[JPL] Book captures culture of Kansas City jazz
drjazz at drjazz.com
Fri Jul 14 11:35:17 EDT 2006
When I moved to Kansas City 15 years ago, I was shocked to find there was
no full-time jazz station on the radio. After all, Kansas City was one of
the premier centers in the early development of jazz, America's most
significant musical gift to the world.
Chuck Haddix has been trying to change that by calling attention to Kansas
City jazz to anyone who will listen. His most noteworthy accomplishment to
date is his book "Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop - A History."
Published in hardcover in 2005 by Oxford University Press, the book has
just been released in paperback. Don't miss this opportunity for one of the
best jazz books I've read, one that captures the heart and soul of jazz in
our Kansas City.
Haddix co-authored the book with Frank Driggs, and the process was a long
one. Driggs was a leading authority on jazz in Kansas City and the
southwest, and signed a contract with Oxford in 1977 to produce the book.
Over a period of decades, Driggs collected old 78 rpm records, photos and
interviews with Kansas City jazz legends. As is often the case, other
projects pulled Driggs away from the book.
Chuck Haddix joined the KCUR-FM radio staff in 1984 as a jazz producer and
soon began producing and hosting "The Fish Fry." For 20 years, Haddix has
been heard playing jazz and blues from 8 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and
Saturdays. Since 1987 he has been the Marr Sound Archives director at the
University of Missouri-Kansas City's Miller-Nichols Library - a historic
collection numbering more than 250,000 recordings.
Haddix and Driggs met in 1994 in New York City and decided to complete the
book together. As they point out, of the four major centers of early jazz -
New Orleans, Chicago, New York and Kansas City - three have been
well-documented in print. Kansas City was the orphan, without a serious and
comprehensive historical treatment of its jazz heritage.
Evoking the heyday of Kansas City jazz in the late 1920s and 1930s
necessarily brings to mind the memories of the corrupt reign of political
boss Tom Pendergast, who led a dishonest political machine that largely
ignored the restrictions of prohibition, gambling and vice laws.
The Kansas City of those days may have been somewhat wild and woolly, but
with the plethora of clubs came a vibrant jazz culture. Haddix and Driggs
capture the atmosphere in magnificent fashion by citing major clubs that
have long disappeared in familiar locations like the Reno Club at 12th and
Cherry, the Spinning Wheel at 12th and Troost, a variety of clubs at the
legendary 18th and Vine, and Johnny Baker's at 55th and Troost.
A variety of individuals come to life in these pages, including "Count"
Basie, Bennie Moten, Jay McShann, and, of course, Charlie "Bird" Parker.
Other figures also come to light, such as singer Mary Lou Williams,
Margaret "Countess" Johnson, Harlan Leonard and Big Joe Turner.
Pendergast became prey for federal investigators in the late 1930s, and 259
of his campaign aides were convicted for election fraud. Pendergast was
convicted of income tax evasion in 1939, and died in disgrace in 1945. The
political reformers infused the city with a new atmosphere that was not as
conducive to or as tolerant of the liberties under which jazz thrived in
the '30s. In addition, the outset of World War II led to other
complications: The draft reduced the ranks of musicians and gasoline
shortages limited the ability to tour.
Well-documented and footnoted, the book seemed an easy read to me. Haddix
and Briggs' direct narrative style is both informative and entertaining. It
also includes a wealth of extensive quotes from leading performers that
lend a personal flavor and wonderful photos.
"Kansas City Jazz" is great summer reading and a long overdue tribute to
the development of jazz in the city. It is available at area booksellers or
online. However you choose to obtain this fine book, take advantage of the
gripping story of our indigenous musical culture
©The Johnson County Sun 2006
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