Saturday was one of those Kansas City nights when the music flowed freely from the Gem Theater and other venues within the Jazz Historic District centered at 18th and Vine. Five years ago, the American Jazz Walk of Fame became a reality in the historic district. Since then, the Gem Theater has annually hosted artists' […]
Saturday was one of those Kansas City nights when the music flowed freely from the Gem Theater and other venues within the Jazz Historic District centered at 18th and Vine.
Five years ago, the American Jazz Walk of Fame became a reality in the historic district. Since then, the Gem Theater has annually hosted artists' induction and concert. Over the years, inductees have ranged from William 'Count' Basie and Kansas City native Charlie Parker Jr. to Coleman Hawkins (who attended high school in Topeka and studied at Washburn) and Ella Fitzgerald.
To be inducted and to have a bronze medallion implanted in the sidewalk near the American Jazz Museum, musicians have to fit one of two categories: 1) Kansas City jazz artists, one of whom must be a living legend; 2) National and/or international artists, one of whom must be a living luminary.
This year, four nominees (including a songwriting duo) had their names enshrined within the sidewalks of the historic district, including the late Kansas City blues guitarist, Sonny Kenner; songwriters Jerry Lieber and the late Mike Stoller; singer Marilyn Maye; and, saxophonist David Sanborn.
The Gem Theater offered a cozy, even magical, atmosphere for the concert by Marilyn Maye, who grew up in Kansas and lived here until age 14 (in Wichita and Topeka, primarily), and David Sanborn, a native of St. Louis.
At 90 years old, Marilyn Maye is not only well known on Broadway and in the jazz world, but she was also a contemporary of many jazz legends whose lights no longer shine, like Ella Fitzgerald. Maye's hour plus long concert, backed by her band, demonstrated just how well this 90 year old woman can still sing. Her powerful voice, with incredible vocal range and ability to hold a note longer than many can hold their breath, were very impressive. It was quite amazing to hear the breadth and depth of Maye's singing on this special night at the Gem. It was the first time my wife and I experienced Maye in person. This native Kansan, who calls Overland Park home today, has the distinction of holding the record for appearances by a singer on the Johnny Carson Show: 76 times.
I have been a David Sanborn fan since 1987 when I attended his concert at the Zoo Amphitheater in Oklahoma City with my then-girlfriend. Although the process of aging is starting to show (Sanborn spent most of the concert playing his alto sax while sitting on a stool), this living legend of jazz brought a powerful band to back him, including a keyboard player, drummer, bass guitarist, electric guitarist, and multi-faceted player of various percussion instruments. While Sanborn did not have the energy to get up and boogie, his band filled the void with its high-energy instrumentation. One highlight was bass guitarist Andre Berry's strutting performance of the song 'Run for Cover.' Berry essentially became one with the guitar as his body language echoed his playing of the musical instrument.
The finale brought all of the artists together, including the living half of the songwriting duo, Jerry Leiber, to perform the popular Leiber/Stoller song, 'Kansas City,' that yet remains an anthem within its namesake city.
Post-concert as my wife and I walked up and down 18th Street, contemplating the bronze medallions along the Jazz Walk of Fame, a woman came up from behind us as we gaze at Luqman Hamza's medallion.
'That was my father,' she said, before walking away to visit with friends. Incidentally, it was announced during the evening's concert that Hamza had recently died.