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.)