Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop -- A History

Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop -- A History

Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop -- A History

Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop -- A History


There were but four major galaxies in the early jazz universe, and three of them--New Orleans, Chicago, and New York--have been well documented in print. But there has never been a serious history of the fourth, Kansas City, until now. In this colorful history, Frank Driggs and Chuck Haddix range from ragtime to bebop and from Bennie Moten to Charlie Parker to capture the golden age of Kansas City jazz. Readers will find a colorful portrait of old Kaycee itself, back then a neon riot of bars, gambling dens and taxi dancehalls, all ruled over by Boss Tom Pendergast, who had transformed a dusty cowtown into the Paris of the Plains. We see how this wide-open, gin-soaked town gave birth to a music that was more basic and more viscerally exciting than other styles of jazz, its singers belting out a rough-and-tumbleurban style of blues, its piano players pounding out a style later known as "boogie-woogie." We visit the great landmarks, like the Reno Club, the "Biggest Little Club in the World," where Lester Young and Count Basie made jazz history, and Charlie Parker began his musical education in the alley outback. And of course the authors illuminate the lives of the great musicians who made Kansas City swing, with colorful profiles of jazz figures such as Mary Lou Williams, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Rushing, and Andy Kirk and his "Clouds of Joy." Here is the definitive account of the raw, hard-driving style that put Kansas City on the musical map. It is a must read for everyone who loves jazz or American music history.


This history of Kansas City jazz is decades in the making. in 1977, Frank Driggs entered into a contract with Oxford University Press to write a history of Kansas City Jazz. As the leading authority on Kansas City Jazz, he brought considerable resources to the project. Over the years, he had written extensively on the development of jazz in Kansas City and the Southwest, interviewed many of the musicians who created the tradition, and amassed a hefty collection of photos.

Driggs first heard the siren call of jazz while attending Princeton in the late 1940s. Listening to 78s of Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Bunk Johnson, and other early New Orleans pioneers, Driggs fell under the spell of the music. After graduation, Driggs discovered Kansas City Jazz and began earnestly collecting 78 rpm discs of Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Jay McShann, and other Kansas City bands. Seeking long-out-of-print 78s, he became a regular fixture at Boris Rose’s crowded studio in New York City on 15th Street east of the Third Avenue El. Rose, voluble and erudite, sold dubbed acetate discs of rare sides. More often than not, Driggs found himself standing elbow to elbow with the pale and gaunt avant-garde composer Alan Hovhaness.

Rose introduced Driggs to Marshall Stearns, whose Institute of Jazz Studies was running full blast out of his townhouse at 108 Waverly Place near Washington Square. Joining a dozen other acolytes, Driggs helped Stearns by teaching overflow adult education courses. On the side, Driggs interviewed Andy Kirk, Walter Page, Ed Lewis, and other veteran musicians from the Kansas City tradition who had settled in the New York area.

With Stearns’s encouragement and financial help, Driggs went to Kansas City in October 1957 to gather more background and interviews. On the recommendation of trumpeter Ed Lewis, Driggs contacted Richard Smith, an . . .

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