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Bird Lives! JazzWorks Recap

Photographs by Clint Ashlock

An increasingly important component of The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is our dedication to educational outreach. Through masterclasses, clinics, workshops, online content, and much more, we are striving to bring our community knowledge and appreciation of jazz to a steadily higher level. Reflecting on the events from October 5-8, we see this dedication made manifest through the efforts of our musicians and guest artists Jaleel Shaw and Bobby Watson.

Any time the KCJO can present music that holds an essential position in jazz history is a special occasion, and our concert theme, performing the music of innovative legend Charlie Parker, including the arrangements from the great recording Charlie Parker With Strings, exemplifies that experience. In order to pull this off, we needed a large string section, and violist and Soundwave Academy founder Alyssa Bell suggested filling out the ensemble with her best students, sharing stands with the professionals we hired for the occasion. It was a resounding success artistically, and to be able to offer such a life-changing opportunity to young artists was a great use of our resources and platform. Hopefully we brought those students, along with their families and friends, into the jazz fold as life-long appreciators of the genre.

Wednesday and Thursday presented two fantastic masterclasses with our guest artists. Wednesday afternoon Jaleel Shaw, one of today’s most celebrated saxophonists, held a clinic in Polsky Theater on the Johnson County Community College campus. After playing a few tunes with the house rhythm section, Jaleel discussed his life in music, and invited 18 students onstage to play a few tunes. Not all of them knew the music, but Jaleel moved about, teaching them how to learn and adapt with the music instead of treating it like a book report. We watched in real time as a few students found their courage and attempted something they never had before. It was exhilarating! On Thursday, Bobby Watson joined Jaleel at the Blue Room, and they shared a few tunes with a house rhythm section comprised of students from the UMKC Jazz Studies program. Then, they discussed a life in jazz and fielded a series of questions from students and community members alike. One of the goals with KCJO’s JazzWorks! Initiative is to provide education to music students and non-musician appreciators at the same time, and this was another highlight of the masterclass.

On Friday night, as is our custom, there was a pre-concert talk with the guests as well as Alyssa Bell, discussing what Charlie Parker’s music – and music in general – means to them. These smaller gatherings are so essential to spreading the message of jazz, conversationally. Combine all of this with a beautiful evening’s concert and you see a week in the life of The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, and jazz musicians all over the world. We’re so excited to keep on sharing. See you out there.

Bobby Watson and Jaleel Shaw with Soundwave Academy students backstage at the Kauffman

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