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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.

Pioneer Women Jazz Instrumentalists

Blog Name:Home Page News

Blog Author:San Diego's Jazz 88.3

Posted on:February 27, 2019

To celebrate Women's History Month in March KSDS will be featuring some of the most important women in Jazz each weekday up until our Spring Membership Drive begins on March 19th. Tune in each weekday to learn about some of the pioneer women jazz instrumentalists. Check out our Women's History Blog or scroll down here on the home page to view the daily artist.

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.

Vijay Iyer and Matt Haimovitz

Blog Name:Home Page News

Blog Author:San Diego's Jazz 88.3

Posted on:February 26, 2019

Jazz 88.3 is proud to partner with Art Power as they present: Vijay Iyer and Matt Haimovitz, Thursday, March 7th at Prebys Concert Hall at 8PM. Cellist Matt Haimovitz—an artist whose barrier-breaking performances have taken him around the world—joins forces with genius jazz composer-performer pianist Vijay Iyer in a program that truly defies definition. This special event showcases Iyer’s own composition alongside the music of Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, J. S. Bach, Ravi Shankar, Billy Strayhorn, and others to create a program of unprecedented virtuosity and depth. Duets are the centerpiece, but also expect solo performances by each of these mesmerizing players. For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here

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.

Jazz Live- The Jennifer Leitham Trio

Blog Name:Home Page News

Blog Author:San Diego's Jazz 88.3

Posted on:February 22, 2019

Jazz Live will welcome back bassist and vocalist Jennifer Leitham. It all happens TONIGHT at the Saville Theatre stage at 8pm (concert). There will be a special film screening of Jennifer's documentary called "I Stand Corrected" that will be shown at 6pm. Normally Jazz Live concerts are for Jazz88 members only. But, in honor of Womens History Month, this concert is open to the public (reservations are required). There will be a free will offering; suggested donation is $10. For reservations and more information e-mail us at info@jazz88.org. You can also call Ken Borgers at 619-388-3301. As always, thanks to Big Front Door Sandwich Shop, located in University Heights (Park Blvd.) and now Solana Beach for providing food for the Jazz Live artists. If you are going remember that good ole' parking pass!

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.

Francis Parker Summer Jazz Workshop, 2019!

Blog Name:Home Page News

Blog Author:San Diego's Jazz 88.3

Posted on:February 19, 2019

Jazz 88.3 is so pleased to support Francis Parker's 9th Annual Summer Jazz Workshop again this year, in partnership with The Music Box! Francis Parker's Summer Jazz Workshop offers middle and high school students an opportunity to study and play music with professional jazz musicians while learning performance skills, improvisation, jazz theory and history. One-week sessions are held at Francis Parker School's Thiemann Music Center, a state-of-the-art facility with dedicated classrooms and practice studios. Here, students grow musically as they learn to express themselves through the art of jazz improvisation. Students give a closing performance at The Music Box, located in the heart of Little Italy, one of San Diego's premier concert venues. They welcome beginning, intermediate and advanced students at this hands-on workshop designed to nurture their growth as musicians, technically and creatively. For more information, click here