dancers but they also had their special brand of Kansas City Jazz.

When the battle started Millinder was pulling out their showstoppers one by one and Jay kept calling stocks. Bird kept urging him to pull out their heavy material but Jay wisely held back. Finally after midnight when Millinder had already played their best stuff McShann started calling "Hootie Blues," "Dexter Blues," "Confessin the Blues," and "Swingmatism"; one by one winning the audience over and frustrating Millinder. There was nothing Millinder could do but watch.

By that time the scene in Kansas City was all but over. The fall of the Pendergast Machine put an end to the glory years. The Jay McShann band was one of two final great bands to emerge from the Kansas City scene.  The other was Harlan Leonard and His Rockets.

Kansas City Jazz- Eddie Durham

February 22, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Eddie Durham

Eddie Durham was one of the primary architects of both the Kansas City sound as well as big band swing.
He’s primarily known as a trombonist and composer/arranger but he was also a pioneer of the amplified electric guitar.

He was born in San Marcos Texas and began playing at a very early age, first for local dances and later bigger celebrations.
As soon as he was old enough he traveled with a theater group then joined the band of a wild wild west show that toured the country.   During a stop in Chicago he heard Louis Armstrong which had a big impact on him.

After the Wild West Show he went through a series of Midwestern territory bands including Gene Coy, 
Chauncey Downs, T. Holder and others.   In 1928 he joined the Oklahoma City Blue Devils. He stayed with the Devils about a year then moved to Bennie Moten’s band in Kansas City. He began writing arrangements for Moten which started to advance the band significantly. At the time, his buddy from the Blue Devils, Bill Basie, desperately wanted to join Moten but Moten didn’t need a third piano player. Basie had ideas for arrangements but wasn’t able to write them down.   Durham helped get Basie’s ideas on paper and Moten was impressed enough to bring Basie into the band.
The Durham-Basie arrangements for Moten had a major impact and transformed the direction of the band.  That impact is in full effect with the final Moten recordings made in 1932 that include the classics Moten Swing and Prince of Wails. Not long before Moten’s death in 1935, Durham left Kansas City and moved to New York, immediately becoming a major arranger for Jimmie Lunceford’s Harlem Express. In addition to writing arrangements, Durham had a flair for choreography and was responsible for certain horn moves that Lunceford was known for.
In 1937 Basie had taken his band out of Kansas City into New York and convinced Durham to join him.  Durham’s impact on the Basie band was similar to what it had been with Moten. He wrote a number of important arrangements for Basie and helped to create the band’s identity.   Durham’s arrangements include "Jumpin at the Woodside," "Swingin the Blues" and "Topsy" among many others. Also at this time, Durham built his own amplified electric guitar and began to record with it. While with Basie he was part of the classic Kansas City Six session for Commodore that featured the electric guitar throughout. It was the first time that instrument was recorded in a jazz setting.

The young guitarist from Oklahoma, Charlie Christian, sought him out to find out how he made the guitar sound like a saxophone. Durham worked with him in a local pool hall for several nights. Soon after Christian emerged with Benny Goodman as one of the giants of the instrument.
Durham left the Basie band in 1938 and went back to New York where he was much sought after by many leaders. He wrote important works for Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey as well as the major hit song “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.” He was also involved in writing one of the most well-known swing era anthems; “In the Mood” for Glenn Miller.   He also choreographed many of the Miller horn section moves as well. 

During World War II he took over the all-female International Sweethearts of Rhythm then formed his own Eddie Durham and His All-Girl Orchestra. Throughout the fifties and beyond he continued to play and lead various groups until his death in the 1980s.

He was a humble genius that played a much more important role in big band swing than he’s been given credit for. Eddie Durham, architect of the Kansas City sound.

Kansas City Jazz- Andy Kirk and Mary Lou Williams

February 20, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Andy Kirk and Mary Lou Williams

The Count Basie Orchestra wasn’t the only band to emerge from the Kansas City scene in 1936. Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy, featuring arrangements by Mary Lou Williams, reached national prominence at that time as well.

Kirk grew up in Denver and studied music with Wilberforce Whiteman, father of famed bandleader Paul Whiteman.  When he was old enough he began working in local bands most notably the George Morrison Orchestra. In 1926 he moved to Chicago where he regularly heard Earl Fatha Hines and Louis Armstrong with Erskine Tate’s Orchestra at the Vendome.  That experience had a big impact on him.

After that he moved to Dallas and joined Terrance “T” Holder and his Dark Clouds of Joy.

In 1927 Holder re-located the band to Tulsa and began adding stronger arrangements and added two musicians who would become key figures in the bands success.  Claude Williams, who played both violin and guitar and saxophonist John Williams out of Memphis. The following year Holder was voted out of his own band for shady dealings with the finances.

Andy Kirk was elected leader.  One of the first things he did was drop the “dark” from the Clouds of Joy name making it Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy. In 1929 Kirk moved the band to Kansas City and played the entire summer at the Pla-Mor Ballroom. The Kirk band also took part in the 1929 Brunswick recording sessions that happened in the fall.  It was at the audition and subsequent sessions that Mary Lou Williams took on a significant role with the band playing piano and writing new arrangements.

Although several bands were recorded by Brunswick at those sessions, Kapp was most impressed with Kirk and especially Mary Lou Williams.  They ended up recording 8 titles with the band.  6 as Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy and 2 as John Williams and His Memphis Stompers.

Kapp liked what they did so much that he signed them to a two year contract with Brunswick.  They recorded several times over the next two years and established somewhat of a reputation.  They also began touring regularly including a long stint at the Roseland Ballroom in New York.

After the contract ran out in 1931 the band continued to work out of Kansas City as their home base.

In 1935 Kirk added tenor saxophonist Dick Wilson to the band which adds an important solo voice.  Wilson was in the league of the other Kansas City tenor greats but never really got the recognition that he deserved. Also at that time Kirk wanted to regain the national reputation that they had enjoyed earlier in the decade and contacted Jack Kapp who had just started Decca Records.

Kapp signed them to Decca and brought them to New York to begin recording. Once again, Mary Lou Williams started adding new material to the book and the band starts to really take on a new swinging identity.  This includes classics such as "Walkin and Swingin," "The Lady Who Swings the Band," "Keep it in the Groove" and "A Mellow Bit of Rhythm."

At first, Kapp and Kirk clashed in the studio because Kapp wanted to do more ballads and novelties and Kirk wanted to swing.   One compromise was the recording of “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” with vocalist Pha Terrell.  The recording became a huge hit and launched them into stardom.

It was time for them to leave Kansas City and hit the big time but they had several previous engagements locally.  Kirk made sure they stayed in town until all the contracts were fulfilled. After that, they followed the Basie band out of Kansas City and into the national spotlight.

Kansas City Jazz- Hot Lips Page

February 19, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Hot Lips Page

Oran “Hot Lips” Page was one of the great jazz soloists to emerge from the Kansas City scene at the end of the nineteen thirties. He was originally from Texas where he started to play professionally at a very early age.  He traveled with circuses and minstrel shows and backed a variety of female blues singers including Ida Cox and Ma Rainey. His idol was Louis Armstrong.

Around 1928 Walter Page recruited him to join the Oklahoma City Blue Devils.  He’s well featured on the two Blue Devils recordings from 1929. In 1930 he went to Kansas City to join Bennie Moten.   He made numerous records with Moten and established himself on the Kansas City scene as the outstanding trumpet soloist. In 1935 when Basie went into the Reno Club, Page was there as an added featured performer.  He acted as emcee, sang the blues and played the trumpet.

As word began to spread beyond Kansas City about the Basie band, outside promoters and record executives started to become curious about what was going on there. When John Hammond came to town in 1936 to hear Basie in person, Louis Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser, just happened to be there too.

Glaser thought Page was the potential star and approached him about becoming his manager.   He agreed to take on the whole band as long as Page was the front man.  Basie declined the offer and wished Hot Lips luck. Glaser convinced Lips that he would be the next Louis Armstrong with or without Basie.

Before long Hammond arranged for Basie to sign with Willard Alexander and head east.  Lips stayed in Kansas City and continued on at the Reno Club. By the end of the year, Glaser kept good on his promise and sent Lips to New York as a single where he began a long engagement at Small’s Paradise in Harlem.

Although he never became a major name he was one of the most outstanding trumpet soloists during the swing era.  He led his own groups on 52nd St. and was in high demand as a sideman with a variety of bands, most notably that great Artie Shaw band of the early 1940s.

During his New York years he brought a little of that Kansas City tradition with him as he continued to be a major force at the late night jam sessions in Harlem where he was happy to take on all challengers.

Kansas City Jazz- Lester Young

February 18, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Lester Young

Lester Young was the most important jazz soloist between Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. He was a true original that created his own unique sound and style.  His sound was in stark contrast to Coleman Hawkins who was the reining tenor saxophone champion when Lester came onto the scene.
Lester had a lite, airy sound and used little or no vibrato. Stylistically he had a different conception than those that had come before him.  He had a linear approach with which he created extremely melodic, long flowing lines that generated a floating effect.

Lester was born in Woodville, Mississippi in 1909. His father was a teacher and bandleader who created a family band that traveled throughout the area. Lester learned a variety of instruments and joined the family band when he was 10 years old. He broke with his father’s band in 1927 and joined the territory band of Art Bronson’s Bostonians which was based in Salina Kansas. At that point he settled on the tenor saxophone as his primary instrument.

In 1932 he joined the legendary Oklahoma City Blue Devils. He stayed with the Blue Devils for a few months ending up in Kansas City in 1933. Once there he started participating in the nightly jam sessions and quickly became a force to be reckoned with.

He had only been in town a short time when the infamous jam session took place at the Cherry Blossom club and Lester defeated the great Coleman Hawkins and solidified his reputation. Around that same time Bennie Moten was voted out of his own band and replaced by Count Basie who brought in several ex-Blue Devils including Lester.

After Basie and Moten reconciled Lester left town and replaced Coleman Hawkins in Fletcher Henderson’s band which turned out to be a disaster. Everyone wanted Lester to sound like Hawkins and he wanted no part of it.  He left Henderson after a short time, joined Andy Kirk for a while then settled in Minneapolis where his family had relocated.

In 1936 he heard the Basie band broadcasting from the Reno Club and contacted  Basie about joining the new band.

Once Lester returned to Kansas City everything fell into place with the Reno Club band.   Later in the month John Hammond heard one of the late night broadcasts and was blown away by what he heard. He was especially impressed with Lester and quickly put things in motion to introduce the band on a national level.

Once the Basie band hit the big time, Hammond suggested the addition of another of his discoveries, Billie Holiday. Billie and Lester developed a very close but platonic relationship and truly cared for each other deeply.   He nicknamed her "Lady" and she nicknamed him "Prez," short for President of the tenor saxophone.

Kansas City Jazz- John Hammond

February 15, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: John Hammond

By the beginning of 1936 the Count Basie-Buster Smith Barons of Rhythm were tearing it up nightly at the Reno Club and starting to get attention beyond the African American community.

One journalist in particular, Dave Dexter, covered jazz for the Kansas City Journal-Post.  He was a big jazz fan who immersed himself in the nightlife along 12th st. and in the 18th and Vine district. He adored the Basie band but hated the Reno Club.  He felt the band deserved better and made it his personal mission break the band on a national level. In addition to the Journal-Post, Dexter also contributed to Down Beat Magazine and began reporting on jazz happenings in Kansas City.  He also tipped off fellow Down Beat contributer John Hammond to the Basie broadcasts from the Reno Club.

Hammond was a wealthy aristocrat that loved jazz and blues and detested racial segregation and the mistreatment of African American artists.
He also had a great ear for talent discovering the likes of Billie Holiday and Charlie Christian.  Later he discovered Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan among many others. He was also heavily involved in the integration of the Benny Goodman band with Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton.  
While traveling cross country with Goodman he took Dexter’s advice and tuned into the Basie Reno Club broadcast on W9XBY.  At the time he was sitting in his car in the parking lot of the Congress Hotel in Chicago.

Needless to say he was blown away by what he heard and headed to Kansas City as quickly as possible.
Once there he and Dexter made the rounds and Hammond was impressed with much that he heard.  In addition to Basie he was also impressed by Joe Turner and Pete Johnson at the Sunset Club. 

Once back in New York he convinced Willard Alexander to add Basie to his roster of artists and send them on a national tour.  Before leaving Kansas City, Basie enlarged the group to a big band.  Unfortunately Buster Smith didn’t trust Hammond and decided not to go.   Basie also lost Hot Lips Page to Joe Glaser who promised he would be the next Louis Armstrong.  

While Basie was preparing to leave K.C., Dave Kapp of Decca Records snuck into town and signed him and the band to an exclusive recording contract.  It was a horrible deal for Basie but he thought Kapp was associated with Hammond and signed anyway. When Hammond found out he was furious.  He would have gotten Basie a much better deal and he wanted to be the one to introduce his new discovery to the jazz world.

They left Kansas City in November of 1936 and headed to Chicago for an engagement at the Grand Terrace Ballroom. Not to be out done by Decca, John Hammond organized a small group out of the Basie band to record for Vocalion under the pseudonym Jones-Smith Inc.  It was the world’s introduction to the brilliance of Lester Young along with the unparalleled swing of the rhythm team of Basie, Walter Page and Jo Jones.

The Kansas City sound wasn’t a secret any longer.

Kansas City Jazz- Moten is out, Basie is in

February 14, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: Moten is out and Basie is in

By 1932 the Kansas City scene was in full swing so Bennie Moten’s Orchestra stayed close to home. By that time Moten had added several ex-Oklahoma City Blue Devils to the band and it was at it’s musical peak. During the summer of 1933 the band opened the new Cherry Blossom club near 18th and Vine but there was trouble in the ranks and Moten was voted out as leader. They voted Bill Basie in and the band carried on.

In 1934 the Cherry Blossom band breaks up, Lester Young joins Fletcher Henderson and the key musicians reconcile with Moten.  This included Basie, Buster Smith, Jimmy Rushing, Herschal Evans and Hot Lips Page.

The band continued in dominance of the Kansas City scene until 1935 when they take an engagement in Denver and Moten stayed behind to have a routine tonsellectomy. The Doctor slips and Moten dies during the operation.

Buster Moten tries to keep the band together but by summer most of the key musicians had joined other bands.

That all changed with Basie as he was hired to put together a group to serve as the house band at The Reno Club near downtown Kansas City.
Basie was able to bring together the best of the best.  He had his pick of the musicians who had developed over the last five or six years during their regular jobs and at the nightly jam sessions.

It ended up as a 9 piece band set up as 3 reeds, 3 brass and 3 rhythm.  Basie and Buster Smith shared the billing.  Using his new nickname it became The Count Basie-Buster Smith Barons of Rhythm. The reeds included Buster Smith and Slim Freeman. The brass included Hot Lips Page and the Rhythm included Basie, Walter Page and Jo Jones. Jimmy Rushing was the vocalist.

The band broadcast late at night on station W9XBY and it was during those broadcasts that Basie’s theme song was established. 
One night as the band was playing the theme the announcer asked for the title.  The actual title  was not appropriate to say over the airwaves so they looked at the clock, saw it was one o clock and told the announcer the name was One O’Clock Jump.

The Reno Club was located at 12th and Cherry.It was owned by Papa Sol Epstein who was part of the Pendergast regime.  
His connections made sure the police never raided the place.   It was a long narrow saloon that featured a cramped, oyster shell bandstand in the back. There was a floor show at 9, 12, 2 and 4.   Beer was 5 cents a glass, 10 cents for a schooner with mixed drinks costing a quarter. Prostitutes hung out inside and outside the club and worked out of rooms upstairs in the same building.

Lester Young didn’t last long with Fletcher Henderson. They wanted him to sound like Coleman Hawkins and he wanted no part of it so he left and went to Minneapolis. One night Lester heard the Basie band on the radio and contacted Basie to let him know that Slim Freeman wasn’t making it and that he was available.  Basie sent for him right away and Lester came back to Kansas City to join the band.

With the arrival of Lester Young it all came together. The band was a crystallization of all that had come before it.  It was the essence of the Kansas City style. The blues-based arrangements, the loose hard swinging rhythm  and an amazing array of creative soloists.