Kansas City, Missouri, has a long history as one of the centers of the jazz world. In recent years, jazz has again become a center of the cultural life of the city. It makes sense that the American Jazz Museum is located in the historic 18th and Vine District where so many of the jazz greats performed.
Many exhibits and interactive activities.
While it fulfills its role as a museum by storing and displaying historical artifacts, The American Jazz Museum is also a place where you can become immersed in the music. In the Studio 18th & Vine exhibit, state of the art individual kiosks allow visitors to listen to different styles and performers and compare, get involved in making some music, and see films and hear recordings and of great jazz performers and their music. With sixteen listening stations and mixing boards, visitors can focus on the rhythm, melody and harmony of music, then move on to the variety of instruments on which musicians play their own jazz. Don’t try to stay together. Our group wandered through, each of us spending as long as we wanted to experimenting at our favorite kiosks.
The Jazz Masters Exhibit highlights four of the greatest, Louis Armstrong, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald. Album Art has the history of the classic albums, showing the graphic design and illustrations on great jazz recording. Some of these will be familiar to collectors of jazz music over the years. The Jazz and Technology exhibit has relics of the sound technology and recording devices which were invented in the late 19th century providing music to a nationwide audience.
The museum is not just about the history of jazz, but is involved in the current jazz world with community events and performances. There is an ongoing schedule of activities which involve the community, such as concerts, workshops, story telling, jazz poetry workshops, and jam sessions.
The Gem Theater.
The Gem Theater was built in 1912 as The Star, a silent movie theater for the African American community of Kansas City. It was renamed the Gem in 1913 and continued to show movies, mostly westerns and action adventures. It was renovated and expanded in 1923, and again in 1947. The Gem Theater has been reconstructed and restored as the setting for the American Jazz Museum’s national jazz concert series, “Jammin’ at the Gem”.
The Blue Room jazz club in the museum.
The two level jazz club, The Blue Room, has live music four nights a week, but as part of the museum, it also has photos, ticket stubs, musicians’ contracts, sheet music, and musical instruments on display. While listening to the music, jazz fans can look at the photographs on the wall of fame, and or walk around and study artifacts from some of those great musicians. Jazz musicians who aspire to be part of the world of jazz music can sit in on one of the Monday jam, which are free for fans who want to just sit back and listen. There is no restaurant at the Blue Room, but appetizers can be bought at the Friday night Happy Hour.
This city has enough jazz to keep you hopping for a long visit. Here are a few other places in town just to get you started.
The Phoenix Jazz Club.
The Phoenix serves lunch and dinner daily, in addition to small plates, all at a very reasonable price. There is music every evening, and in the late afternoons on Saturday and Sunday. Every second Saturday they have a brunch buffet with live music to benefit a charity.
The Majestic Restaurant.
The Majestic Restaurant has recently opened in the Fitzpatrick Building, which was built in 1911 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The site has housed a saloon, bordello, and speakeasy, and it still has the pressed-tin ceiling, and a 1910 piano which is used for live jazz during Happy Hour. The former Speakeasy basement room has jazz performances on Friday and Saturday nights. There is an upscale menu for lunch and dinner.
Looking to the future as well as the history of jazz.
The corner of 18th and Vine in Kansas City is the place where jazz greats John Coltrane and Charlie Parker first met. They say that jazz was born in New Orleans, and it grew up in Kansas City, so this is a natural place to have this museum which celebrates everyone and everything jazz. Kansas City is still one of the centers of the jazz world.
Sources: Personal Experience and the American Jazz Museum.