A night out at the Mutual Musicians Foundation and Jardine’s reminds us what this town’s all about

The young cat is blowing his tenor horn, barking out the low notes, then rising and twisting the fleshy machinery of his palate to squeal the climactic, mile-above-the-staff altissimo notes.

The drummer keeps time at a rapid clip, tapping the cymbals, not breaking a sweat. The man on bass is cool, too. His hands lope along with the changes, sliding up the neck and walking the notes back down like a kid jumping puddles.

The pianist is meditative, shrouded in the dark corner of the room, minimally dancing on the chords, drifting back and forth from the root.

The saxophonist finishes his chorus and, as if called by an invisible cue, the players who’d been laying out (two more saxes, two bones, a trumpet) jump out of their seats and join the band to blare out the finale of the song they’ve been jamming on, “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane.

It’s nearly 4 a.m. on a Saturday night (Sunday morning) upstairs at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. About two dozen people have driven to the East Side, passing through the largely dormant 18th Street and Vine Jazz District and handing the old man dressed in black at the door of the Local 627 Building $8 to come in and hear traditional, improvisational jazz in the middle of the night.

A group of white 20-somethings sits around a disappearing birthday cake at one of the tables. At another table, two guys in baseball caps and baggy sportswear play a game of chess on a miniature board. By the staircase railing, a towering man with a shaved head dances with his petite wife. The woman at the bar serves cocktails until all hours.

The musicians jam.

Jamming at the Foundation 3-29-08

There are a few gracefully aged rhythm players, but all of the horn players — plus a drummer, a bassist and a strawberry-blond singer in a long red coat — are young. Some are probably UMKC students. One skinny, mop-headed tenor player looks like he must be in high school.

Representatives from several generations of jazz musicians are here tonight, reveling in their skill at an art form that was born in Kansas City nearly a hundred years ago as a form of popular entertainment. Now, jazz is played in a few clubs, studied at a few schools and played on a few radio stations (the nonprofit kind).

The history of jazz in Kansas City is famously littered with empty buildings and lost money. It’s also littered with bad public schools, culturally desolate suburbs, segregated neighborhoods, kids dazzled by plastic shit at malls, grown men dazzled by plastic shit at malls, vampires hiding on rooftops and jumping down and biting aspiring … oh, what the fuck am I talking about?

Last Saturday, for me, was a reconnection to the authentic — a regrounding in the cultural legacy of Kansas City, vanishing though it may be. I needed it, and I wasn’t going to get it from a rock show or a chintzy martini bar with a million flat-screen monitors or anyplace new.

I started at Jardine’s, at the altar of the instrumentally adventurous (sometimes ridiculously so) Brandon Draper Trio. Sometimes reaching transcendent climaxes, sometimes reaching only workable grooves, drummer-bassist-percussionist-loopist Draper and cohorts John Brewer (on keyboard, keytar, laptop, piano, tapping and car keys) and Leonard Dstroy (on turntables and tambourine), jammed until 2:30 a.m. before a consistently full room at the surprisingly unstodgy (this night, at least) jazz club on the Plaza.

It was challenging — and very funk-heavy — music to be hearing at Jardine’s, and when the group took breaks and Lenny D. spun a hip-hop record over the PA, I expected the emergency sprinklers overhead to start spraying pesto.

Three hours of experimental funk from trained jazz musicians (see this week’s feature on Draper and Brewer’s other outfit, Organic Proof) had me ready for the real deal, and what a great thing it was to know it was there to be had at the Foundation.

So I headed out to 18th and Vine, past closed clubs and never-even-opened clubs and lights blinking for nobody, and walked up some stairs and had my head unzipped by some kids and grown men.

The next day, Jesus came to me in a vision and said, “Thou must never let the Foundation closeth.”

Put that in your sax and blow it.

Categories: Music