History and contemporary jazz meshed in Kansas City’s 18th and Vine District, as the 2015 inductees to the American Jazz Walk of Fame were unveiled recently, followed by some great entertainment inside the famed GEM Theater.
The district is one of our favorite areas of Kansas City. It’s home to the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The district once served as THE place to be in jazz music – Count Basie performed here. Elle Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong Jr, too. It was home to some of the best music in the world.
The Walk of Fame is sure to help attract more visitors to the area, as people love learning about an area’s stars.
“I’ve said, New Orleans may have invented jazz music,” said Kevin Mahogany, one of the performers at the evening’s concert, “But, Kansas City made jazz.” That brought a loud roar and applause from the nearly packed theater.
This year’s six inductees had their gold medallions revealed on 18th Street, in front of the GEM, while a crowd of more than 100 watched. Everett Devan, Colman Hawkins, Bennie Moten, Myra Taylor, Claude “Fiddler” Williams and Lester Young made up this year’s class.
Devan has been a respected staple in the community for more than four decades. He has been a Jazz and Blues organist, pianist and keyboard player. He moved to Kansas City from Colorado at the age of 18, and has opened for acts including BB King, Tom, Emerson, lake and Palmer, as well as Count Basie.
Hawkins is a St. Joseph, Missouri, native. Born in 1904, he played his first professional show at the age of 17. Hawkins performed around the United States, before launching a solo tour in Europe. He returned to the United States in 1939. Hawkins passed away in 1969, a month after what would be his last performance in Chicago.
Moten had a short career, dying in 1935. The Kansas City native led the KC Orchestra during the 1920s. He helped create the riffing style that would be popular in the 1930s.
Taylor was a Bonner Springs, Kansas, native, but moved to KC at an early age. Her career took off when she was 14. She sang in clubs. She toured the Midwest in bands during the 1930s.
After recording a hit song in the 1940s, Taylor became frustrated with the American music industry and spent several years abroad. She performed for troops as part of the USO tours. Taylor was also an actress, appearing on both television and film.
Williams, an Oklahoma native, had a gift for music. He learned to play guitar, mandolin, banjo and cello by the time he was 10 years old. After hearing a violin during a concert, he convinced his family to buy him his first one the next day.
He moved to KC in 1928 and started playing swing music. Count Basie sought out Williams for a spot in his new band in 1936. Williams was the first person named to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
Young played with his family’s band, until 1927. He refused to play southern engagements, because of Jim Crow laws. He settled in Kansas City and worked with several bands. He enjoyed success working with Basie.
He enjoyed more success after World War II. He is said to have popularized the term “cool” to mean something fashionable and “bread” for money.
Young recorded his final album and performed his final public show in early March 1959, in Paris. He died late that month at the age of 49.
This year’s inductees joined the Class of 2014 as the first 12 musicians honored on the KC Jazz Walk of Fame.
The first class has their medallions in front of the Jazz Museum. Honored in last year’s class were: Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Mary Lou Williams, Jay McShann, Pat Matheny and Bobby Watson.
The evening’s events didn’t end there. We took in a concert featuring three Kansas City-area stars.
Paula Saunders opened the show with a couple of songs. Saunders, who has sang since she was 2, belted out in an outstanding voice. It was a pleasure to hear her sing.
The middle act – Kevin Mahogany – performed a bit longer. Mahogany is a true entertainer. He worked the crowd between songs, injecting humor in the show. The man can sing! He has his version of “Kansas City,” which he mixes with the standard hit version, while adding his own flair.
The headliner was Grammy-award winning Norman Brown. The Kansas City, Kansas, product moved the crowd with his smooth and eclectic guitar sound. He did very little singing, letting the guitar riff for him. His sound is like a mix of Jim Hendrix and George Benson. You could tell their influence with his play.
I swear the smile never left the young man’s face. He loves playing and entertaining, especially for his home area.
Brown entertained the crowd for about an hour. He was called back on stage for an encore. He brought Mahogany with him and they performed Mahogany’s “Kansas City.” Simply astonishing!
We had an amazing time. The induction ceremony was moving and inspiring. The concert was deafening and entertaining. Could you ask for anything more?
If you’re interested in learning about next year’s event, please check the website at www.americanjazzmuseum.org. The public is invited to attend the reveal for free.
Disclaimer: Thanks to the Kansas City Visitors Bureau for the ceremony invitation and the complimentary tickets for the concert. However, all opinions and views are ours.