Giving Kansas City the Bird

23Thursday

Who could forget the funny yet poignant movie with Julia, Dolly, Daryl, Sally, Olympia, and Shirley? Julia got Sally’s kidney and then bit the dust anyway. Steel Magnolias, the bittersweet story about relationships between women, hasn’t seen its last production yet. March is National Diabetic Awareness Month — diabetes is the reason Julia needed Sally’s kidney. In the spirit of helping prevent the disease, Oak Park High School presents Steel Magnolia. A percentage of ticket sales will go to the American Diabetes Association. The show begins today and runs through Saturday night; all shows are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $6.50. For more information, call 816-413-5300.

24Friday

The Heartland Men’s Chorus is back at it again, only this time the men aren’t singing — they’re bringing. Kansas City’s belt-it-out boys bring to the stage Forever After by New York playwright Doric Wilson — a pioneer in the gay theater scene. Forever After is an on-the-ball comedy about two men and their toils in their labor of love. It could just as easily have been called “The Man Show.” The story begins on their one-year anniversary, which is interrupted by “the wisecracking, toga-wearing muses of comedy and tragedy.” The entire play is done in drag, with the two wrangling muses doing their best to break up the men in love. This production will benefit the Heartland Men’s Chorus. Performances will be held tonight at 8, Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m. at Broadway Baptist Church, 3931 Washington. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 816-931-3338.25SaturdayThe world of pop culture has infiltrated every pore of America. A glance in any direction includes visuals of Pokémon, the Simpsons, and those freaky manufactured boy bands that have surfed onto the radio waves, making the whole pop radio experience irritatingly damp. But Planet Comicon, Kansas City’s largest pop culture/comic book convention, takes a different look at pop culture. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today. Mark Goddard (you know, Major Don West on Lost in Space) and Yvonne Craig (that babelicious Batgirl on the classic Batman show) will fly into town to make special appearances and stretch their obscure stardom out as long at they can. For the older culties, meet every feeble-minded fella’s wish: Playboy Playmates in person. Look Ma, a real live bunny! There will also be tournaments, dealers (of comics, smart-ass!), comic book writers, door prizes, and exhibits of all kinds. Where can you find Gotham KC? Overland Park International Trading Center, 115th & Metcalf, will host the superheroes and their creators today and tomorrow (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). The first 500 entrants Saturday and the first 200 Sunday receive a free grab-bag (just don’t grab a bunny) of magazines, comics, cards, and more. Tickets are $12 for both days. For more information, call 913-345-1069.

If I had a hammer, I’d go get a dulcimer. A hammered dulcimer is not a wasted person from Duluth, Minn., but rather an instrument that entered into existence way back in ancient Persia. It is actually considered the great-great-grandma of the modern-day piano. If you’d like to know more about this stringed thing you bang on, Linda Thomas, a Kansas City music teacher, is giving a hammered dulcimer workshop today at Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Boulevard, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Participants will learn fiddle tunes, hymns, Irish dance tunes, and lots of other Anglo-Saxon activities. There will be some discussion on music theory, but the majority of the workshop will be spent hammering out those good ol’ mountain songs (dulcimers are huge in the Ozarks!). But that ain’t all: Dan DeLancey, flat-pick guitarist extraordinaire, will join Thompson tonight, same place, for a concert that would make Mel Bay proud. The concert begins at 7:30, with donations accepted. For more information, call 816-763-5040 or 816-356-1879.

26Sunday

The Kansas City Musical Club presents Nathan Brandwein today at 3 p.m. at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th Street. Brandwein began his study of the piano at the age of 4 and made his orchestral debut at the age of 7. He grew up in the Kansas City area and is currently on a full ride to the University of Colorado in Boulder. During his young years he received many piano honors — among them, Top Virtuoso in the 1995 Mid America Music Festival and in 1999 the National Young Artist Division in the Glenn Miller Competition. For more information on the young Kansas City pianist, call 913-341-5291.

27Monday

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has spent more than 20 years dedicating herself to helping people with mental illnesses. She has worked, specifically, to reduce stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness. Maybe that’s why Jimmy was always associated with nuts? Who knows. Rosalynn Carter will speak today at a public forum, joining forces with Truman Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Network to help educate people and raise funds for the cause. Carter will be discussing her book, Helping Someone with Mental Illness. Catch her at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center, 2345 McGee, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information, call 816-235-2700.

28TuesdaySome days there is nothing better to do than think about the future. Today is the day to go hunting — for a new job. Put the past behind you and lock yourself into a brand new rut, a new 9-to-5. Longview Community College will host “First Impression: Putting Your Best Foot Forward.” This first-ever session will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the student cafeteria with a fashion show followed immediately by a makeup show. What does this have to do with a job fair? Well, it’s a silly, silly world, with silly, silly folk running it. Sometimes jumping through hoops is necessary to get to the point when you can initiate a simple takeover. At this fair, not only can you learn how to fill out a resume, but you also can learn how to do your hair AND put on your makeup. Men are encouraged to attend. Longview Community College is located at 500 S.W. Longview Road. For more information, call 816-672-2000.

29Wednesday

According to Brian Greene, the entire physical universe can be explained by a string … little vibrating strings that make up matter. Uh, are you following? String theory is the “theory of everything.” It’s a theory that seeks to explain matter in its primary structure, clear down to the sub-subatomic particles. Still not following? Well, Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, is the guy who can fill you in. He’s the author of Elegant Universe, a book that is a “rare blend of scientific insight and writing that peels away layers of mystery surrounding string theory to reveal a universe that consists of 11 layers.” Greene will illuminate you tonight at 7:30 at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th Street. He won’t leave you hanging by a string; he explains physics as you’ve never heard it. For more information, call 816-960-1454.
BY denise lozanoYvonne Craig as Batgirl in the ’60s version of Batman.Giving Kansas City the BirdDespite Kansas City’s history as one of the birthplaces of jazz, you can ask some kids on the street on any given day who Charlie “Bird” Parker is and they’ll just as likely give you a blank stare as tell you that he’s the Chiefs’ latest felon-back. Ask them about Mary Lou Williams and forget it. Ask that same question in jazz circles and you’ll know in a heartbeat that saxophonist Parker was Kansas City’s greatest contribution to the music world and that pianist-composer Williams was the only major jazz artist to have lived and played from the music’s inception through bebop. Kansas Citians’ knowledge of jazz is slim when it comes to the local phat cats who fed music history. Not that this fact has anything to do with our recent ranking as the second most gluttonous city in the country, but the average Kansas Citian knows more about barbecue than bebop. This weekend the American Jazz Museum hopes to feed the city this history through a series of events.

The second annual Charlie Parker Symposium seeks to illuminate and celebrate the musical genius and legacy of Parker and Williams, as well as the contributions of women in jazz. The three-day event, beginning today at the American Jazz Museum, features jazz heavyweights and educators in a series of concerts, lectures, and panel discussions. In addition to offering events relating to Parker and Williams, the symposium will take a look at vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan — whose innovations were heavily influenced by Bird’s bebop advances.

Although Charlie Parker is celebrated in modern jazz circles, he was a virtual outsider in his lifetime. In reinventing modern jazz through bebop, he changed the way musicians everywhere viewed improvisation and composition. Yet for most of his career, he was misunderstood by his public and by many of his peers. A late ’30s Kansas City jam session with local drummer Jo Jones was marked by an annoyed Jones silencing a Bird solo by tossing a cymbal to the ground. Even Cab Calloway, the zoot-suited Mr. “Hi-De-Ho” himself, disdainfully referred to fellow bebop revolutionary Dizzy Gillespie’s swinging trumpet solos as “Chinese music” and eventually dumped him from his band. Bird and Diz were too far out for even the heppest of the hepcats. By the time he died in 1955, Bird had earned the respect of his fellow artists but had gone widely unnoticed by a public that didn’t grasp his genius until far too late. Friday’s events explore Parker’s impact, culminating with a performance by the Billy Taylor Trio at the Gem Friday evening.

The experience of women in jazz has not been unlike that of outsider Parker. Although the jazz community has always welcomed women vocalists, opportunities for female instrumentalists have been limited. One of the few exceptions to this was Mary Lou Williams’ career. Following a stint in Kansas City from 1928 to 1941, during which she reigned as the “queen of Kansas City swing,” Williams moved to New York, where she inspired a generation of younger artists. In the ’40s her Harlem apartment served as a salon for a group of players who would later become the giants of modern jazz. Parker, Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and others were regulars at late-night jam sessions in which the elder Williams provided encouragement and guidance. Celebrating the contributions of women like Williams, the Women in Jazz concert series begins Thursday with Kansas City Divas. Up-and-coming female talents Sarah Allen, Jo Ann Daugherty, Lisa Henry, Kristin Korb, and Matana Roberts will be spotlighted. The all-female, Detroit-based combo Straight Ahead — known for its eclectic influences, which include everything from classic jazz ballads to Brazilian funk — performs Friday and Saturday night at the Blue Room. Saturday’s events focus entirely on women in jazz, with lectures and performances exploring the works of Williams, Vaughan, and Fitzgerald. An Ella Fitzgerald tribute concert by Grammy-winning vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater closes out the event.

Hardly a dry exercise in academia, the Charlie Parker Symposium/Women in Jazz series promises to interest serious jazz fans as well as new converts. As Juanita Moore of the American Jazz Museum puts it, “Jazz is a living, breathing art form. This is as much about exploring the past as it is about exploring the future of jazz.”

In an age in which the aural Prozac of Kenny G is labeled “jazz” by the unknowledgeable and musical innovation is defined as finding the most obscure riff to sample, the American Jazz Museum may be fighting an uphill battle, but it’s one worth fighting.

— Garrick H.S. Brown

The Charlie Parker Symposium 2000 and Women in Jazz concert series bop into full swing Thursday, March 23, at 18th & Vine. The three-day event features concerts, workshops, panel discussions, and jam sessions at the American Jazz Museum, the Blue Room, and the Gem Theater in the 18th & Vine District. For ticket and registration information, call 816-474-8463.

The American Jazz Museum’s Charlie Parker Symposium gives Kansas City a full lesson in jazz.

Charlie ParkerThe science of yes, no, and maybeMichael Wilson knew the gender of his first child when his pendulum gave him that special signal. He had his wife assume the position: She stretched out on her back while he took out his divining rod, waved it above her, and by its movements determined that his unborn child was a boy.

Wilson is the president of the Dowsing Society of Kansas City, which is holding a dowsing workshop this weekend. He says the art of dowsing, or using divining tools to connect with a certain intuition, is actually very scientific. “Like the longitude and latitude lines on the earth, there are energy meridians on the body, and those energies move the dowsing tool.” Although the practice is cloaked in mystery and is viewed as a superstition by many, the dowsers of America think that nonbelievers are merely drenched in ego, unable to touch themselves — intuitively. Skeptics may be plenty, but dowsers, from farmers to psychics, are a down-to-earth underground spiritual group, according to Wilson. He joined the group partly because his fellow witchers have no pretensions. “I can find answers to my higher self, the part that is made in the image of God, the part of you which is eternal. It’s the same in every one of us, and it does know everything.” Although Wilson touts the scientific nature of dowsing, he emphasizes that it also is a true art, because as dowsers work with it they realize that they can influence the tool to give them any answer they want.

Local psychic Saphira Rain agrees with Wilson’s assessment of dowsing’s scientific nature. “If you’re wanting to find what vegetables in a supermarket would be most healthy for you, you could take a little pinch and hold it over the veggies, and it would give you a yes or no or maybe or indifferent answer, and you could select what to eat from that. You could even hold it over a menu, menu dowsing, or decide what vitamins to take or how many by holding a pill in your hand and seeing what the energy says.” Rain adds that dowsers have to really know what it is they’re looking for.

With this ancient art of searching for hidden things one would think Geraldo could actually find Al Capone’s vaults — and the Boulder, Colo., police, JonBenet’s killer. But, as Wilson says, “the trickiness of it is pretty much the trickiness of living life in general.”

— Denise Lozano

Get ready for this millennium with The Dowsing Society of Kansas City’s all-day workshop, Saturday, March 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Heben Finnemore will present “Getting Ready for the New Millennium: Tools & Techniques to Expand Awareness” at the Trails West Library, 11401 E. 23rd St., Independence, Mo. Tickets are $30. For more information, call 816-254-3652 or 816-356-9071.