Past History of KC Jazz



Kansas City Jazz has a very rich and interesting history. Not only was it a fundamentally key location on the shape the aesthetic of the art form, also it has some darker overtones of its history, truly it could be said that reality surpasses fiction when it comes to the stories you can hear in the back alleys of Kansas City's Jazz District.

The first band from Kansas to acquire a national reputation was the Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra, a white group which broadcast nationally in the 1920s. However, the Kansas City jazz school is identified with the bands of the 1920s and 1930s. The roots of Kansas City Jazz are quite varied. Blues singers and ragtime music are a heavy influence to the Kansas City Style. In the early days, many jazz groups were smaller dance bands with three to six pieces. By the mid-1920s, the big band scheme was the most common.

In the 1930s, Kansas City was very much the crossroads of the United States resulting in a mix of cultures. Transcontinental trips at the time whether by plane or train often required a stop in the city. Simultaneously, while the jazz fever was growing so was the political rise of Tom Pendergast. He declared that KC was a wide open ton with liquor laws and hours totally ignored. As an entertainment center, Kansas City had no equal. This booming nightlife attracted displaced musicians from everywhere in mid-America. Throughout the Depression, Kansas City bands continued to play while other bands across the nation folded. The city was shielded from the worst of the Depression due to an early form of New Deal-style public works projects that provided jobs, and affluence, that kept the dance-oriented nightlife in town swinging.

Only in KC did Jazz continue to flourish. At one time there were more than 100 nightclubs, dancehalls and vaudeville houses in Kansas City, regularly featuring jazz music. Clubs were scattered throughout city but the most fertile area was the inner city neighborhood of 18th Street and Vine.

Perhaps one of the greatest outcomes of Kansas City jazz was the Jam Session. After performances, musicians would get together to exchange ideas and experiment with new methods of playing. The best local and out of town musicians would take part in these jam sessions that lasted well into the next day.

The Pendergast political machine collapsed after he was indicted on tax evasion, reform elements took over and nightclubs and cabarets shut down. Jobs for musicians dried up and the bands took to the road. By 1942, with the turmoil of World War II, many of the musicians had been drafted. Finally, by 1944, the great Kansas City jazz era slowed down, but it didn't totally die out. Today, Kansas City Jazz thrives on!