Kansas City Jazz: A world-renowned jazz and blues legacy (1920s and 1930s)

Labconco’s 90-year history had its start in Kansas City. There are so many things to appreciate about our home town, and music is among our city’s most intriguing and influential mainstays…

Hot Lips PageCount BasieAndy KirkCharlie Parker

Blues singers of the 1920s and ragtime music greatly influenced the Kansas City music scene. Settings such as dance halls, cabarets and speakeasies fostered the development of this new musical style. In the early days, many jazz groups were smaller dance bands with three to six pieces. By the mid-1920s, the big band became the most common. Kansas City style jazz was born in the 1920s and continues today in clubs and events held throughout the city. Dozens of area nightclubs still feature jazz on a regular basis.

Blues formed the basic vocabulary for KC-style jazz. The blues originated as a rural black vocal music with a style improvised to the rhythms of work. Those musical ideas gave birth to the blues and eventually evolved into Kansas City Jazz, a kind of blues that jumps with a jazz sound. In fact, the city's first “jazz” recording by Bennie Moten in 1923 was "Evil Mama Blues."

Jazz continued to flourish in the 1930s, mainly as a result of political boss Tom Pendergast. During prohibition, he allowed alcohol to flow in Kansas City. As an entertainment center, Kansas City had no equal during these dry times. At one point, there were more than a hundred nightclubs, dance halls and vaudeville houses in Kansas City regularly featuring jazz music. Legends like Count Basie, Andy Kirk, Joe Turner, Hot Lips Page and Jay McShann all played in Kansas City. A saxophone player named Charlie Parker began his ascent to fame here in his hometown in the 1930s.

Next: Kansas City Jazz: The Paris of the Plains (1940s)

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