All That Jazz
Kansas City Here I Come…and There I Go
Hello there, welcome to Blake’s Blog. Today’s post is the third and final post regarding
my musical experiences during my three years in Kansas City.
I leave KC tomorrow and head for my new home in Port Charlotte, Florida!
I already posted about some of my first gigs here in KC, and I also posted about the many fine people I met and worked with here, and named as many as I could. This third installment looks at the direction my bass career took after I moved here, and some of my most memorable gigs.
I have been playing the bass for 45 years now. I switched from trombone to electric bass at age 14, and taught myself to play. I am also self-taught on double (upright) bass and have never had a lesson, just did my best to learn on my own and emulate what it was supposed to sound like. I didn’t go to college, I just read charts and played along with records. Right from the start I played in an 18-piece big band, Joy Brass Beat. I had to sight-read charts on 3 and 4 hour gigs, playing all the standard big band repertoire. In addition to this band I also played in the high school’s jazz bands, and loved jazz fusion. Right from the beginning I was doing my best to play Weather Report (Jaco), Stanley Clarke, Spyro Gyra, David Sanborn, Return to Forever, Crusaders, Larry Carlton, Pat Metheny and Billy Cobham. I love jazz but the majority of my career has consisted of playing pop and rock music, metal, r&b, calypso, funk, prog, folk, and modern dance hits. For me, jazz is the genre that I performed the least, compared to the other genres. There have been years where I might have only played my upright bass 10 times during the year. In Kansas City I have sometimes been playing upright bass 10 times a month!
I had been playing the same old Kay upright bass for the last 43 years and I made it work, but it was not a great instrument. I think one of the reasons I hadn’t previously pursued playing more jazz/upright bass gigs was because I knew this bass didn’t play that great, and it limited what I wanted to do. When I started networking and doing gigs here in KC (2021) I got hired to do some upright bass jazz gigs. That’s what they like here, the upright bass, and there are some incredible bass players here in KC. The cats I played jazz with continued to keep hiring me and it became apparent that I could do as many of these jazz gigs as I wanted to have on the calendar, but that Kay bass… Fortunately there is a wonderful guy here who runs a bass shop, Black Dog Bass Works in Mission, KS. The owner/luthier is bassist Greg Clinkingbeard and he was very helpful to me during my time here. From Greg’s shop I bought a new bass, a BRAND NEW Shen bass that plays and sounds 10 times better than the old Kay. All of a sudden my playing sounded better than before and it has been a joy each time I perform on this bass. My career here, for the first time, included more jazz than pop/rock. That’s a huge change for me.
Kansas City is known for having a rich jazz history. While there are monster jazz players in Denver where I am originally from, KC has an even greater level of jazz appreciation by the community and there are more jazz clubs here. There is a Jazz Museum that is quite large and full of incredible displays. Of course, Kansas City was the home of Charlie Parker and is also known for Count Basie, Ben Webster, Joe Williams, and Pat Metheny. There are also some prominent musicians here now who have heavy reputations, and I was lucky enough to play with several of them over the last couple years.
Here are some of my most memorable experiences playing jazz here in KC…
I was lucky enough to get a call to play at Green Lady Lounge (KC’s top club) with local icon, guitarist Danny Embrey. This was a pretty huge opportunity for me. Danny has a regular bass player, Gerald Spaits, who has been with him for many years. Subbing for Gerald is a heavy gig. I did my best, and Denny Embrey hired me again after that night when he needed a sub. This was a very rewarding gig for me in many ways.
I played numerous times here with saxophonist Max Levy, who is remarkably good. Max hired me for a lot of gigs. Thanks Max for your trust and for all the gigs. Max on sax…this cat can play on another level and was a great guy to work with. One of my many gigs with Max was at the ancient jazz club The Phoenix, where the audience applauded enthusiastically for my solos and let me know that I ‘belonged’.
Clayton DeLong is a guitarist here in KC who is very popular and plays gigs almost every night. I was fortunate to get hired by Clayton many times and even more blessed to hear his impeccable playing. Loved working with Clayton, a true Master.
Another guitarist I played with a lot, especially in 2023, is Brian Ruskin. The mix of tunes that Brian would call on a gig were right up my alley, and I enjoyed my relationship with Brian to the fullest extent. One of the best gigs I did in the past three years was with Brian at Chaz on the Plaza. Thanks brother.
I did a lot of non-jazz gigs here too, but this post is about my jazz career that happened here…
and here are a few of the other jazz bands/players in KC that contributed to my “new direction” as a jazz bassist….lol.
Alex Abramovitz’s Swingin’ KC Jazz Band
Hot Club KC (Adam Galblum)
Tim Reid Jr.
Bon Bon Gitan
Richie and the Royals
Thanks to all those players and singers, and to any other jazz musicians I worked with here.
I loved being part of the ‘jazz scene’ here in KC.
Of course, Pat Metheny grew up here in Kansas City and then he moved to Florida. I make that exact same move move tomorrow!
Thanks for reading Blake’s Blog. Cheers!