Onward and Upward

“Onward and upward.”


This is something the great Bobby Watson used to say when leaving a conversation or a rehearsal. The mindset of “wherever we are, let’s strive to move beyond that to something greater” has always stuck with me from my days as a graduate student under Professor Watson’s tutelage - that we have to first acknowledge where we currently are, and then focus on what’s next. This is the mindset of The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, and what we’re looking at in the months to come, thankfully, reflects a clear path forward.



Firstly, we have a beautiful concert programmed on Saturday, March 12th at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, featuring Grammy Award winner Kirk Whalum, a legendary performer. Just The Two Of Us will focus on presenting great tunes out of the contemporary jazz genre, arranged for our fantastic jazz orchestra! Sometimes there’s a stigma involved when you hear a certain subgenre of jazz uttered - think about it: when you hear “free jazz,” your mind immediately thinks of something. “Swing” definitely can describe a certain sound. The thing about jazz music, and art in general, is that it isn’t defined by a genre or description. Great music is the sum of all its influences, and we’re going to take memorable tunes like “Just The Two Of Us,” a Grover Washington and Bill Withers classic that transcends jazz, R&B, pop and soul, and reimagine it for our big band - always with our deep connection to Kansas City jazz.


Guest saxophonist Kirk Whalum

Secondly, The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is launching its new ensemble, Riff Generation, with rehearsals beginning in January, in preparation for concerts starting on April 1st. This is a very exciting endeavor for KCJO - to bring new and creative voices into the fold, and to explore what it means to be a Kansas City jazz musician in the 21st century. With scene stalwarts Eddie Moore, Kelley Gant, Adam Larson, Jim Pisano, Jason Goudeau, Brian Scarborough, Nate Nall, Lawrence Jackson, Sam Copeland and John Kizilarmut on board, the musicianship level is amazingly high. If you know your KC jazz history, groups like the Basie band would spontaneously improvise new melodies - as an ensemble - while the rhythm section grooved all night long. Every night, they’d revisit these riffs and develop them into tunes we know like “One O’Clock Jump,” “Jumpin’ At The Woodside,” and more. Riff Generation, our exciting new ensemble, will create music together through rehearsal and performance in that manner, but firmly planted in the 21st century. It will be an amazing representation of what jazz music is all about, with deep love and respect, soul and swing. Stay tuned on our website and social media pages for more info on this group!


With thanks to the outstanding leadership at the executive and board level, I am so excited for the other opportunities that will be arising as The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra heads into our 20th season of existence. I’m not going to spill the beans just yet, but suffice it to say we are trying as hard as we can to create opportunities for music and education, for our community in and outside of Kansas City. There are so many new and great things planned and we want to share it with all of you (and a million of your friends)! If you haven’t done so already, subscribe to our email list and follow our social media pages to stay up to date on more information as we release it. I care so deeply about this music, and just want everyone to find a lifelong love for it as I have.


Onward and upward we go!



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