Kansas City Jazz

Sheet music

Phases & Stages

Kansas City Jazz

By Frank Driggs & Chuck Haddix

Oxford Press, 274 pp., $32

Kansas City has been cited, along with New Orleans, Chicago, and New York, among the most important early jazz centers, but one which, according to authors Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix, has received less attention than it deserves. Lester Young, Count Basie, and Charlie Parker, among the greatest influences in jazz history, helped distinguish the Kansas City scene. During their ascendancy beginning in the Thirties, KC bands were looser, more laid back than East Coast bands like Fletcher Henderson's. Listen to Basie's recordings from that time. His band played with unusual grace, his charts airy, informal, and often made up on the spot. The authors concentrate on the Kansas City scene from the ragtime era to the early Forties, building their narrative mainly on the histories of the area's prominent big bands, those of Basie, Bennie Moten, Andy Kirk, Harlan Leonard, and Jay McShann. These were black outfits, but, happily, the authors include a section on KC's white Coon-Sanders band, which did some early third stream experimentation in the Twenties and early Thirties. The structure of the book makes sense, as Kansas City jazz was at its height during the big-band era, and most of the top KC soloists and arrangers had connections to these bands. Not enough attention is paid to acknowledged greats like tenormen Don Byas and Ben Webster, let alone admirable but underappreciated stylists, including trumpeter Shorty Baker and tenor saxophonist Dick Wilson. The politically corrupt context in which these bands flourished, the time of the Pendergast machine, is given a good deal of consideration by the authors, some of which might've been devoted to musicians' accomplishments.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
Austin Music Awards Went Off Without a Hitch in a Show of Communal Strength and Support
Austin Music Awards Went Off Without a Hitch in a Show of Communal Strength and Support
The night everything cancelled in the capitol

Doug Freeman, March 20, 2020

Texas Platters
Daniel Johnston
Chicago 2017 (Record Review)

Raoul Hernandez, Feb. 21, 2020

More by Harvey Pekar
Hey, Emily
Hey, Emily

Aug. 8, 2008

Better Git It in Your Soul
Better Git It in Your Soul
Charles Mingus Among Us

June 16, 2006

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle