Fine Art Of Jazz Opens At Bessie Smith Cultural Center

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Fine Art of Jazz, an exhibition showcasing the names and faces synonymous with the Kansas City tradition of American jazz, opens Monday at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.    

In conjunction with the exhibition the Bessie will host a gallery talk on Tuesday, April 29, at 6 p.m. Participants will learn more information about the musicians featured in the show and the history of jazz. The event is free to members of the Bessie and museum admission for non-members. 

Review for The Fine Art of Jazz:

Charlie Parker, Pete Johnson, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Jay McShann and Booker Washington, these and many more musicians and vocalists associated with Prohibition-era jazz found a welcome home in Kansas City nightclubs, bustling with crowds eager for the entertainment. The Roaring 20s saw local and out-of-town musicians forge a distinctive Kansas City style of jazz as they enjoyed the camaraderie of all-night jam sessions with boisterous, noisy clubs as the backdrop. Many of the musicians who got their start in Kansas City’s jazz hub became household names across the nation in the 1930s and 1940s as jazz exploded in popularity, but the genesis of the movement also left its mark forever on the Kansas City music scene. Today the tradition jams on, with clubs across the city featuring jazz nightly.

It is this mixture of activity, tenacity and nostalgic charm that moved Pulitzer Prize winner Dan White to spend almost 20 years photographing and interviewing renowned jazz musicians. 

 “I began photographing jazz musicians in 1987, hoping to create a visual record of these talented artists and to help preserve Kansas City’s tradition as a birthplace of jazz,” Mr. White says. “I’d been listening, watching and talking to those in the local jazz scene for quite some time. They were very open to passing along their knowledge and traditions with anyone who shared their love of the music; I wanted to capture some of this feeling before it slipped away. Players like Rusty Tucker, Speedy Huggins, Milt Abel and Pearl Thuston. They had a certain sound. When they were on, there was nothing like it. I’ve shot more than 50 portraits of these players and singers over the past 20 years. It’s a good feeling to have captured part of Kansas City’s history.”

The result of M.r White’s work is a series of  50 black-and-white portraits of Kansas City jazz musicians and vocalists, complete with commentary from exhibition curator Chuck Haddix, co-author of Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to BeBop – A History.

The exhibition is organized and toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance and presented locally in partnership with the Bessie and Jazzanooga.  

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