Kansas City Jazz Still A Hot Ticket

April 5, 2010 at 8:30 am | Posted in culture and museums, Kansas, Missouri, music, United States | 1 Comment
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by Diana Lambdin Meyer

Jazz in the Blue Room at the Jazz Museum, Kansas CityJazz in Kansas City is not like jazz in New Orleans or in any other great American music city. It’s a little more bluesy, a little heavier on the keyboards and bass, not so bold with the brass. They call it “cool jazz” here, jazz that’s a little gentler on the spirit.

In case you didn’t know, Kansas City is where jazz grew up. After its birth in the Big Easy, the music migrated to KC and became a smart-aleck teenager, with attitude and a vision for the future. That’s what they say in the clubs, anyway. They also tell a good story about how it got here. Anybody who’s lived in this town for very long — and I’ve been here more than 25 years — has heard about Tom Pendergast. He was our Al Capone, our Bugsy Malone — our crime boss back when crime still paid (or maybe it’s just that America’s big-time crooks today are on Wall Street instead of the Mob).

Not a lot got in Tom Pendergast’s way. Certainly not a little thing like Prohibition, that “Noble Experiment” from 1920 to 1933, when alcohol consumption in the United States was illegal. Prohibition just wasn’t a big deal in Kansas City, so when the juke joints elsewhere shut down, when there was no more booze — an integral ingredient of a good night of jazz — the great musicians ended up here. Louis Armstrong. Charlie “Bird” Parker. Ella Fitzgerald. Jay McShann. Duke Ellington. Count Basie. That’s when the local music scene erupted. At one point, more than 200 juke joints operated 24 hours a day.

A Kansas City Jazz Tour
The city, in the heart of America’s Midwest, is bisected north and south by the Missouri River, and east and west by the Missouri/Kansas state line. Many popular attractions, such as the 18th and Vine Historic District, the high-end and high-rise Country Club Plaza, several museums, the former warehouse district that’s now the Crossroads Arts  District, are on the Missouri side of town. Funky little neighborhoods in between these major districts provide an alternative to the ever-expanding suburbs on the Kansas side.

The Blue Room, American Jazz Museum, Kansas CitySome 40 jazz clubs once thrived in the 18th and Vine neighborhood. Today, this district struggles to regain its vibrancy, but come the evening hours, especially on weekends, the vibe changes as music pours out onto the street from joints like the Blue Room, part of the American Jazz Museum. Opened in 1997 in conjunction with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (see below), the jazz museum tells the tale I just told, only in greater detail. It also allows you to become a part of the music — to sit in on keyboards in a jam session or choose the rhythm or chords of a particular piece via various listening stations and composition rooms. It’s a place where you come to understand jazz terminology and, in particular, the feel of Kansas City jazz.

During museum hours, the Blue Room (at top and left) is another exhibit, its walls, bar, and cocktail tables trimmed with old playbills and album covers. But at night, the entrance through the museum is closed, and access to the Blue Room opens from 18th Street. Considered one of Kansas City’s earthier jazz joints, it charges no admission Monday and Thursday nights, and on Friday and Saturday nights the cover is just US$10.*

Across the street is the historic Gem Theatre, where a number of music events are held, including the “Jammin’ at the Gem” jazz masters’ concert series. And just around the corner, the Mutual Musician’s Foundation, part union hall, rehearsal hall, and jazz joint, really gets hopping in the wee hours of the weekends. On Saturdays at midnight, it’s also the site of a live jazz radio show.

One of the edgier clubs in town is Jardine’s on Main Street near the Country Club Plaza; it’s a little louder, a little hipper than other jazz venues. Two of the classics (and my favorites) include the on West 8th Street and the nearby Phoenix Jazz ClubMajestic Restaurant over on Broadway. For an overview of who’s playing at these and other clubs, visit the Web site of the nonprofit group Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors.

Hotels From Hilton to Bargain
Many legends — Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra — have played the Drum Room at the recently renovated Hilton President Kansas City. This hotel is right in the center of everything, and rooms begin at $175.

A nice independent property is the Southmoreland Bed and Breakfast on Country Club Plaza, with 12 rooms named and decorated in honor of local historic figures (from about $130). Or if you’re really on a budget, try the Best Western Inn on Southwest Boulevard, where you’ll pay less than $75. That leaves you plenty of money for barbecue, steak, some Boulevard beer, and other soulful flavors of Kansas City.

More Kansas City Sights
Skyline & Union Station, Kansas City, MissouriThere’s plenty else worth coming to town for these days. A downtown redevelopment effort has created a sports arena and performing arts center to rival any in the U.S. The once-abandoned warehouses of the Crossroads Art District are now home to one of the largest First Friday art walks in the country, and the recently expanded Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art dazzles with its Chinese art, American Indian gallery, and Hallmark photo collection.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum tells of the time when baseball was a segregated sport, and how some of the game’s best players came up through the Negro Leagues. The College Basketball Experience, which isn’t really a museum, celebrates history, too. The men’s NCAA basketball tournament was founded in Kansas City, and 11 Final Fours have been held here.

Containing the most comprehensive collection of World War I artifacts in the world, the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial honors veterans and General John Pershing, a Missouri native who was head of U.S. forces. Exhibits include uniforms, weapons, other gear, a bombed-out French farmhouse, and a hand-dug 90-foot trench. Finally, don’t miss the Arabia Steamboat Museum. In 1856 the grand Arabia riverboat hit a snag in the Missouri River and sank. The boat and its treasures are now displayed in the River Market area — on dry land.

*To convert this and other U.S. dollar amounts to other currencies, see Tripatini’s Currency Desk.

photos: 1-2 Bruce N. Meyer. 3 iStockphoto

Turkish Pop Heartthrob Tarkan Still Popping

March 26, 2010 at 9:40 am | Posted in Middle East, music, Turkey | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

German-born Tarkan Tevetoğlu, 37, has been compared to a cross between a Turkish Elvis and Michael Jackson in terms of his impact on his country’s pop music scene, and he’s achieved a measure of fame abroad, as well, particularly in Europe. The dude garners A-list coverage from Turkey‘s media, of course, for almost everything he does, whether it’s verbal gaffes; groundbreakingly racy video scenes; temporary military draft-dodging; shilling for Pepsi-Cola; scary run-ins with the paparazzi; a tiff with PETA over fur-wearing; or is-he-or-isn’t-he-gay. Vay Anam Vay is from Tarkan’s sixth and most recent album, Metamorfoz (“Metamorphosis”), released at the end of 2007 and less than critically acclaimed but still a commercial hit. The choreography’s slightly goofy and the lyrics fairly trite love-song yadda-yadda (“If she said die, I’d die for her / the arrow went straight into my heart”), but whatever — it’s a very club-ready, infectious bit of electropop with just a touch of Eurasian musical exoticism.

Like it? Buy it here!

We Don’t Need Another Hero — Unless of Course It’s From Japan’s Funky Monkey Babys

March 12, 2010 at 9:20 am | Posted in Asia, Japan, music | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

Adopted as the theme song for the Japanese TV show Zoom In! since its late 2009 release, “Hero” (ヒーロー in Japanese, pronounced “hiiroo”) is the latest single from a trio from a Tokyo suburb called Hachioji, formed as a duo in 2004. Also known to their fans as “Fanmon,” and headed by 31-year-old lead singer Katou Shunsuke (stage name “Funky Katō” ), they’re an undeniably high-energy bunch of dudes who’ve been all over Japan’s media and have managed to corral other celebs into appearing on their albums and videos. “Hero” is an actually rather sweet parable set in the high-octane world of TV news, with an anchorman who learns to make time for wifey and their adoring but neglected-feeling young son. Perhaps the most bemusing thing about Funky Monkey Babys is that they’re considered a “hip-hop” act. By Japanese standards maybe, but these guys come across about as gangsta as Hannah Montana — in our book, file this tune, at least, under “sugar-pop.”

Portugal’s Mariza: Fado’s First 21st-Century Diva

March 5, 2010 at 8:28 am | Posted in Europe, music, Portugal | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff The most famous contribution of Portugal to world music — compared to Spain’s flamenco, Argentine tango, and the blues of the United States, and usually sung in a minor key — soulful, melancholic fado originated in the slums of Lisbon nearly two centuries ago and has been seeing revival and evolution in the decade since the passing of its most famous icon, Amália Rodrigues. Fado’s top diva of the 21st century so far is blonde, 39-year-old Marisa dos Reis Nunes — stage name Mariza — whose background does proud by the genre’s African and Brazilian colonial influences; she’s part black, born in what was then still in its final years as the overseas province of Mozambique, and besides mostly growing up in Lisbon also spent part of her childhood in Brazil. This lovely clip, Rosa Branca, is the featured single from Mariza’s Latin-Grammy-winning sixth and latest album Terra (Earth), released last year. It includes a beautiful old Sintra palace backdrop and traditional folk dancers, yet very much conveys that contemporary, jazzed-up sensibility, by among other things adding afro-Brazilian percussion. Here she sings, “I know you so love roses — why don’t you love me?” But wethinks the lady doth protest too much — this classy, dynamic songstress has already conquered the likes of Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Royal Albert Hall, and chances are we’ll be getting plenty more bouquets from her in the decade to come.

Move Over Gouda, Tulips and Windmills — Here Comes “Nederhop”

February 19, 2010 at 11:17 am | Posted in Europe, music, Netherlands | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

Though in the Netherlands we’ve noticed many music artists — rappers especially — these days seem to work in English, Osdorp Posse has been a notable exception. Five guys from the rough, outlying Osdorp section of west Amsterdam, they started out as a bit of a goof, actually, but ended up becoming serious stars on the Netherlands’ underground music scene in the 1990’s with their “Gangsterdam” sound, rapping not just in Dutch but more specifically in the Amsterdam dialect. Headed by now 31-year-old lead singer Pascal Griffoen (aka “Def-P” — think a Dutch version of Eminem), the Posse cranked out a dozen albums of material loaded with trenchant commentary on social issues, but because it’s often been a bit on the profane side, they got precious little play on commercial radio. In fact, beyond “A ten-Euro note is a joetje,” there’s little about this song, “Origineel Amsterdams,” that we can even translate for a family-friendly Web site, due to either profanity (don’t worry, though, the visuals are perfectly clean) or just plain trickiness in translating inside references. But let’s just say it’s a primer on Amsterdam slang relating to money, sex, prostitution, booze, and drugs, against a backdrop with some colorful glimpses of Holland’s best-known city. Osdorp Posse disbanded this past fall, but two key members have reportedly started another hip-hop group called Digibombers, with an album expected in 2010. Mijn gott, we can only imagine…

Pop Goes the Traditional Filipino Nipa Hut

February 5, 2010 at 11:26 am | Posted in music, Philippines | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

This time we’re off to the Pearl of the Orient, the Philippines, where a late-2009 hit from the popular band Hale celebrates nostalgia for this sprawling archipelago’s countryside whence most Filipinos come, at least within a generation or two. Bahay Kubo is the sweet, laid-back lead single from this four-year-old band’s latest and fourth album, Kundiman. It’s a bit of a departure for this foursome — their first entirely in Tagalog and focusing on purely Pinoy themes. With a simple story line starring lead linger Champ Lui-Pio and actress Heart Evangelista, the song takes its name from a popular old children’s folk song about a little thatched country house with its little garden (lots of description of produce). The imagery in this song and video is also bucolic, if a bit slicker (but hey, what’s up with that chick wandering around the wilderness in an evening gown?), and its theme involves searching for the one you love and finding shelter in a bahay kubo (played here by a thatch hammock rather than an actual hut).

For Africa’s Largest Country, “The Nation’s Mom” Is A Sassy Chanteuse

January 8, 2010 at 9:21 am | Posted in Africa, Congo, music | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

The above tune, Mbombo, is a typically bouncy, colorful, shimmying piece of ear candy from a woman who’s been one of Africa’s most popular and iconic singers of the last quarter-century. Hailing from Congo, the enormous Central African country reflagged as Zaire for three decades under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, 51-year-old Elizabeth Tshala Muana is widely known as “Mamu Nationale” (Mom of the Nation), and has even served as an adviser to the country’s current ruler, Laurent Kabila. On the music front, this grandmother of six is also dubbed the “Queen of Mutuashi” (mutuashi is Congo’s Afro-Cuban-influenced dance music), but after more than 30 years in the biz she’s toned it down considerably from the days when on stage she’d throw in generous dollops of “almost half naked” writhing, as one Ugandan newspaper put it. Sure, Mamu’s been at it a while, but she’s obviously still got it…you go, girl!

A New Year’s Eve Blast From the Past: “Another Year” from Spain’s Mecano

December 31, 2009 at 10:00 am | Posted in Europe, festivals/celebrations, music, Spain | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

An oldie but goodie from one of the seminal Spanish pop groups of the 1980’s and 1990’s, newly reunited just this November. Two brothers, Nacho and José María Cano wrote and played the tunes and Ana Torroja sang ’em, and many were quirky doozies — I Can’t Get Up Today, This Isn’t a Serious Cemetery, I Crashed a Party, Stereosexual. This one, from the 1987 album Descanso dominical (Sunday Break) describes the annual New Year’s Eve revelry in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol plaza — “sailors, soldiers, singles, marrieds, lovers, strollers, even the occasional confused priest / Amid shouts and whistles, Spaniards big and small for once do something at the same time.” But the video pulls in imagery from NYE throughout the world as well as movies and TV sources as varied as The Simpsons and the original Poseidon Adventure. Because nothing says “Happy New Year!” like a sinking ship.

Panama Celebs Give Navidad the “We Are The World” Treatment

December 25, 2009 at 9:38 am | Posted in music, Panama | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

Navidad de color (A Colorful Christmas) is a simple yet slick, formulaic yet moving singalong from 2008, sponsored by outgoing (as in, leaving office) first lady Vivián Fernández de Torrijos. Singer/songwriter/producer Alfredo Matheus Diez and actor Fernando Carrillo, both Venezuelan, crammed the Teatro Nacional (National Theater) in Panama City’s beautiful colonial quarter with several dozen local celebs (Matheus is the dude in the red shirt, BTW). Stars from the music scene naturally predominate — such as Erika Ender, Ricardo and Alberto Gaitán, Iván Barrios, Flex, Sandra Sandóval, and the inevitable Rubén Blades — sprinkled with a few actors and pro jocks. Complete with the obligatory children’s chorus and the more recently obligatory hip-hop riff, it’s uplifting and catchy, the title and refrain referring to the kind of Yule experienced by most Latin Americans — not white, but green and all the other colors of nature. “White Christmas or colorful Christmas, whether it’s cold or warm, you’ve got to open up your heart.” Well, who could argue with that?

Roll Over, Irving Berlin — “White Christmas” Goes Italian Pop

December 23, 2009 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Italy, music | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

 Just turned the big 4-0, Florentine pop singer Irene Grandi back in 1994 lost the top prize to Andrea Bocelli in her big-time solo stage debut at the San Remo Festival. Whatever — she’s gone on to have a healthy if not quite stellar music/TV career, heavy on covers, novelty songs, and a diva-flavored dose of boorish behavior (she titled her 2008 autobiography Diary of a Bad Girl). In thelatest  of her more than ten albums, though, she’s perfectly nice, not naughty — it’s a Yuletide collection called (prosaically enough) Canzoni per Natale, from which this translated update of Irving Berlin’s antediluvian chestnut is taken; no doubt as an homage, they chose to set the video in Berlin, Germany. Others of the dozen songs on the album, by the way, besides several Italian numbers, include a bunch of — well, covers, such as several of the usual international suspects like Silent Night, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over), and Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime. We were a bit let down, however, to not find La nonna è stata investita da una renna (Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer).

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