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

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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…

The Blue Room in th 18th and Vine Jazz DistrictKansas City’s 12th Street became nationally known for its jazz clubs, gambling parlors and brothels, earning the city the moniker, “The Paris of the Plains.” At its height, 12th Street was home to more than fifty jazz clubs. Just six blocks to the south, jazz also flourished at 18th & Vine.

Another great outcome of Kansas City jazz was the jam session. After performances, musicians would get together to exchange ideas and experiment with new methods of playing. The best local and out-of-town musicians would take part in these jam sessions that sometimes lasted all night and well into the next day.

This "wide-open" town image attracted displaced musicians from everywhere in mid-America. Throughout the Depression, Kansas City bands continued to play while other bands across the nation folded. During the Depression New Deal-style public works projects provided jobs and affluence, and that kept the dance-oriented nightlife in town swinging.

Eventually “Boss” Tom Pendergast was indicted for tax evasion, reform elements took over and nightclubs, and cabarets shut down. Jobs for musicians dried up and the bands took to the road. By 1942, with the turmoil of World War II, many of the musicians had been drafted. By the mid 40s, the great Kansas City jazz era ground to a halt, but Kansas City Jazz never died. It survives in local clubs today, and the style is a mainstay of renowned music education programs in our local colleges and universities.

Next: Kansas City Jazz: All Roads Lead to KC (1950s and Beyond)

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