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Kansas City jazz is popular in these cities.

Kansas City jazz is a style of jazz that developed in Kansas City, Missouri during the 1920s and 1930s, which marked the transition from the structured big band style to the much more improvisational style of bebop. The hard-swinging, bluesy transition style is bracketed by Count Basie, who in 1929 signed with Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, and Kansas City native Charlie Parker, who promoted the bebop style in America.

Kansas City is known as one of the most popular "cradles of jazz". Other cities include New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York City.[1] Kansas City was known for the organized musicians of the Local 627 A.F.M., which controlled a number of venues in the city.[2] Almost every jazz history depicts Kansas City jazz as a fertile ground for the development of big bands, virtuosic performances, and legendary performers.[3] In the 1920s was a Great Migration from the south and the search for musical work in Kansas City, Missouri,[4] where the Black population rose from 23,500 to 42,000 between 1912 and 1940. Russell, Diggs, and Pearson have well documented how the vice district expanded within black neighborhoods of Kansas City, resulting in economic success for jazz musicians.[5] Many musicians from the Southwest moved to Kansas City for its plentiful jobs.[6] "Nightclubs in Kansas City served up prostitution, gambling, and narcotics along with liquor".[3] The city hosted a vibrant jazz and blues music scene, attracting musicians from across the country.[7] The city prominently shaped the development of jazz and blues and hosted some of the era's most pivotal musicians. Edward Murrow wrote in the Omaha World-Herald: "If you want to see sin, forget about Paris and go to Kansas City".[3] A variety of clubs and cabarets, dance halls, and jazz venues arose in Kansas City, including the Paseo Room, Pla-Mor Ballroom, Reno Club, Amos 'n' Andy, Boulevard Lounge, Cherry Blossom, Chocolate Bar, Lone Star, Elk's Rest, Old Kentucky Bar-B-Que, Sunset, Subway, Spinning Wheel, Hawaiian Gardens, Street's Blue Room, Hell's Kitchen, The Hi Hat, and the Hey-Hay.[7] Kansas City became known for "small, intimate" clubs that hosted frequent, "long-lasting jam sessions".[8] Becker said that Kansas City "drew its vitality from the political corruption which made nightlife possible".[3] Kansas City's concentration of outstanding jazz talent had made it a potential competitor to New York and Chicago by the middle of the 1930s.[9]


The first band from Kansas City to acquire a national reputation was the Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra, a white group which broadcast nationally in the 1920s. However, the Kansas City jazz school is identified with the black bands of the 1920s and 1930s, including those led by Bennie Moten, Andy Kirk, Harlan Leonard, George E. Lee, Count Basie, and Jay McShann.[10]

Kansas City in the 1930s was very much the crossroads of the United States, resulting in a mix of cultures. Transcontinental trips by plane or train often necessitated a stop in the city. The era marked the zenith of power of political boss Tom Pendergast. Kansas City was a wide open town with prohibition era liquor laws and hours totally ignored, and was called the new Storyville. Most of the jazz musicians associated with the style were born in other places but got caught up in the friendly musical competitions among performers that could keep a single song being performed in variations for an entire night. Often members of the big bands would perform at regular venues earlier in the evening and go to the jazz clubs later to jam for the rest of the night.

In the 1930s, a hybrid style between Kansas City jazz and big band was the most popular form of jazz music in the United States, often being played in popular venues and ballrooms.[11]

Jay McShann told the Associated Press in 2003: "You'd hear some cat play, and somebody would say 'This cat, he sounds like he is from Kansas City.' It was Kansas City Style. They knew it on the East Coast. They knew it on the West Coast. They knew it up North and they knew it down South."[12]

Claude "Fiddler" Williams described the scene: "Kansas City was different from all other places because we'd be jamming all night. And [if] you come up here [...] playing the wrong thing, we'd straighten you out."[13]

Kansas City influence overtly transferred to the national scene in 1936 when record producer John Hammond discovered Count Basie on his car radio. Pendergast was convicted of income tax fraud in 1940 and the city cracked down on the clubs effectively ending the era.

Born in Kansas City, Kansas, Charlie Parker learned about music by spending time in the alleyways behind nightclubs that lined Twelfth Street.[6] He was an influential jazz saxophonist and composer whose playing style impacted jazz. Like Louis Armstrong, who mastered his native New Orleans idiom before breaking free, Parker was refined in the Kansas City jam sessions and never challenged his foundation. By pushing the boundaries of the traditional jazz style, he created an entirely new sound that became the foundation of modern jazz.[14] Due to Parker's dubious musical reputation, Oliver Todd reluctantly allowed him to join his Hottentots band: "I tried to take him under my wing. He was very green. If you had told me then that he would be famous I wouldn't have believed it. He had a lot to learn. He was very determined. [...] He worked hard".[6]

Parker was able to improvise, which allowed him to explore new melodies and harmonies creating a style that was inspired by traditional jazz but unique in its own right.[14] Much has been made of the influence of the Kansas City tradition on modern jazz though Charlie Parker helped bridge the two styles of jazz that's not the only similarity of the two styles.[9] The lineage of the Kansas City saxophone provides a direct connection to young Charlie Parker as a pioneering figure. For instance, in his award-winning book on Charlie Parker titled Kansas City Lightning, Stanley Crouch described Kansas City this way: “People came to guzzle the blues away, to chase the night long, to take the risk of leaving in a barrel as they laid bet after bet, and, as ever, there were those who came to involve themselves in the mercantile eroticism of the high to low courtesans”.[3]

As a member of Bennie Moten's Kansas City band in 1929, Count Basie honed his skills in traveling shows.[14] However, the blues eventually became an even more influential source for Basie. "I had never paid much attention to the blues or played them myself. My first encounter with real blues was during a burlesque show I performed in after moving from New York City to Kansas City."[15]

According to Gray Giddins, Basie "is the only major jazz figure to realize his individuality by paring down his technique" because he discovered his style through a search for identity.[16] "From his first session with Bennie Moten to those with his own band in the late 1930s, Basie could be heard in various settings responding to musical challenges as a committed ensemble player, making choices that might serve others as well".[16] Jo Jones, a member in Basie's band accounts: "It has to do with what I will try to explain to you about head arrangements in the Basie band and how we didn't have to rehearse back in Kansas City. It was just there, and we played it. Now it was a very strange thing in this city. Nobody ever got in nobody's way. No finger and say: 'You take it now. You take the next chorus'".[17]

The success of Count Basie nationally and internationally led bookers, managers, and record producers to come to Kansas City in search of similar talent.[18]

Tenor saxophonist Lester Young was a hero among writers and musicians. "Known as 'president' of the saxophone, he gained recognition for his musical genius while playing leading swing bands of the 1930s, including the 13 Original Blue Devils and the King Oliver and Count Basie bands".[19] He gained recognition for his signature whistling sound and his impact on jazz has been recognized by jazz historians. Redefining the role of the tenor sax was only the first of Young's achievements. In this way, he profoundly changed jazz melodic improvisation, offering a counterpoint to Armstrong's hot, syncopated style.[9] His unique sound initially faced criticism, but in 1936, when Basie's band was established, Lester Young became a jazz star.[14] His music with Basie, Holiday, and various small groups such as the Kansas City Seven is among the greatest and most consistent bodies of recorded work in jazz history (174 icons of music). On "Oh, Lady Be Good", Lester Young has a solo often imitated by later jazz generations. It is regarded[who?] as one of the most forward-thinking improvisations of the decade due to its fluidity, rhythmic phrasing, and creativity.[9] The Count Basie band and Young were most commonly associated with Kansas City.[19] The connection between Young's ideas, his music, and his jive can be clearly understood through the role of music and language in Afro-American culture.[20] In the Southwest, a tradition of storytelling is as strong in music as it is in speech, according to bassist Gene Ramey of Kansas City. When he explained how Young dethroned Coleman Hawkins in a legendary tenor-saxophone battle at the cherry blossom, he noted that the Kansas City musician played more creatively.[21]

In Kansas City, Missouri, Bennie Moten was born on December 13, 1893, the beginning of the story of the 1923 recording session. During his first gigs, Moten played house rent parties and brothels operating from private homes, according to long-time Kansas City native Fred Hicks. Between 1916 and 1918, Moten began performing with the drummer Dude Langford. According to Langford, "[When] I first met Bennie, he was playing around town, little old joints here, some of 'em just little fronts, a bar and a gambling room in the back".[5]

Kansas City, like the rest of the country, experienced a similar change in listening habits as a result of vaudeville blues recordings in the early 1920s, and the Moten Orchestra capitalized on the trend (289 rice). "The Bennie Moten Orchestra would eventually emerge in the 1920s as Kansas City's top instrumental jazz ensemble". During 1924, the Moten Orchestra became the primary entertainers at Kansas City's elite black ballroom, the Paseo Dance Hall, at 15th Street and Paseo.[5] Over the next two decades, the Moten band grew in success and prominence.[22]


Kansas City jazz is distinguished by the following musical elements:


Selected discography

Early jazz and swing era music:


Each year Kansas City celebrates Jazzoo, a charity fundraiser for the Kansas City Zoo, dedicated to Kansas City jazz. In 2011, Jazzoo was one of the nation's largest charity fundraisers, raising over $800,000.[23]


  1. ^ "Kansas City Jazz". October 30, 1999. Retrieved May 21, 2014.
  2. ^ "Musicians Local 627". Archived from the original on August 27, 2018. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e Clifford-Napoleone, Amber R. (November 1, 2018). Queering Kansas City Jazz. UNP - Nebraska. doi:10.2307/j.ctv75d0j7. ISBN 978-1-4962-1034-0. S2CID 194938463.
  4. ^ "Jazz: A History of America's Music". The Antioch Review. 59 (3): 631. 2001. doi:10.2307/4614218. ISSN 0003-5769. JSTOR 4614218.
  5. ^ a b c Rice, Marc (October 1, 2007). "Prelude to Swing: The 1920s Recordings of the Bennie Moten Orchestra". American Music. 25 (3): 259–281. doi:10.2307/40071662. ISSN 0734-4392. JSTOR 40071662.
  6. ^ a b c Chuck, Haddix. (2013). Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 16.
  7. ^ a b Greer, Dave; Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ken (2001). "Jazz: A History of America's Music". The Antioch Review. 59 (3): 631. doi:10.2307/4614218. ISSN 0003-5769. JSTOR 4614218.
  8. ^ Ogren, Kathy J (June 4, 1992). The Jazz Revolution. Oxford University PressNew York, NY. doi:10.1093/oso/9780195074796.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-507479-6.
  9. ^ a b c d Gioia, Ted (2011). The History of Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 153.
  10. ^ Driggs and Haddix, 2006 ISBN 9780195307122
  11. ^ Calkins, Caroll C.; Balaban, Priscilla B.; Kelleher, Mary; Latham, Frank B.; Conefrey, Rosemarie; Huber, Robert V.; Pace, Georgea A.; Woodward, Robert J., eds. (1975). The Story of America. United States: Reader's Digest. p. 398.
  12. ^ Keepnews, Peter (December 9, 2006). "Jay McShann, 90, Jazz Pianist, Bandleader and Vocalist, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2023.
  13. ^ "JAZZ A Film By Ken Burns: Places Spaces & Changing Faces - Kansas City". PBS. Retrieved May 21, 2014.
  14. ^ a b c d Gelly, David (2000). Icons of jazz: A history in photographs. Thunder Bay Press. p. 174.
  15. ^ Gioia, Ted (2011). The History of Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 152.
  16. ^ a b Tucker, Mark (1985). "Count Basie and the Piano That Swings the Band". Popular Music. 5: 45–79. doi:10.1017/S0261143000001926. ISSN 0261-1430. JSTOR 853283. S2CID 162450482.
  17. ^ Williams, Martin (Summer 1985). "Jazz: What Happened in Kansas City?". American Music. 3 (2): 174–175. doi:10.2307/3051634. JSTOR 3051634.
  18. ^ Williams, Martin (Summer 1985). "Jazz: What Happened in Kansas City?". American Music. 3 (2): 176. doi:10.2307/3051634. JSTOR 3051634.
  19. ^ a b Daniels, Douglas Henry (Autumn 1985). "Lester Young: Master of Jive". American Music. 3 (3): 313–328. doi:10.2307/3051473. JSTOR 3051473.
  20. ^ Daniels, Douglas Henry (Autumn 1985). "Lester Young: Master of Jive". American Music. 3 (3): 317. doi:10.2307/3051473. JSTOR 3051473.
  21. ^ Daniels, Douglas Henry (Autumn 1985). "Lester Young: Master of Jive". American Music. 3 (3): 319. doi:10.2307/3051473. JSTOR 3051473.
  22. ^ Williams, Martin (Summer 1985). "Jazz: What Happened in Kansas City?". American Music. 3 (2): 173. doi:10.2307/3051634. JSTOR 3051634.
  23. ^ "KCMB Kansas City News: Jazzoo 2012 Charity Event Kansas City News". June 1, 2012. Retrieved May 21, 2014.