These three musical Missouri cities will keep your
Seats at The Phoenix in downtown Kansas City, Mo., are getting scarce, and it is only 4:30 p.m. That’s because musician Lonnie McFadden is playing here with two of his best pals–Donovan Bailey on drums and Mark Lowrey on piano/keyboards. They’re starting the weekend with the jazziest happy hour in town, and this trio performs for a packed house.
McFadden–a trumpet-blowing, tap-dancing dynamo–moves from “The Duke” to “The Bird” and adds his own artful arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Before we know it, we are part of what makes Kansas City a vibrant musical destination–its jazz scene.
Missouri’s three biggest metro areas–Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield/Branson–offer plenty of musical entertainment options. With impressive local talent and reputations that draw national acts, it’s easy to plan a noteworthy weekend getaway.
Don’t mean a thing without swing
Jazz in Kansas City was born in the 1920s. At one time, more than 200 jazz clubs could be found in the city. Today, there are about 40 venues for live jazz.
Start a musical weekend at the American Jazz Museum (616 E. 18th St.) in the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District. This museum gives a great overview of jazz, as well as a glimpse into Kansas City’s musical history. Begin with the short introductory film featuring Kansas City’s Jay McShann, who created the style of jazz known as “the Kansas City sound” in the 1940s with his big band that included another local jazz legend, Charlie Parker.
Listening stations and touch screens guide visitors through the jazz masters, such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Parker. Check out Armstrong’s trumpet, Parker’s saxophone, strings from Ellington’s piano, and one of Fitzgerald’s performance gowns. McShann’s piano also is here.
The Swing Shop has a fine selection of jazz CDs, prints, and other souvenirs. The museum’s working jazz club, The Blue Room, has live music four nights a week. There’s a $10 cover charge, and minors are welcome when accompanied by an adult. Behind the museum you’ll see the Charlie Parker Memorial Statue that was unveiled in 1999. Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of Parker’s death (March 12, 1955).
For a bigger selection of music, check out Vinyl Renaissance (1415 W. 39th St.), a pre-owned record and CD store. There is a good selection of vinyl featuring all the jazz greats, and a smaller selection of CDs. Need a turntable to spin that Thelonious Monk record? No problem; they sell those, too.
Start your weekend jazz crawl with dinner and music at Broadway Jazz Club (3601 Broadway) just north of Country Club Plaza. Live jazz is offered five nights a week. The Green Lady Lounge (1809 Grand Ave.) is a throwback to classic jazz clubs, with red walls, lots of wood, and a room illuminated by candles on the round tables. Move on to the Blue Room at the jazz museum. A good source for who’s playing where is the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors site (http://www.kcjazzambassadors.com).
Cover charges typically range from $5–$10. Be sure you invite a designated driver for the evening or hire a car and driver (www.kansascitytransportationgroup.com). Taxis downtown or in the Plaza area on a recent visit seemed scarce, so plan transportation before heading out for the evening.
Where to stay in KC
Accommodations are plentiful in Kansas City, but if a hotel could emulate smooth jazz, a good choice is The Raphael Hotel in Country Club Plaza (325 Ward Parkway). Summer Strings on the Green are free jazz concerts from 4–7 p.m. through September, and various jazz artists perform at the hotel’s restaurant/lounge, Chaz. AAA Four Diamond luxury and service combine for a memorable stay at The Raphael. Check out the hotel’s jazz brunch on Sundays.
Blues in the Lou
A city with a hockey team called the Blues has to know a thing or two about this music genre. In truth, the blues soundtrack in St. Louis isn’t as loud as its jazz counterpart in Kansas City–the venues are a bit scattered–but you will hear blues in this city along the muddy Mississippi River.
Make tracks to Laclede’s Landing over Labor Day weekend to the Big Muddy Blues Festival. Some 30 local and national bands typically perform on three stages. For more information, click on http://bigmuddybluesfestival.com.
It’s fitting to have a blues music festival on the city’s riverfront because the Mississippi River played a large role in bringing this musical genre upriver from the state of Mississippi.
“Around World War II, there was a great migration of blues musicians who came up the river,” said John May of the St. Louis Blues Society.
The St. Louis blues sound was fused with ragtime (Scott Joplin lived in St. Louis for a time) and jazz, which came to St. Louis via the northbound riverboats from New Orleans. Joplin’s contemporary, W.C. Handy, forever joined St. Louis and the blues together when he wrote the “St. Louis Blues” in 1914, which has become the most recorded blues song in history.
Today, the city’s greatest concentration of blues venues is downtown along Broadway. In the shadow of the riverfront’s Gateway Arch, a “blues triangle” is comprised of three clubs–BB’s Jazz, Blues, and Soups; Beale on Broadway; and Broadway Oyster Bar.
BB’s building (700 S. Broadway) dates to the 1800s and has a colored past–a badge of honor for a blues bar. For reasonable covers ($5 or $10), you’ll see great local and regional musicians. Live music is offered every night of the week.
Beale on Broadway (701 S. Broadway) is a bar that serves up blues, soul, and R&B seven nights a week. Local and national musicians perform in this interesting little venue; cover charge is $7–$10. Catch blues diva Kim Massie with her band, Solid Senders, here for the late show on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Broadway Oyster Bar (736 S. Broadway) has been a fixture of St. Louis for more than 30 years. Live music is heard every night, but unlike BB’s, Broadway Oyster Bar presents a variety of bands, from blues to reggae. A Cajun/Creole menu, plus a décor that Zagat once described as “so bad that it’s great” brings a little bit of The Big Easy to the Gateway City. No cover is charged.
Just south of the “blues triangle” is the historical Soulard neighborhood with more blues venues. Check out 1860s Saloon at Ninth and Geyer streets for nightly music, including local blues acts. Hammerstone’s on Ninth Street is another blues spot.
The St. Louis Blues Society publishes an online music calendar at www.stlblues.net.
Find Vintage Vinyl (6610 Delmar Blvd.) in University City, a St. Louis suburb about 15 minutes west of downtown. There’s a good selection of blues records and CDs here. Walk down a few storefronts to Blueberry Hill, a great place to grab a burger and beer. Rock legend Chuck Berry plays The Duck Room downstairs once a month. Tickets–as expected–sell out fast.
Where to Stay in STL
A wonderful mix of several neighborhoods and local suburbs, the metro area has more hotel rooms than notes in a B.B. King guitar solo. But to stick near the blues triangle, you’ll want to stay downtown. As it happens, the state’s only Five Diamond hotel, the Four Seasons, is on the riverfront. The Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch (AAA Four Diamonds) on Chestnut Street is about eight minutes by car to the blues clubs and also has great views of the river.
Country roots in
For unmatched musical variety–with more than 100 live shows and 57,000 theater seats (which, by the way, beats Broadway), head southwest to Branson. Southwest Missouri first gained national prominence in the entertainment industry in 1954 when country singer Red Foley moved to Springfield from Nashville, Tenn., to host “Ozark Jubilee” for network television. Country music came to Branson in 1959 when The Mabe brothers performed in a converted roller rink. Known as the Baldknobbers, the Mabes built a theater 10 years later on state Highway 76, “Branson’s Strip,” where the family performs today.
Another musical family, the Presleys, began performing in the Branson area in 1963 and built the first live music theater on The Strip in 1967. Presleys’ Country Jubilee is still going strong.
According to Branson’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, fewer than half of the shows today feature country music, but you will find artists such as Billy Dean, Buck Trent, the Gatlin Brothers, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Mickey Gilley performing their hits. You’ll also find rock, gospel, Broadway tunes–even opera–and more in Branson.
Most of the theaters have a gift shop where guests can purchase current music CDs by the house act. Should you become inspired to pick up a guitar or dulcimer and take lessons at home, there is a variety of music stores in town, too.
Don’t miss Springfield’s Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts, which hosts touring Broadway shows and musicians from around the world. The historical Gillioz Theater in downtown Springfield offers an active concert calendar featuring national musicians. This fall, the lineup includes George Thorogood and the Destroyers in October.
While in Springfield, check out Stick It In Your Ear (300 E. Walnut St.), which has a big selection of new and used vinyl, CDs, and more. The store has been a part of Springfield for more than 20 years.
Where to stay in Branson
With a beautiful view of Table Rock Lake, the AAA Four Diamond Chateau on the Lake provides comfortable luxury. Hotels on The Strip include the Hotel Grand Victorian and Best Western Center Pointe Inn. The Best Western Musical Capital Inn is nearby on Shepherd of the Hills Expressway. Add Springfield’s mix of accommodations, and you won’t have trouble finding a place to stay.
Missouri’s musical heritage and offerings are noteworthy and can be your muse for a memorable fall getaway.
Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Midwest Traveler magazine.
September/October 2014 Issue
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