Stepping into the Green Lady Lounge
feels like stepping back into the 1940s. Dim lighting, red walls, red drapes and faux-classic art lining the walls all build a classic ambiance. This must be what a jazz club in Kansas City
used to feel like.
That's all by design. It's owner John Scott's vision or, as he puts it, his point of view.
"It's the club's responsibility to get the patrons in," Scott explains. "When I hear club owners say, we want that band to get butts in seats, I don't think that's a useful phrase, and I don't ever want to hear anybody representing Green Lady Lounge to use that phrase. It's beyond the ability, generally, of a band in the jazz genre to put butts in seats.
"There's a lot of things marketing-wise that can make a jazz musician or a jazz band popular. If you go somewhere where they don't get a lot of jazz, then maybe a jazz band can put butts in seats. But in Kansas City there's jazz everywhere. It's so rich. It's like gold to the Mayans.
"So that can't be the primary draw. You cannot expect amazing, world-class jazz musicians to draw people into a barn. The club has to have a certain aesthetic. It has to have a point of view.
"That point of view comes from me. The look, the paint, the color, the accessories, the dark lighting, all of those things to me are pleasing. For a lot of reasons I've incorporated them into the bar. Some of them are very pragmatic. The drop ceiling is both an aesthetic, useful thing, and it's practical, relatively inexpensive. It connects the two sides of the building which were cut in half originally. This building has been around since 1889."
That point of view equally encompasses the music.
"The first year was a sampler platter of a whole variety of kinds of music," Scott says. "I was listening and trying to figure out the Kansas City sound. What is it in the past? What is it now? What is it going to be in the future? And what do I want to help give a home to?
"I learned to really dislike pick-up gigs, where people are just kind of filling time on stage. I wanted bands. I wanted people who play together on a regular basis to bring their best. I don't want jam sessions. This is not the venue for that. This is a place where people come, experience the ambiance and there's a band that plays together and is also producing original content."
Often that content includes an organ. You will not find a piano on the club's main floor, unless a musician has brought his own keyboard. Instead you'll see a Hammond B-3 organ. A favorite ensemble in the room is OJT. They're the classic organ trio with Ken Lovern on organ, Brian Baggett on guitar and Kevin Frazee on drums.
Scott describes OJT as "a kind of a north star, a point to guide everything else by. It's a sound that I feel combines a dirt road kind of blues and a real jazz sophistication. OJT is a Kansas City sound to me that combines swing with a lot of sophistication."
Yet Scott also looks beyond classic jazz ensembles. Another favorite is vibraphonist Peter Schlamb's eclectic group Electric Tinks.
"To me, Electric Tinks is not experimenting," Scott says. "It's progressive. It is pushing the genre. You can see from where he's pulling but he's doing a lot of original stuff. His musicianship is fantastic. And talk about a point of view. They've got a great a future and I'm incorporating them into our rotation."
Whether you agree with it or disagree, John Scott's point of view is working. He pegs half his customers as coming from outside of Kansas City.
"Kansas City jazz is something that already exists out there, this brand," he says. "We just realize the product and give it justice, give it support and help market it. People come to Kansas City and if they hear on Huffington Post or some Facebook feed, or however they heard about Kansas City jazz, and then they hear about Green Lady, associate it with Kansas City jazz, then they seek it out. That's what's happening.
"Green Lady is an evangelical jazz club because we're not just preaching to the people who already know they love jazz, but rather I believe in getting people exposed to jazz and I believe they will like it.
That point of view extends to Scott's vision for growing Kansas City jazz.
"If there isn't a jazz scene, then you take a shotgun approach. But when a scene is vital and rich, clubs can more narrowly define, deeply and richly, what your take on the Kansas City sound is. Evidence of a rich scene would be that each club books a more focused part of the overall scene.
"Other private people need to come along and join the scene in earnest. If they don't think it's commercially viable, they're wrong. If they want some help, I can help them. That doesn't mean making it just like the Green Lady but it does mean having an aesthetic that is unique to you and consistent in your point of view and care.
"We have excellent, amazing musicians in Kansas City who, given the right environment, will really spread the love of Kansas City jazz."
This article first appeared in the June/July 2016 issue of Jam Magazine