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Meet Tom Wells

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?
Upon returning to Kansas City in1985 I began going out to hear jazz and blues about once a month. I really didn't get hooked until 1990, though, when the Phoenix Jazz Bar opened in downtown Kansas City. The music was great and the people were friendly. I just started getting into the scene. I would go there or to other clubs a couple of times a week. I took some short adult education classes on KC jazz and blues. I joined a couple of volunteer groups, KC Jazz Ambassadors and KC Blues Society. Each group supports their music by providing scholarships and assistance to musicians in need.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?
Since 1985.

How often do you go out to hear live music?
After hooking up with Geri in 2005, my jazz involvement increased. It's hard to say how often we go out to live music and related activities. I know if we only go out one time during the week there are real feelings of withdrawal, and we feel as if we are definitely missing something. On the other end of the continuum, when we go out on four or five consecutive nights we are pretty worn out. I would guess we go out three or four times a week, including a great Sunday brunch at the Phoenix Bar where two of our favorite musicians, Millie Edwards and Dan Sturdevant, musicians hold court. They also contribute in many other areas of the community. They're great musicians, great people, great friends.

What is it about live music that makes it so special for you?
When listening to the performers, I feel good. In fact, it is good for my soul and makes me feel happy. It is just a FUN experience. Maybe this is where I should put in a disclaimer. I'm not musical; Geri throws things at me on the rare occasion that I attempt to sing. I'm not a critic, and I don't follow the national scene very closely, even though I did enjoy Chick Corea's performance at the recent KC Jazz and Heritage Festival at 18th and Vine. I am also looking forward to catching the The Hot Sardines at the historic Folly Theatre in early 2018. I like to focus on the local scene. Geri and I have gotten to know many musicians, fellow patrons, staff, and a few club owners. Many are now friends. We have jazz-related art work in our home. The most prominent is an original piece entitled "1935," an abstract that denotes venues and musicians from the 1935 heyday of jazz in Kansas City. Downstairs in my man cave, the walls are covered with photos and prints of jazz musicians. Many include Geri and me, and are autographed.

What is the farthest you've traveled in order to get to a jazz performance?
In the first year of our relationship, Geri and I had the jazz experience of a lifetime, thanks to Jon McGraw, who is big in the KC Jazz scene. Jon turned us on to a trip that Bobby Watson's University of Missouri at Kansas City Jazz Orchestra was taking to Europe. The Friends of Jazz, a support organization to Bobby's outstanding UMKC Jazz program, was offering a few spots for fans to travel with the 17-piece orchestra. In 2006, this group played at a park beneath the Eiffel Tower. They played twice at the Montreux Jazz Festival on the beautiful Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The final gig was at the world famous North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam Holland. This was my first trip to Europe and it exceeded any dream I ever had of going to Europe. Again, we met folks who became friends.

If you could go back in time and hear one of the jazz legends perform live, who would it be? I would like to add "and get to know." This is a tough one, and I am going to mention three. Louis Armstrong was pretty much there in the beginning of jazz. He did it all, beginning with having no sound equipment and filling settings of all sizes with his powerful and wonderful sound. He performed with big bands. He played in movies. What a range, and what an ambassador for jazz. I would also go with Kansas City's own Charlie Parker. I have heard numerous musicians and educators state that Charlie had influenced most music and the musicians that followed him. Lastly, Glenn Miller. I just love his sound. It is very sad that he was lost to all at such a young age, in the service of his country.

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