A Neon Jazz Interview with Alvin Queen

(While not specifically tied to Kansas City, this is great interview with an incredible musician. We hope you enjoy it!)


June 2019
An Interview with a King of Jazz Drumming
By Joe Dimino, Founder & Voice of Neon Jazz Radio

Each and every interview conducted by Neon Jazz is always full of revelatory, self-actualized and fresh stories from the world of jazz and a true testament to the human condition. Some are from Kansas City, while others are from New York and many more dot the expanse of this fine world of ours. One of those done back in April 2019 was with the amazing Alvin Queen. From his home base of Switzerland, he graciously opened the pandora's box to a life of jazz that is so full of stories you almost need to take a break to let it all soak in. From his time with Oscar Peterson to sitting front row at Birdland next to Elvin Jones while John Coltrane performed, Alvin has traversed the world of jazz time and time again. Each sentence was profound and his humanity was uplifting. It's an interview you really should hear.

Kansas City, Introducing Adam Larson (in his words)

Introducing Adam Larson (in his own words)

When our second son Clark was born in February, my wife and I knew that our time in NYC was coming to an end. She, a life long resident of NY, growing up in Long Island and myself, an eleven year resident of Harlem and then the Bronx, desired a change of pace for our growing family. For a period of almost six months from September of 2018 through March of 2019, I had fully intended on pursuing my Doctoral degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Tierney and I spent hours looking at potential first homes for our family in and around Ann Arbor. Two weeks after Clark was born we got a notice in the mail stating that our lease was coming due at the end of May and that we could renew for only $600/month more! We both said to hell with that and thought “Ann Arbor, here we come”. Shortly after receiving the amazing rent renewal offer for $3000/month, I found out that funding to pursue the Doctorate was unfortunately not going to come through on the timeline necessary for me to make a go of it. A bit nervous but also with some excitement, Tierney and I sat down and made a pro and con list for what we wanted most out of any move, to anywhere. The big things we kept coming back to were an actual home-not some cracker-jack sized box with batshit neighbors on all sides- a good school district for our kids and a place with a great music community. We looked at Denver, Chicago and I threw out Kansas City, too. We quickly ruled out Denver and we both loved the idea of Chicago, but ultimately decided that the cost of living was too similar to NYC for what we wanted to get out of our new home. 

I should back up and mention that I had visited Kansas City for the first time just a few months back, in December of 2018 to play a slew of gigs at The Green Lady and The Black Dolphin (now running “lean on horns”, what that means I’m still trying to figure out) , as well as some masterclass opportunities in Missouri. I stayed with my close friend John Kizilarmut and in the week that I was in KC, I felt a true sense of community unlike anything I had really experienced in my time in New York. There is a lot of truth about having to experience NYC as a musician in order to unlock a certain layer of the music, but I think there is even more truth in the fact that the sense of community that I’m describing cannot be put into better terms other than to say it’s textbook midwest hospitality and comfortability. I grew up in Illinois before departing for NYC as a wide-eyed teenager in 2008 and I’ve always come through this part of the country each year in part because I’ve had success finding work for myself but also because there is a real sense of home that I feel when in this part of the country. Articulating this to Tierney- a native New Yorker- was no small feat, but as she always has, she listened carefully, asked a bunch of questions and trusted me. With that trust, I reached out to my Skype student Evan Kappelman (side note- I’m so thrilled he’s leaving KC to pursue his degree at Temple because otherwise, we’d all be out of work in about a year.), and I asked him if I could get his mother’s email to ask some questions about moving to Olathe. I’m fairly certain Evan took that as the equivalent of me asking him to chop his arm off- the confusion level had to have been high. At any rate, he obliged and I found myself emailing back and forth with another extremely patient and kind midwesterner, where she answered dozens of questions about growing up in Olathe, KC, etc and eventually when I ended up asking her about a potential realtor, she was able to recommend her own brother. If that doesn’t illustrate community and small world connections, I can’t help you. Most of our questions centered around the kids, so for my own reassurance I quickly phoned Peter Schlamb, Eddie Moore and Marcus Lewis and asked them their opinions about a potential move to KC. Each of them, generous human beings, took time to give me a fair and honest assessment. With all of this information, I bought a flight to KC on March 15th and my father, John, drove 5.5hrs from my hometown to meet me at the airport. We saw 8 properties in about 10 hours and only by complete chance did we happen to view a property at the end of the day in Olathe that when we walked in, we knew was the best thing we’d seen all day and probably would see the entire weekend. My realtor phoned the seller’s agent and turns out there was 8 offers already on the house and the seller was making a decision in 45 minutes. So, we put in an offer and went to Q39 for some BBQ and beer, with at least me thinking there is no way in hell I will get that house. About an hour into my 3 meat sampler, 2 beers and vegetables (seriously?), I got a phone call from my realtor saying we got the house. In complete shock I almost choked on my broccoli, paid the check and made my dad drive to CaVa to hear Peter’s trio to celebrate. And celebrate did I ever….yikes! But hey, I just bought a god damn house playing a piece of metal, I’d live with the repercussions. 

This is an extremely long winded way of summarizing the sense of the community here in KC. No scene is perfect, sure, but although I’ve only been here for 2.5 weeks, I can already feel that this was the right move at exactly the right time for me and my family. 

One of the important things to note here is that the choice to move to KC was one made without any plan other than to continue to do what I had been doing in NYC to provide for my family; a mixture of private teaching, masterclasses, touring and writing. It then seemed too perfect that the week of the closing on my house, I was officially offered the chance to teach at UMKC starting this coming fall. Another indication that this indeed was the right move at the right time. Yet, that event wasn’t random, not even by a long shot. It was the cumulative efforts of people in the COMMUNITY (Ryan, Marcus, Michael, et al) to go to bat for me, to a person I’ve never met, for a position that I didn’t even know was a possibility. I’m eternally grateful to those individuals and it once again points to the selflessness I see in so many of the musicians I call friends here in KC. 

As if the case with any city and scene, passion will always be the driver behind great highs and turbulent lows, but for now, I remain overwhelmingly optimistic about the chance to be a part of this vibrant community. 

-Adam Larson


(ADAM’S BIO from his website: Originally from Normal, IL, Adam Larson is an American saxophonist, composer and author. An endorsed artist for P. Mauriat saxophones, Boston Sax Shop “Heritage” necks and Vandoren reeds, mouthpieces and ligatures, Adam began playing saxophone at the age of 11. 

Described by critic Howard Reich of The Chicago-Tribune as “a player for whom the word ‘prodigious’ was coined”, by Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen as “a saxophonist who brings Donny McCaslin and Mark Turner to mind”, and by Nate Chinen of The New York Times as “the sort of jazz musician who gets flagged early on as a promising talent and then hustles to meet every requirement for success”, Larson has garnered numerous awards that distinguish him as one of the most promising artists of his generation. As a student, Larson was a member of virtually every national program dedicated to showcasing excellence in young jazz talent including The Grammy Band, Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, Betty Carter Jazz Ahead, YoungArts Jazz Fellows, Telluride Student All-Stars, Jazz Band of America among others. Upon graduating high school in 2008, Adam moved to New York City to pursue his BM and MM in Jazz Performance on full-scholarship from The Manhattan School, where he graduated with honors as a Master's student as the recipient of the William H. Borden Award for Outstanding performance in Jazz in 2014.  

Larson has released four albums; two under the Inner Circle Music label and two produced independently. Larson’s most recent recording “Second City” received a four-star rating from Downbeat magazine, was listed as one of the best releases of 2017 in both Downbeat and Jazziz Magazine, and was prominently featured in several publications. Larson keeps an active schedule with his own groups and as a sideman, having performed at several venues across the U.S. including The Jazz Standard, Birdland, The 55 Bar, The Jazz Gallery, The Blue Note, The Village Vanguard, Smalls, Jazz at The Bistro, The Jazz Estate, The Jazz Showcase, and several others.

Adam has been a part of several tours that have allowed him to see more of the world than he once thought possible. He was a guest artist at the 2017 Sopot Jazz Festival in Sopot, Poland and has toured India,Taiwan, Holland, and Germany as well much of the United States. In 2015 Larson’s quartet was selected as one of ten ensembles to tour on behalf of the U.S. State Department's "American Music Abroad" program and toured Africa for 35 days visiting The Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Benin and Ghana.

Beyond maintaining an active touring and recording schedule, Larson continues to be a sought after clinician and master class presenter at several high schools and Universities across the Midwest and beyond, including appearances at HKU Conservatory-Utrecht, University of Iowa, Drake University, University of Northern Iowa, Temple University, Yale, Manhattan School of Music, and University of North Texas among many others. Adam is currently on faculty at University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory, where he teaches saxophone and music business. 

Adam has authored two jazz etude books; “Leaps & Sounds: 12 Contemporary Etudes for Jazz Saxophone” Volumes I and II , that have been sold in over 30 countries and States. He is also the author of “Conversation Starters: 180 pieces of Jazz Vocabulary” and created and released a successful online masterclass dedicated exclusively to developing great technique, called “Lighting-Fast and Crystal- Clean”. He maintains an impressive portfolio of commissioned ensemble writing for school jazz ensembles, having written more than thirty original works to date. Adam was commissioned by the Illinois Music Educators Association to compose the All-State composition for the 2020 convention. Larson is a Teaching Artist for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Let Freedom Swing” program, The New York Pops Ed education programs, and has a diverse private lesson studio of Skype students from the U.S. and abroad. 

With a vested interest in giving back, Larson has also worked in various capacities with organizations that showcase exceptional young talent in the United States. Adam has served as a mentor for the Grammy Foundation and as an adjudicator for the YoungArts organization. Serving in the role of creative director of the YoungArts New York regional show, Larson has presented multiple genre-bending, interdisciplinary performances held at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City. Larson currently resides in Kansas City with his beautiful wife, Tierney and sons Jack and Clark.)

Emergent Properties - by: Ben Leifer

photo credit: Angie Jennings

photo credit: Angie Jennings

Emergent Properties

Submitted by: Ben Leifer

Why is it that every other week we have a debate in this city about what Kansas City Jazz is, as if any of us get to decide? I know folks who think it is their prerogative to prescribe a style, or a methodology to this title. And yet the wheel keeps turning on this city and our scene. 

 Clubs open and close, musicians move away, some come back. New faces come in and some local icons pass away. Magazines, websites and social media continue to air out this discussion, and most of the conclusions are either reductionist, or so broad that any true meaning is lost to the breeze. If it were so easy to define something like this I would think we all would share the same viewpoint. 

 In science, the concept of emergent properties has always fascinated me. For example, our brains are basically a gelatinous blob of neurons and cerebrospinal fluid with some blood vessels and a handful of other important cells. How is it that something this basic can do something so magical as take in massive quantities of information, distill it into input and output signals, record memories, experience emotions, have five senses, operate a living body, and possess consciousness and all that that entails? Consciousness is an emergent property of our brain function. It is greater than the sum of its parts. Take a brain apart cell by cell and you have nothing even remotely capable consciousness. This is a good metaphor for this discussion.

 I think we can all agree that “Kansas City Jazz” doesn’t lie within the purview of singular artists or even stylistic traits, but is an emergent property of the entire history and present of the music that was/is created by artists who live here and create here. It’s bigger than any of us and the only thing you can to do effect it is to put your stamp on it. That said... you have to earn it. You have to show up and participate.

 There are those out there, in this scene and the global community, that say that Jazz is about innovation and so you must always be doing something new or else you are faking it. I call BS. That is a recipe for trite, undefinable confusion that you see in the “art” community all the time. There are others who say that you must adhere to the tradition at all costs and not stray or else you are not playing jazz. That is also foolish, because even the most stringent traditions allow for growth from the practitioner. However, we need both of these goofballs to tie down the boundaries of radicalization so we have any structure at all to work within. If you think these structures are superfluous and you are above them, then you are just another drunk fish in the ego ocean.

 Here’s the point, as I often have trouble getting to... who gives a shit? I’m super bored by this conversation and certainly any music fan could give a damn. It’s 2019! Every day is Halloween.  We should all just STFU about it and play: Hearts out, asses off. So many of us are struggling, and so many need good music and to have their thoughts provoked as a matter of healing. Start bleeding on the outside and let them in. 

 Have you ever seen a band do that thing where the melody sounds great and everyone’s energy is open and inviting, and then the solos start and they all scrunch into a tiny ball smaller than a Planck Length, with their entire lives just crushed into a shadow? What the hell!?

I didn’t pay a cover to... oh wait... hang on... 

I didn’t stagger drunk for free into this Jazz clu... oh wait.... damn... 

I didn’t stagger drunk for free into this bar that has music sometimes to listen t... dammit...

I didn’t stagger drunk for free into this bar that has music sometimes to talk to my friends about how much we hate work while you don’t pour your entire heart out to me and then I’ll chastise you for not playing what I wanted…Kansas City Jazz.

"Jay McShann Live in Tokyo 1990" - Album Review

Jay McShann Live in Tokyo 1990, a widely unheard album was recorded live during an April 9th, 1990 show at Indigo Blues, The ACT, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Artist: Jay McShann

Album Title: Jay McShann Live in Tokyo 1990

T2 Audio

Personnel: Jay McShann, piano and vocals; Lynn Seaton, bass and vocals; Chuck Riggs, drums

Tracks: But Not for Me, In a Sentimental Mood, Kansas City, Moten Swing, On a Clear Day, Jumpin’ the Blues, Georgia On My Mind, All of Me, Cute

 Recorded April 9, 1990 at Indigo Blues at the ACT, Tokyo, Japan

Jay McShann in Tokyo.jpg

 My goodness, how we miss Jay McShann.

 When folks try to explain what Kansas City jazz is all about, what makes it unique, more often than not the explanation will include Jay McShann. His music had that strong sense of swing. His style incorporated boogie-woogie and stride along with his fabulous straight-ahead jazz piano technique, and his blues and voice were always inventive and distinctive. Above all, he was fun to listen to. You were bound to leave one of his performances happier than when you arrived.

 McShann was 76 years old and three decades into the renewed interest in his music when this set was recorded. He was a hit in Canada, Europe and Japan, and this resulted in many recordings during these years, many on the Canadian label Sackville. This newly released record comes right at the end of the Sackville period.

 From the first few bars on “But Not for Me” one can hear how fabulous a player Jay was. After a short intro he tears into the tune Garner-like, with that strong left hand comping. Lynn Seaton and Chuck Riggs swing right along with him. Jay’s solo is full of surprise, he has such a strong melodic sense. I love Seaton’s well-structured bass solo, which includes his strong strumming skills.

 “In a Sentimental Mood” is masterful. Listen to how Jay moves between his lines, his time, and these great chords (his harmonic skills were exemplary). At times during his solo, his left hand is so strong that you might struggle to hear Seaton. Seaton, long a versatile first-call bassist, has his own great solo.

 Jay loves “Kansas City”. I never tire of him playing and singing this blues, especially with a great swinging Seaton solo that reminds me of Percy Heath doing “The Watergate Blues.” But Jay was not done yet and comes back for another rocking solo with that killer left hand. “Moten Swing” is more Kansas City history, one of those songs that may never go away (I just heard some young musicians in Barcelona tear it up). Jay is again inventive and lightly swinging. Seaton uses his bow and adds his vocals a la Major Holley.

 There is more KC blues here, too, the old McShann favorite “Jumpin’ the Blues.” I love Jay's opening here, taking it slow, then picking up the pace as Seaton and Riggs join him. Then it is just Jay and his endless file drawer of blues lines. Now this is Kansas City jazz!

 The remaining tracks are standards, the most current being “On a Clear Day” which was twenty-five years old at the time. Jay sounds great on his vocal, and it is fun to hear him humming along with his piano solo. “Georgia On My Mind” is a great ballad, and Jay is again warm in his readings on piano and vocals. “All of Me” is another swinger featuring another fine Seaton solo. “Cute” is a well-deserved feature for Chuck Riggs, whose drums add much to the set.

 This is a fabulous and unexpected gift from Japan to the many music fans who enjoy Jay McShann. The set sounds alive, very well-recorded, like having a perfect front row seat.  This is a welcome addition to my collection and to the McShann discography.

–        Roger Atkinson




Escape from LA - a Jazz Guitarist's Journey to KC

Submitted by: Doug Perkins

My name is Doug Perkins, and I moved from Los Angeles where I was part of that music scene for my whole adult life to Kansas City in early 2015. The LA that I had moved to to attend Musician’s Institute - where I won the Outstanding Guitarist of the Year award as a student and then taught at for 6 years - had been changing for years and had gotten to the point that the traffic issues had made it so you couldn’t confidently schedule multiple live gigs if you could actually find them. Many times my LA musician friends would talk about the issue of finding enough good players in other cities to work with, so knew I was looking for a new city with a very strong jazz talent base and very affordable real estate, and Kansas City has filled that need very nicely, so say the least.

I had come out 6 months before moving here during a jazz festival weekend, and I met a lot of the name players then, and continued my networking when I actually moved. That led to a call from Rod Fleeman on a recommendation by Danny Embrey to sub for him in the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra at the Kauffman Center literally two weeks after I had arrived in town. I was still living at an Extended Stay motel in the Shawnee area with my dog and some guitars, and I think I moved into my new house in Gladstone a few days before the Kauffman gig. From that gig, I met and / or played with great people like Joe Cartwright, Kathleen Holeman, James Albright, Brad Gregory, Clint Ashlock and lots more, which led to gigs with Herschel McWilliams, Angela Hagenbach, Tim Doherty’s 9+1 and lots more. Through meeting him with Stan Kessler and the Sons of Brazil, the great Roger Wilder was nice enough to invite me to sit in with him and Bob Bowman at the old Broadway Jazz Club just before it closed. This was a really great experience that happened for me right after that, and Rich Hill gave me my first actual gig at Chaz after meeting me at a jam night at the Blue Room.

I was also asked to join Danny Embrey’s unique “Enormous Guitar”, a 5 guitar “little big band”, and have been playing for about a year with The Jim Lower Jazz Orchestra, which now has a regular Tuesday night residency at the Black Dolphin. I’ve played the Green Lady numerous times, which I find to be an amazing, unique and incredibly well run club the likes of which I have never seen in other cities. I am also lucky to have been able to write music for music libraries around the world that give me residual income from broadcast use that helps a lot, a lot of my music shows up everywhere from Sponge Bob to Mad Men and even Dance Moms! I also am regularly teaching locally at The Culture House and more, as well as having some jazz guitar students on Skype. Besides that, I am a partner in a jazz guitar education site www.jazzguitarsociety.com, which brings college level guitar reaching via video masterclasses from world class players to your computer desktop. We have customers in pretty much every country, and I’ve been very happy and proud to help some great musicians get some income and a wider fan base through that.

So I have been incredibly blessed to have gotten to play with the cities top players and singers almost literally from my arrival, and they’ve been totally kind and gracious to a new guy like me. I’m still trying to get my body to acclimate to the humidity, but I know it took me ten years to learn to deal with the heat in LA, so am confident that I’ll eventually get used to that as well - go Royals ;-)

Doug Perkins June 6, 2019 www.dougperkinsmusic.com