During the 1920s, 1930s, and up into the 1940's, the Kansas City style of jazz flourished in and around the all-night clubs on 18th and Vine: the Chesterfield Club, Dante's Inferno, HiHat, Hey Hay Club, Paseo Ballroom, and the Pla-Mor Ballroom, where my parents, even though they were strict Baptists, admitted that they danced the night away before I was born.
So, even though the heyday of the bluesy, hot-swinging Kansas City style had passed by the time I was old enough to appreciate it, the sound never quite died out, lingering in the midwestern air like a pleasant soundtrack to our lives. You could hear it everywhere. Count Basie and Jay McShann at local jazz festivals. Milt Abel and Betty Miller at the Horseshoe Lounge on Troost, and many, many others at cozy Milton's on Main, where you could pick and enjoy a tune from Milton's 5,000+ album collection.
My favorites were the great Kansas City saxophone players: Ben Webster, Lester Young, Buster Smith, and, of course, Charlie Parker, who actually grew up not much more that a stone's throw away from 18th and Vine.
But I'm here to report that the Kansas City alto sax sound of Parker and the others is alive and well and still swinging with the intensity of Depression-era Kansas City. Right here in Huntsville, Alabama, where last Friday night I had the pleasure of listening to the modern alto sax giant, Bobby Watson, straight out of Kansas City, who, thanks to the Tennessee Valley Jazz Society, performed at the Cooper House downtown. And wow! Was Watson and his quartet of veteran bassist Curtis Lundy, and youngsters Marc Payne on piano and Terron Gully on drums hot!
They truly brought me back home again for a couple of hours, as well as bringing down the Cooper House, as if we were all back at the Reno Club at 2am on a Sunday morning in 1930s Kansas City.