Monday, December 14, 2009

Kansas City Jazz Revisited

My niece, Janette, visiting from San Francisco, wanted to listen to Kansas City jazz so I found us tickets to Diverse, an up and coming jazz group playing a one night gig at the Record Bar on Westport Road.

Janette, herself, is an accomplished pianist and music lover while I am, at best, a very reluctant jazz lover. I am tone deaf. I can't carry a tune. I am a piano and guitar lesson flunkie. And I am a lover of Elvis Presley, doowop, The Platters and ABBA. My late husband, Felix, on the other hand, loved jazz and took it upon himself to lure me away from what he considered to be my pedestrian taste and educate me on the finer points of jazz music. "I know all about jazz." I used to say. "I wrote a paper on Tin Pan Alley and the History of Jazz in high school." "That's not learning it." He insisted. "You have to feel the music and let it speak to your soul." He would say. And so it was that I allowed him to drag me to jazz concerts, (the likes of Count Basie even) and to jazz festival pub crawls when we were healthy enough to withstand second hand smoke and to the French Quarter in New Orleans and jazz clubs in Chicago. He had me listen to musicians like Pete Fountain, Charlie Parker, Al Hirt and others. Felix thoroughly loved live jazz while I, on the other hand, struggled to listen to instrument improvisations that go on for several minutes at a time, hoping it would speak to my soul. Jazz lovers don't care that in a two hour concert, the band may have played only eight compositions. Elvis and The Platters can speak to my soul in three minutes. Needless to say, jazz and I were not on the same page, my taste being limited to Dixie and Dave Brubeck. Ask me about jazz and Watermelon Man comes to mind. Because my husband loved it, I tried to be friends with it, sometimes even allowing myself to enjoy musicians like Wynton and Branford Marsalis.

Back to Diverse. Diverse was the last jazz band I took Felix to. We were invited to listen to them in the home of one of the Friends of Jazz Club in January this year. Surprisingly I liked them, so I invited Janette and her parents who were not jazz fans themselves to this one night show.

Diverse has a sound that is young, eclectic and fun. Members of the band have won awards and played with well known bands. Young (early twenties, two of them still in college at the University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory of Music) but extremely talented, all the band members compose and create most of tunes they play. Ryan Lee plays drums; Ben Leifer is on bass; William Sanders plays tenor sax, John Brewer plays piano and rhodes and Hermon Mehari is on trumpet. Some Bobby Watson sound is noticeable in their compositions, not surprising since they have him for a mentor. I thought I heard some Charlie Parker influence as well but what do I know. Nonetheless, what I liked about them is that they made jazz enjoyable to people like me with their playful syncopations, the different styles that seem to come together just right and the sheer mastery of their instrument. And they seemed to be having fun doing it.

No, I am sorry to say, they still did not speak to my soul like Elvis or ABBA would have.

Find out more about Diverse at Diversejazz, listen to their sound, buy their CD and when they are rich and famous, remember, you heard it first from me. The Record Bar is at 1020 Westport Rd, Kansas City, MO.


Hermon Mehari said...

Thank you for coming to see us, and writing about us. We appreciate it! I'm glad you can enjoy listening to us.

We're definitely trying to create a certain amount of accessibility so that more people can enjoy the music. It's encouraging to see responses like yours.

-Hermon Mehari

Nora Quiason said...

We really enjoyed your show. I think my brother and sister in law were converted to your sound that night.
I'm sure we'll become groupies.



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