Kansas City Jazz

RayMillerOrchBainKansas City jazz began as a synthesis of ragtime, marching bands, blues performers, and vaudeville. There were many theaters, dance hall, cabarets, night clubs, and ballrooms where this music flourished. Another key element was a strong economy coupled with a corruption that ran so deep that Kansas City felt few repercussions from the great depression. There were many opportunities to perform and hear live music.

Kansas City Jazz - Episode 1

On this podcast I will play some examples of the type of music heard in Kansas City in the early 20th century including recordings of two of the most successful early band leaders from this area.
CompositionArtistYear
12th Street RagSonny Stitt1956
Canhanibalmo RagArthur Pryor’s Band1911
Frog Legs RagJames Scottca. 1910
12th Street RagWillie the Lion Smithca. 1950
Night Hawk BluesCoon Sanders Night Hawks1924
Cater Street RagBenny Moten Orchestra1925

Kansas City Jazz - Episode 2

Benny Moten was a pianist, who at one time, was pupil of Scott Joplin. He became a successful band leader in the early 1920’s and between 1923-1925 recorded 20 titles in a competent energetic New Orleans style. Jesse Stone was also a popular band leader, but was unable to compete with the other leaders and eventually joined George E. Lee’s group as a pianist and arranger. As great as Walter Page and the Blue Devils were they suffered a similar a fate and were later subsumed by Benny Moten by the early 1930’s. Part of Benny Moten’s success in the early 1930’s came in the form of a number of new arrangements purchased from Benny Carter. Band member Eddie Durham (guitarist and trombonist) was also writing arrangements for the group. The other key element to their success was manner in which this rhythm section played in such a smooth and supporting manner for the soloists. This fact is made amply clear by the 1932 Camden recordings.
CompositionArtistYear
New Vine Street BluesBenny Moten Orchestra1929
Oh! EddieBenny Moten Orchestra1930
Moten SwingBenny Moten Orchestra1932
Prince of WailsBenny Moten Orchestra1932
Starvation BluesJesse Stone and Blues Serenaders1927
Blue Devil BluesWalter Page and the Blue Devils1929

Kansas City Jazz - Episode 3

George E. Lee and Jesse Stone were Moten’s chief competitors and enjoyed moderate success and popularity in Kansas. Andy Kirk was another successful Kansas City bandleader in the late 1920’s. He had the good fortune to hire the highly talented and versatile pianist Mary Lou Williams in 1929. Williams taught herself how to arrange and began writing for Kirk. Andy Kirk enjoyed great success during the swing era due in part to Mary Lou’s modern arrangements. Pete Johnson was a very popular boogie woogie pianist in Kansas City who often worked with singer Joe Turner. Together they recorded a number of big hits that paved the way for the popularity of rhythm and blues in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
CompositionArtistYear
St. James InfirmaryGeorge E. Lee Novelty Orchestra1929
Come Over to My HouseGeorge E. Lee Novelty Orchestra1929
Mess a StompAndy Kirk and 12 Clouds of Joy1929
Until the Real Thing Comes AlongAndy Kirk and 12 Clouds of Joy1936
Walkin’ and Swingin’Andy Kirk and 12 Clouds of Joy1929
Little Joe From ChicagoMary Lou Williams1939
Roll’em PetePete Johnson and Big Joe Turner1938
Baby Look at YouPete Johnson and Big Joe Turner1939

Kansas City Jazz - Episode 4

Harlan Leonard was a very popular band leader in Kansas City who got his start playing clarinet and saxophone with Benny Moten in the 1920’s. Many fine Kansas City area musicians played with Rockets including Charlie Parker and Buster Smith. Tadd Dameron and Eddie Durham wrote arrangements for the group. The Rockets occupy a niche between late swing and bebop. Count Basie formed his famous 9-piece band in late 1935 from the remnants of the Benny Moten Orchestra, the Blue Devils and a number of great KC area musicians. Basie had unsuccessfully attempted to form a band a few years before. The producer John Hammond convinced Basie to leave Kansas City and go to New York---the band would not consider Kansas City home after 1936. Basie enlarged the group and made key personnel changes after the relocation to New York. The eastern audiences were not used to the Basie style and it took several months before the band found success. The rhythm section style that the Basie Orchestra brought to New York together with Lester Young’s saxophone playing helped revolutionize jazz in the 1940’s.
CompositionArtistYear
I Don’t Want to Set the World on FireHarlan Leonard Rockets1940
Hairy Joe JumpHarlan Leonard Rockets1940
1:00 JumpCount Basie Orchestra1937
Doggin’ AroundCount Basie Orchestra1938
SwingmatismJay McShann Orchestra1941