Happy In Bag

Friday, February 03, 2006

Mike's Mixer Mix-up

As the students launched into a jazz standard early Thursday evening, I gawked at the man at the next table as he opened his instrument case. He bore an uncanny resemblance to celebrated jazz tuba player Howard Johnson.

Moments later, a brilliant brass sound filled the bar. My neighbor, still seated, was playing tuba along with the band. UMKC professor Bobby Watson ran to a microphone and called out, "Welcome Howard Johnson to the stage." For the next thirty minutes, Watson and Johnson dramatically improved the caliber of the ensemble’s performance, which until then had been slightly amateurish and academic.

World-renowned Johnson is in town to work with Watson at UMKC’s jazz studies program. Johnson played with Charles Mingus in the 1960s and was an instrumental part of Saturday Night Live's house band in the 1970s. He’s continued his career as a forward-thinking artist since then. And as many Kansas City music fans already know, local hero Watson is rightfully acknowledged as one of jazz’s premier saxophonists.

I’d been curious about the weekly "UMKC Jazz Mixer" at Mike’s Tavern on Troost, and catching Johnson on my first visit was an unexpected treat. This is exactly the sort of music experience that’s all too rare in Kansas City. The opportunity to catch a hour or two of live jazz and still get home by eight is too good to miss.

Aside from a half dozen patrons in the back of the bar, I believe that I was the sole person in attendance who wasn’t affiliated with UMKC’s music program. Aren't jazz musicians supposed to have girlfriends? Don’t UMKC and Rockhurst students get thirsty? And where in the name of Charlie Parker were any of Kansas City’s 357 jazz fans?

So, here’s my contribution- I’ll be at Mike’s from 6:00-8:00 pm next Thursday, February 9, and I’ll buy beer for any Happy In Bag reader who cares to join me, at least until my limited supply of money is exhausted. There’s no cover.

(Johnson is holding the tuba in the photograph, while Watson is in plaid. This kid on trumpet stood out, as did the session’s vibraphonist and bassist.)


  • At 11:07 AM, Blogger Yurodivy said…

    Are you kidding me?!?

  • At 2:28 PM, Anonymous panos said…

    I was practicing at home, like a loser, as I have no one to play with.

    I may take you up on that, but luckily for you, I don't drink.

  • At 2:29 PM, Anonymous panos said…

    Do any guitarists ever play at that mixer?

  • At 2:33 PM, Blogger Happy In Bag said…

    Yes, a guitarist played the entire first set. He sort of had a low-key Wes Montgomery thing going on. All the guys seemed cool; I'll bet they'd welcome outside musicians, but I can't say for sure.

    Hey Yurodivy, I thought to call you but I don't have your phone number...

  • At 3:24 PM, Anonymous rasher said…

    And how many of those kids at the mixer, or any of Kansas City's "357 jazz fans" came down to the Crossroads Jazz Fest at YJ's all last week? I mean this scene is pathetic. First of all, who knew about a "jazz mixer" or the "jazz fest" in the first place? Second of all, who's going to go anyway? Unless you're a big legacy name like say Joe Cartwright you're not going to get any of the JoCo blue hairs out to your event. The kids playing the jazz these days, and there are some monsters (Seth Lee, Brad Cox amongst a few), don't get any respect or audience. And of all of the people playing jazz in Kansas City, it seems 100 times more clique-y than the rock scene, with 1/10 the number of people going to shows. /rant


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