The Harbinger Online

Jazzin’ Up a KC Tradition

A hint of cologne filled my nose as my dad opened the door to the Blue Room. My shoulders slumped and my cheeks grew hot as I walked in with my forty-five-year-old dad because, as a high school student under 18, I was too young to go by myself. I set foot in a small foyer where a gray-haired, middle-aged woman welcomed me, taking my $10 in exchange for a ticket. Printed in small block letters, the paper read “AJM presents Jazz Disciples”.

My first introduction to the band and the Blue Room awaited. My initial discomfort melted away after I was individually greeted and led to a seat. From kids to middle-aged couples to 90-year-olds, the variety of people attracted to the Blue Room intrigued me. The band radiated confidence, entertaining me with their subtle interactions. The intimate setup of tables near the stage gave the performance a personal feel, and I found myself beaming while swaying to the music.

The Blue Room is a small jazz bar and American Jazz Museum exhibit rolled into one. During the day, the museum highlights the original Blue Room established in the 1930s and the countless performers who paved their careers through Kansas City jazz. By night, groups and soloists in the present KC jazz community claim the stage to share their music.

I longed to experience the jazz nightlife as I stepped into the main room. An elderly couple perched near the stage could barely keep their drooping eyes open. A family with two young boys waited patiently in a booth toward the back. A large group of middle-aged people filed in, disturbing the calm with their cheers and laughter. I don’t belong here, I contemplated. But after scanning the room again, I grasped that there was no “normal”: there was a mix of attendees. I hesitated inside door frame, unsure of what to do next.

Fortunately, a man named Ron stepped into my line of sight. I’m still not positive if he worked there or not, but either way he greeted me kindly. He asked me how I’d been and if any specific place caught my eye. Wrinkles crowded his dark face and his gaudy silver and crystal ring shined as he shook my hand. “The best seat in the house,” I replied with a grin. His eyes brightened. “I have the perfect spot for you – not too close, not too far – my favorite place,” he told me. He lead me to a table just to the left of the stage. His warm welcome eased my discomfort.

The band members strolled in one by one, chuckling as they hugged and shook hands. They assembled their instruments, whether that meant lugging a bass across the room or simply sitting at the glossy black grand piano. The stage was tucked in a corner near the entrance. There was no backstage area, just a small wooden platform. The band reviewed notes and rhythms with quick fingers as I grew restless for the show to begin. It was already 8:45 p.m. and I was worried about waking early the next morning for a soccer tournament.

A voice over the microphone interrupted my thoughts.

“The Blue Room is an escape from all the problems in your life,” the saxophonist said. “Here if you were having a good day or a bad day, it doesn’t matter anymore, because now you’re in the Blue Room.”

Dark blue walls blanketed the space. The small stage sat on eye level with the audience. I settled comfortably in my seat as the dim light glowed overhead and music played softly in the background. The sound of a few low voices drifted across the tightly packed tables.

I leaned back in my leather-covered seat as the band began to play. The first song, an original, started slowly: light drums, smooth piano and steady bass. From the moment they began playing, I was entertained. The music was good, yes, but the nuances and dynamics of the performers demanded my attention.

Almost simultaneously, they closed their eyes. Heads nodded, feet tapped, fingers flew. The band introduced each song by playing cohesively, but as the song progressed, each musician had a solo opportunity. A nod from one to the others indicated the time for the transition to another solo. The others on stage provided a controlled background sound. I respected that they were together, yet individual.

The band chose a variety of material: original, classic and popular. I was startled by how much I recognized. But the fact that the show didn’t seem traditionally rehearsed amazed me most. Each musician knew the basic tune, chords and beats but once they found the groove, improvisation was key. This realization heightened my liking.

It baffled me that they didn’t simply spit back out notes memorized from a sheet of paper; they thought on their feet, feeling the sound and reading the energy. Each moment overflowed with intricate note changes, riffs and beats. I was most impressed by the pianist — his ability to hear rich chord combinations was astounding. At times the saxophone bogged down the speed of the song but the others managed to balance it.

During breaks in the performance, I looked around the room. A heavyset man in a little hat at the back of the bar joked with Ron and the bartender. Dunn, the saxophonist, strode offstage to talk to Kevin, the sound guy. A man at the bar laughed with a waitress and the bartender. Everybody knew somebody, and if you didn’t, you’d quickly settle in, like I did.

If you enjoy music, can appreciate artistry, and want to learn about the true foundation of the great city we call home, I encourage you to visit the Blue Room. I wasn’t expecting to have a great time, and was pleasantly surprised when I did.


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