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Jazz Style in Kansas City

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Jazz Style in Kansas City
Ross Russell
Da Capo Press
1997

As Russell describes it, the Kansas City jazz scene was founded on the combination of isolation from the jazz mainstream in Chicago and New York, and a vital night life that was depression-proof and unaffected by Prohibition, protected by the corrupt political machine of Mayor Tom Pendergast. Thus a local jazz culture was free to develop in its many nightclubs, dance halls and theaters, based on regional blues and folk music styles, as well as on ragtime, whose masters Scott Joplin and James Scott flourished in Missouri.

After chapters on the economic and musical bases of Kansas City jazz, the heart of the book is a series of chapters tracing in considerable detail the lives and fortunes of many orchestras and individuals from the region. Here is pianist / composer / arranger Mary Lou Williams' account of the Coleman Hawkins / Lester Young / Herschel Evans / Ben Webster jam session: "Around four A.M. I awoke to hear someone pecking on my screen. Opened the window on Ben Webster. He was saying, 'Get up, pussycat, we're jammin' and all the pianists are tired out now. Hawkins has got his shirt off and is still blowing.'" Here is bandleader Benny Moten, preparing for his tonsillectomy by a night on the town with his surgeon and then dying under the none-too-steady knife the next morning, with Count Basie taking over the leaderless band. Here is Brunswick (later Columbia) record producer John Hammond's discovery of Count Basie, whose broadcast sounds he picked up on the short-wave radio he'd had installed in his car.

Here also are such obscure details as the KC address where George and Julia Lee worked in 1920, or the name of the gangster beaten half to death in front of drummer Jesse Price's band, who had been brought out of town just to witness this. Altogether, Jazz Style is replete with names, anecdotes and musical analysis, as will likewise be recalled by readers of Russell's later and better known biography of Charlie Parker, Bird Lives. Buster Smith and the Blue Devils, Bennie Moten, Jack Teagarden, Basie, Lester Young, Andy Kirk, Harlan Leonard, Jay McShann and Charlie Parker each get a chapter of their own, with the story ultimately moving to the New York of Harlem jam sessions and 52nd Street nightclubs as the Pendergast era ends in Kansas City.

Includes notes, discography, bibliography, index, and photographs.


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