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Meet Tom Wells

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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What makes a great jazz club?
My ideal club would have music five to seven days a week. It would have early sets (5:00 pm) two or three times a week. They probably would have singles, duos, or trios and/or jam sessions during the week, with larger groups on the weekend. My favorite grouping is a rhythm section, a couple of horns—or horn and guitar—and a male and female vocalist. The leader (and others) would work the house and banter back and forth with humor. The band would provide some education with background info about their musical selections. There would be a dance floor. Décor and physical setting isn't that much of an issue. However, good acoustics, sound system and sight lines are a must. A decent menu (doesn't have to be gourmet) is a big plus. A happy hour wouldn't hurt.

Which club(s) are you most regularly found at?
We are at the Phoenix a lot. It's almost like the TV "Cheers" bar, a comfortable, fun place, with great music, of course. We enjoy the Green Lady Lounge, also great music. The Blue Room is another stop; it's in the 18th and Vine area, which has a lot of musical and cultural history. It's also the home of the American Jazz Museum. For jazz lovers or just history buffs, the American Jazz Museum is a must-see in Kansas City.

Is there a club that's no longer around that you miss the most?
I probably miss Club 427 the most. It was located the city market area, which is in the oldest part of KC. They had wonderful musicians including The Scamps, a legendary black group that has been around since the 1950s. The food was good. The vibes were good. There was a second level, which is a little unusual for this town.

Do you have a favorite jazz anecdote?
My only "claim to fame" in the Kansas City jazz scene occurred in 1999. I organized a musical program for a non-profit's annual fundraiser. I put together Eldar Djangirov and Claude "Fiddler" Williams. The two had never played together before. A little background: In the late 1990s, a very young Eldar, a piano prodigy from Kyrgyzstan, moved to the USA. His parents were music teachers who loved jazz, and even though jazz was outlawed in their homeland, they exposed Eldar to it at an early age. He showed an amazing flair for the music, and the family was able to migrate to the US so he could further develop his gift and pursue a jazz career. The family chose Kansas City to live in, solely due to their love of Count Basie's music. Claude "Fiddler" Williams, on the other hand, had a long career in Kansas City, playing and recording nationally with many famous bands, including Count Basie's. The event was called "Soul of the City—It's Ageless." Eldar (13) and Claude (92) played wonderfully together. The crowd went wild. They were a hit, and played other venues. Eldar went on to school on the west coast and a Grammy-nominated career and is now based in New York. Claude died a couple of years later. With an almost 80 year age difference they were truly an ageless duo.

How do you discover new artists?
We are involved with the Jazz Friends that support Bobby Watson and Dan Thomas, who head up the University of Missouri-Kansas City Jazz Program. We have known Jim Mair, Director of Jazz program at Kansas City Kansas Community College, for more than 20 years. We learn of new players through those contacts. Additionally, veteran and highly respected musicians such as, Tim Whitmer and Lonnie McFadden will, on occasion, introduce an "up-and-comer" during their gigs. Vinyl, CDs, mp3s, streaming? My preference is live music. When driving, I prefer CDs and radio. At home, CDs and Pandora.

If you were a professional musician which instrument would you play?
Even though I have no musical ability, and little rhythm, as a kid I loved drums and tap dancing, and dreamed of doing both. Identifying with tapping and drumming's high level of activity was much like fantasizing being one of the Three Musketeers. I still dig tap and drum.

What's your desert island disc?
I guess I would have to go back to high school and "You Belong to Me." I might also try to sneak in something more lively, like "Moten Swing."

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