February 20, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

KC Taxpayers Bail Out Misbegotten Jazz Festival

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In 1994, the city bought a Charlie Parker saxophone for $144,500. It may be time to hock the sax and pay the jazz artists stiffed by the recent festival.

Although no one asked them whether they wanted to, Kansas City taxpayers shelled out at least $117,000 to bail out a check-bouncing jazz festival sponsored by the ill-fated Kansas City-based American Jazz Museum (AJM).

The AJM suffered something of a blow in the jazz world when the checks it had handed out to the performers in May’s Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival started bouncing.

After repeated attempts to get paid by the American Jazz Museum failed, one of the performers, Chris Hazleton, went public with his discontent on Facebook.

“If the AJM wants the KC Jazz & Heritage Fest to be a festival of national prominence, then they are truly going to have their work cut out for them in repairing their reputation before next year.”

The city has been pouring good money after bad into the American Jazz Museum since the museum was first conceived. In 1998, the New York Times did a surprising astute analysis of the museum.

”What this property has successfully done,” then Mayor Emanuel Cleaver said told the Times, ”is transcend the obstacles of race, geography and ethnicity. It is the kind of thing we need to replicate.”

The Times, however, yielded the floor to Eddie Baker, a jazz musician and moving force behind the muqeum’s creation. Baker called the new museum an embarrassment and a disappointment, “not even a shadow of what it could have been.” Baker accurately pointed out the shortcomings of the museum as built: too small, too rudimentary in its exhibits, not interactive enough, and, worse, it had to share its building with the Negro Baseball Hall of Fame.

”It’s being run by politicians who don’t even own a record player,” Baker told the Times. ”It’s evident jazz wasn’t important to this Mayor or anybody else.

The most inept of the political moves was the city’s purchase in 1994 of a Charlie Parker saxophone for $144,500. “This is an important and exciting moment,” said then Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver, “It is only appropriate that Bird’s alto sax come home to Kansas City.” Now perhaps it would be more appropriate to hock the sax and pay back the taxpayers.


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