Art

Kansas City Jazz: A Pictorial Tour

Kansas City Jazz:

A Pictorial Tour

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In cooperation with Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix, authors of 
Kansas 
City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop
— a look at the fascinating history
of Kansas City’s golden age through book excerpts, photos and music

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All photos and book excerpts used with the permission of Frank Driggs,
author of Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop — A History

kcjazz

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“Don’t hang your head when you see those six pretty horses pullin’ me.

Put a twenty-dollar silver piece on my watch chain,

Look at the smile on my face,

And sing a little song to let the world know I’m really free.

Don’t cry for me, ’cause I’m going to Kansas City.”

– Music by Charlie Parker and lyrics by King Pleasure,

Parker’s Mood
,” 1953

photo Driggs Collection

Downtown Kansas City in the 1920s

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“If you want to see some sin, forget Paris and go to Kansas City. With
the possible exception of such renowned centers as Singapore and Port Said,
Kansas City has the greatest sin industry in the world.”

– Edward Murrow of the Omaha World-Hearld

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Kansas City Shuffle, by Bennie Moten

photo Driggs Collection

Tom Pendergast and wife, 1936

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“Kansas City’s government, ruled from 1911 to 1939 by a Democratic political
machine driven by Tom Pendergast, a burly Irishman with a twinkle in his
eye, fostered the wanton nightlife rife with gambling, prostitution, and
bootlegging.

“Tom Pendergast was the man who made Kansas City the draw for entertainment
and nightlife until tax evasion brought him down in 1939.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

courtesy Duncan Schiedt

coonsanders

Coon-Sanders Novelty Orchestra, Kansas City, 1920

Left to right:  Carleton Coon, drums/vocals/co-founder;
Carl Nocatero, trombone; Hal McClain, alto sax; Harry Silverstone, violin;
Joe Sanders, piano/vocals/co-founder; Harold Thiell, C melody sax; Bob Norfleet,
banjo; Clyde Hendrick, trumpet.

_____

“Debuting in 1920, Coon-Sanders relied mainly on novelty work.  Their
long run at the Muehlebach Hotel coupled with regular broadcasts overWDAF
eventually brought them to Chicago’s Congress Hotel in 1924.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

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Everything is Hotsy Totsy Now
, by the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks

photo Driggs Collection

Loren McMurray, the first star of Kansas City whose fame extended
elsewhere, 1922

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“McMurray, stout with a lantern jaw and slicked-back brown hair parted
down the middle in the style of the day, readily established a reputation
as an innovator and outstanding soloist. Clarinetist Cy Dewar rememberd McMurray
as ‘one of the finest hot men’ in Kansas City and the ‘first…to play
the A-flat also, while everyone was playing the C melody, also the first
to start the slap tongue vogue’…A severe case of tonsillitis nipped McMurray’s
brilliant career in the bud…[He] died on October 29, 1922, at the age of
twenty-five.  News of his death sent shock waves through the music community
of Kansas City.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

photo courtesy Local 627, A.F.M

Dave Lewis Jazz Boys, Troost Dancing Academy, Kansas City, 1920

Left to right: Leroy Maxey, drums; Depriest Wheeler, trombone;
unidentified, banjo; Lawrence Denton, clarinet; Dude Knox, piano; unidentified,
violin; Dave Lewis, alto sax, leader
.

_____

“A Chicago musician, Lewis held down the best-paying job in Kansas City
in 1920, only to lose it when he refused to hire a second saxophonist.
 Maxey and Wheeler became stars with Cab Calloway a decade later.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

photo courtesy Paul Banks/Driggs Collection

Lena and Sylvester Kimbrough, accompanied by Paul Banks Kansas Trio,
1924

Left to right:  Clifton Banks, alto sax; Winston M.W.
Holmes, clarinet; Lena Kimbrough, vocals; Paul Banks, leader/piano; Sylvester
Kimbrough, vocals

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“Paul Banks was probably the oldest bandleader.  He worked steadily,
keeping a day job at the Armour meat-packing company.  He kept working
into the late 1940s.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

photo courtesy  Charles Goodwin/Driggs
Collection

George E. Lee Singing Novelty Orchestra, Kansas City, 1924

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“His domineering personality stifled creativity and held back the band
musically, which in turn caused a constant turnover of personnel. ‘He [Lee]
changed men so many times, man, half of Kansas City was on there [in the
band],’ alto saxophonist Herman Walder reflected. ‘He used to call himself
a big shot; he’d fine his sister. He was pretty overbearing…He was a
different kind of cat altogether from Bennie Moten.'”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

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Ruff Scuffin’, by The George E. Lee Singing Novelty
Orchestra

photo  courtesy Johnny Coon/Driggs
Collection

Coon-Sanders Nighthawks, Congress Hotel, Chicago, c. 1924 – 25

Left to right:  John Thiell, tenor sax; Carleton Coon,
drums; Floyd Estep, first alto sax; Joe Sanders, piano/vocals; Harold
Thiell, alto sax; Hank Jones, banjo; Joe Richolson, trumpet; Pop Estep, tuba;
Rex Downing, trombone.

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“The Coon-Sanders band became extremely popular at the Muehlebach Hotel
through radio broadcasts.  They became the first Kansas City band to
achieve national popularity.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

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Night Hawk Blues, by the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks

photo Driggs Collection

Pla-Mor Ballroom, Kansas City, 1920s

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“Entrance was under a brilliant electric sign. Once past the door, wall
decorations of freehand painting attracted attention. Rich carpet gave an
impression of luxuriousness. Up a flight of steps and down a hall past the
women’s cloak room the eye followed vivid hunting and jungle scenes of the
modern motif. Velour tapestries were admired particularly by the women. In
the two women’s rest rooms imported Italian furniture was another feature.
The ball room and mezzanine were decorated in a more strictly patterned manner.
Here the lighting brilliance demanded the first and lasting attention. Ceiling
fixtures of beaded glass chains suspended bowl-shaped, with variable colors
glowing through them, vied with tinted lamps casting full and toned colors
across the floor from the walls.”

Kansas City Times, 1927, on the Pla-Mor Ballroom

photo Driggs Collection

Fairyland Park, Kansas City, 1930s

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“Fairyland Park was the main outdoor venue for the summer seaon in the
1930s — for Bennie Moten, Andy Kirk, Harlan Leonard, and Jay McShann and
nationally known bands on tour.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

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Vine Street Blues , by Bennie Moten

photo Driggs Collection

Jap Allen’s Cotton Club Orchestra, later known as the Cotton Pickers,
Kansas City, 1930

Left to right:  Joe Keyes, trumpet; Ben Webster, tenor
sax; Jim Daddy Walker, guitar; Clyde Hart, piano/arranger; Slim Moore, trombone;
Raymond Howell, drums; Jap Allen, bass/leader; Eddie “Orange” White, trumpet;
Al Denny, alto sax; O.C. Wynne, vocals; Booker Pittman, alto sax/clarinet;
Durwood “Dee” Stewart, trumpet

_____

“This band, modeled after McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, was the hottest band
in town during the 1930s, with extended engagements in Tulsa, Oklahoma City,
Sioux Falls, and Sioux City, as well as in Kansas City.  In 1931 Blanche
Calloway raided the band, taking six key players, thereby breaking them up.
 Allen reorganized in St. Louis, but was not successful.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

photo  courtesy Druie Bess/Driggs
Collection

Walter Page Blue Devils, Ritz Ballroom, Oklahoma City, 1931

Left to right:  Hot Lips Page, trumpet; Leroy “Snake”
White, trumpet; Walter Page, bass; James Simpson, trumpet; Druie Bess, trombone;
A.G. Godley, drums; Reuben Lynch, banjo; Charlie Washington, piano; Rueben
Roddy, tenor sax; Ernie Williams, director/vocals; Theodore Ross, first alto
sax; Buster Smith, alto sax/clarinet, arranger

_____

“The Blue Devils, considered to be the most musical band of the time,
arrived in Kansas City to play the White Horse Tavern in 1928.  One
by one, Bennie Moten hired away Hot Lips Page, Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing.
 Even Walter Page himself later had few options and joined Moten in
1931.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

“There was such a team spirit among those guys [The Blue Devils], and
it came out in the music, and you were part of it. Everything about them
really got to me, and as things worked out, hearing them that day was probably
the most important turning point in my musical career so far as my notions
about what kind of music I really wanted to try to play was concerned.”

– Count Basie

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Blue Devil Blues , by Walter Page’s Blue Devils
(Jimmy Rushing, vocals)

photo Driggs Collection

Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra, Pearl Theater, Philadelphia,
1931

Left to right:  Hot Lips Page, trumpet; Willie McWashington,
drums; Ed Lewis, first trumpet; Thamon Hayes, trombone; Woody Walder, tenor
sax, clarinet; Eddie Durham, trombone, guitar/arranger; Count Basie,
piano/arranger; Jimmy Rushing, vocals; Leroy Berry, banjo, guitar; Harlan
Leonard, first alto sax; Bennie Moten, piano, vocals; Vernon Page, tuba;
Booker Washington, trumpet; Jack Washington, alto and baritone sax; Bus Moten,
director, accordion

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“Not long after this photo was taken, Basie and Eddie Durham convinced
Bennie Moten to hire new men and change the style of the band to be more
competitive with the Eastern bands.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

“The real mistake he [Moten] made was when he went East and played the
same stuff the eastern bands were playing for years! He was a flop, because
the people expected the same western music he was famous for, and in fact
we almost got stranded. It was the saddest thing he ever did.”

– Ed Lewis

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Prince of Wails, by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra

photo Driggs Collection

Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy, Rainbow Ballroom, Denver, 1935

Left to right:  Earl Thompson, Ted Donnelly, Bob Hall,
Harry Lawson, Andy Kirk, Ted Brinson, Ed Thigpen, Booker Collins, Mary Lou
Williams, Dick Wilson, John Williams, John Harrington, Pha Terrell.
 

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“Blacks in the school systems, in business, in the professions. It was
a revelation to me. Kansas City was a regular Mecca for young blacks from
other parts of the country aspiring to higher things than janitor or chauffeur.”

– Andy Kirk

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Walkin’ and Swingin’, by Andy Kirk and the Twelve Clouds of
Joy

photo by Roland Shreves; Driggs Collection

Mary Lou Williams, pianist/arranger for Andy Kirk’s Orchestra, Denver,
1940

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Nightlife

, by Mary Lou Williams

photo Driggs Collection

Reno Club, 12th and Cherry, Kansas City, 1938

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“From 1935 to 1939 this club flourished, starting Count Basie on his way
to fame, through Bus Moten, Bill Martin, and finally Oliver Todd, before
the place was closed in the cleanup of 1939.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

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Twelfth Street Rag, by Count Basie

photo Driggs Collection

Hot Lips Page and Bus Moten Band, Reno Club, Kansas City, c.
1936

Left to right:  Bus Moten, piano; Jesse Price, drums;
Billy Hadnott, bass; Orville DeMoss, alto sax; Hot Lips Page, trumpet; Robert
Hibbler, trumpet; unknown, alto sax; Dee Stewart, trumpet; Odell West, tenor
sax.

_____

“Hot Lips Page was signed by Joe Glaser and went to New York after this
engagement.  Bus Moten was a hothead, despite having good men, and lost
the job almost immediately.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

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Limehouse Blues, by Hot Lips Page

photo courtesy Curtyse Foster; Driggs
Collection

Interior of the Reno Club, Kansas City, 1937

Left to right:  Prince Alpert, trumpet; Bill Searcy, piano;
Paul Gunther, drums; Lowell Pointer, bass; Curtyse Foster, tenor sax; Roy
“Buck” Douglas, tenor sax; Bill Martin, trumpet; Ray “Bill” Douglas, first
alto sax; Christianna Buckner, dancer.

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“It was on this bandstand that Count Basie’s career was launched in
1935.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

photo Driggs Collection

The Rockets at the Spinning Wheel, 12th and Troost, Kansas City,
1937

Left to right:  Pete Johnson, piano; Booker Washington,
trumpet; Herman Walder, alto sax; Leonard “Jack” Johnson, bass; Woody Walder,
tenor sax; Baby Lovett, drums.

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“This break-off unit from the Harlan Leonard band kept this job for three
years.  Pete Johnson, an inveterate ladies’ man, left and was replaced
by Elbert “Coots” Dye.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

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Rockin’ with the Rockets, by Harlan Leonard and the Rockets

photo by Otto Hagel; Driggs Collection

Herschel Evans soloing on “Blue and Sentimental” with the Count Basie
Band, Famous Door, 52nd Street, New York City, July 1938

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“Basie was scheduled to leave the Reno early in June in order to rehearse
his band for recording. His plans after that are uncertain at this writing,
but he will doubtless be signed up by some astute booker for a good Eastern
spot, while Kansas City goes smugly on its way, unconscious of the laxity
of these who are supposed to bring its public real entertainment and music.”

– Dave Dexter in a July 1936 issue of Down Beat

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If I Didn’t Care, by the Count Basie Band

Lester Young with the Count Basie Band, Famous Door, New York City,
1938

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Lester Leaps In, by Count Basie and His Orchestra

photo Driggs Collection

Count Basie’s Kansas City Seven, New York City, 1940

Left to right:  Jo Jones, drums; Walter Page, bass; Buddy
Tate, tenor sax; Count Basie, piano; Freddie Green, guitar; Buck Clayton,
trumpet; Dicky Wells, trombone.

_____

“Basie’s band built up their popularity on socializing….But that
band didn’t believe in going out with steady black people. They’d head straight
for the pimps and prostitutes and hang out with them. Those people were like
great advertisements for Basie. They didn’t dig Andy Kirk. They said he was
too uppity. But Basie was down there, lying in the gutter, getting drunk
with them. He’d have his patches on his pants and everything. All of his
band was like that.”

– Gene Ramey

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Tickle Toe, by Count Basie

photo Driggs Collection

Harlan Leonard’s Rockets, RCA Studios, Chicago, 1940

Left to right:  Richmond Henderson, trombone; Jimmie Keith,
tenor sax/arranger; Edward “Peeny” Johnson, first trumpet; James Ross,
trumpet/arranger; Harlan Leonard, first alto sax; William Smith, trumpet;
Darwin Jones, third alto sax/vocals; Winston Williams, bass; Henry Bridges,
tenor sax; Jesse Price, drums; William S. Smith, piano.

_____

“For the past year Leonard has been building his aggregation until now
he is almost over the edge.  Several sore spots in the band have been
eliminated and the band to date is one of the best swing bands in the country,
barring none.”

– Leroy Brown, Kansas City Call, c. 1938

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My Gal Sal
, by Harlan Leonard’s Rockets

photo by Robert Armstrong; Driggs Collection

Jay McShann, 1940

Left to right:  Gene Ramey, bass; Jay McShann, piano;
Gus Johnson, drums; Walter Brown, vocalist; Joe Baird, trombone; Bill Nolan,
vocalist; Orville Minor, trumpet.

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“The clubs didn’t close.  About 7:00 in the morning the cleanup man
would come and all the guys at the bar would move out of the way.  And
the bartender would serve them at the table while the place got cleaned up.
 Then they would go back to the bar.  The clubs went 24 hours a
day.”

– Jay McShann

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Dexter Blues, by the Jay McShann Orchestra

photo courtesy Lord Bud Calver; Driggs
Collection

Jesse Price and Charlie Parker, Kansas City, summer 1938

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“Price dug Parker and induced Buster Smith to hire him for the job they
held down at Lucille’s Band Box.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

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Coquette,
by the Jay McShann Orchesta (with Charlie Parker)

photo Driggs Collection

Charlie Parker, posing at a dime-store photomat, Kansas City,
1940

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Swingmatism, by the Jay McShann Orchesta (with Charlie Parker)

photo by Robert Armstrong; Driggs Collection

Charlie Parker, alto sax, and Gene Ramey, bass, Kansas City,
1940

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“Parker was the last and perhaps greatest star to come out of Kansas
City.”

– Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs

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Oh, Lady be Good, by the Jay McShann Orchesta (with Charlie Parker)

photo Driggs Collection

Exterior of the Pla-Mor Ballrom, Kansas City’s best-known
ballroom

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“…Stark’s agents descended on Kansas City, enforcing state liquor
restrictions to the letter of the law and forcing clubs on 12th and 18th
Streets to shut down at 2 A.M. and remain closed on Sunday. The curtailed
operating hours immediately eroded the quantity and quality of nightlife
in Kansas City. Facing decreased revenues from the loss of late night and
early morning customers, club owners scaled back on entertainment by replacing
musicians with jukeboxes. Musicians relying exclusively on club work soon
found themselves looking for day jobs.”

– Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix

photo Driggs Collection

Famous Kansas City location, 18th and Vine, 1940’s

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“[Racial segregation] was a horrible thing, but a bitter-sweet thing.
We owned the Street’s Hotel. We owned Elnora’s restaurant. The Kansas City
Monarchs were our team. The money we made in the community, stayed in the
community. When we traveled we spent money in other black communities and
it came back when they came to Kansas City.”

– Negro League baseball player Buck O’Neil

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Harmony Blues , by Bennie Moten

kcjazz

 

Kansas City Jazz:

From Ragtime to Bebop, A History

by Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix

________

Kansas
City: Paris of the Plains

Kansas City’s Local 627

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Excerpted from
Kansas
City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop, A History
, by Frank Driggs and Charles
Haddix; copyright, 2005. Excerpted by permission of the author.  All
rights reserved. No part of these excerpts or photographs may be reproduced
or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.