Honors: Amber “Flutienastiness” Underwood

Amber “Flutienastiness” Underwood (Styling credits: Nail artist: Nhu Hoang, The Nailery Too, Oak Park Mall; Hair: Natural Fit Haircare; Dress/Stylist: The Gown Gallery; Jewelry: Style Therapi; Makeup: BeautyGirlKC. Photo by Jim Barcus)

The talented flutist recently represented Kansas City and the U.S. at UNESCO’s North American Creative Cities Forum in Querétaro

Over the past decade, Amber “Flutienastiness” Underwood has been quietly carving a path of excellence through Kansas City’s music and educational communities and beyond.

Known as “Flutienastiness,” on both the stage and in her recordings, Underwood describes her style as “contemporary soul jazz.” Her performances are known for being audience-friendly, fun and energetic, while showcasing her impeccable musicianship. Like a master sculptor, she carves out a unique sound that is both unmistakable and unforgettable. She has a reputation for consummate professionalism among her musical peers.

Underwood often plays at the Reserve Lounge in the Ambassador Hotel and the Nighthawk club in the basement of the Kansas City Hotel. A fixture in the city’s music scene, she has performed at the Blue Room and Kauffman Center as well as private and corporate events.

“I like to perform and put on a show, a complete two-hour, top-to-bottom show with plenty of dancing, grooving, and wardrobe changes,” Underwood said in a recent interview. “I sing too, and I have sung with the Kansas City Women’s Chorus and a group known as the Troublemakers.”

And how did the “Flutienastiness” moniker come about?

“I was in rehearsal with my accompanist playing the Muczynski Sonata. My part was difficult that day, and the piano part was going in the opposite direction. The accompanist finally said, ‘This is so nasty!’ and I said, ‘I know . . . Flutienastiness.’ Even though I was primarily playing classical music at the time, that term ‘Flutienastiness’ stuck in my mind and over time I grew into it. Organically, I turned into Flutinastiness.

“Flutienastiness is an attitude, a way of playing. It is an edginess, a lifestyle. It is how you carry yourself. Performance-wise, it is a tone…a rawness and edginess of the sound, a grit. I am classically trained but this is more freeing for me: the recording studio, on stage in front of a live audience, or teaching middle schoolers how to play the flute!”

Beyond Kansas City, Underwood has performed in Atlanta, Colorado and Los Angeles. COVID-19 took a 2020 Paris performance off the table, but opportunities have returned, and in August, Underwood travelled to Querétaro, Mexico, where she represented Kansas City and the United States for the UNESCO’s North American Creative Cities Forum. In addition to gathering information on music strategy development, she performed and spoke on a panel about Kansas City and jazz.

“In January, I will be traveling to Santiago, Chile, for some performances representing Kansas City Women in Jazz as part of UNESCO,” Underwood said. “I will also conduct jazz Master Classes.”

Underwood is also known for her fashionista side, both in the classroom and on the performing stage, which she occasionally shares with her social media audience.

A Born Educator

A seasoned and established music teacher, Underwood started the band and orchestra programs at both Northeast and Central Middle Schools. She is currently the director of bands at Central Middle School.

“I come from a family of educators. Even though I initially did not want to be a teacher . . . I guess it is in my blood,” she said.

Her late mother was a fourth-grade teacher, and her father has been a dean and professor at UMKC. Underwood’s stepmother is a retired educator.

To her students, she is Ms. Underwood, the teacher who is always sharply dressed, patient with young musicians, friendly yet firm, and inspires them to see the possibilities in music.

“I started playing piano in third grade and I started playing the flute in the fifth grade. With the encouragement of a teacher, my parents enrolled me in private lessons. Along the way, I learned how to play the violin,” Underwood said.

While completing her bachelor’s degree in flute performance at Wichita State University, Underwood realized that while playing in an orchestra seemed to be the path she was on, she really wanted to be a performer. Like Prince, one of her musical role models, she wanted to display more than just her musicianship. Underwood wanted to display the entire range of her creativity.

After an underwhelming graduate semester on scholarship at Oklahoma State University and a disappointing rejection from NYU, Underwood’s dad suggested she meet Bobby Watson. That nudge of fatherly wisdom led to her earning a master’s degree in arts administration and music business from UMKC, followed by another master’s degree, this time in music education, from Pitt State University.

When she is not teaching in the classroom or teaching private lessons, Underwood can be found in the studio recording or on the stage performing with the flute, her instrument of choice.

“This is Me,” her debut album, was ranked as one of the 25 best jazz albums in Kansas City. Nick Spacek, music critic for “The Pitch” enthused, “It’s a unique, catchy, and utterly addictive album that I’ve listened to nearly every day.” Unlike her first album, which was released independently, her upcoming album will be on an established label.

Whether on the stage, on a CD/LP player, or in the classroom, Amber “Flutienastiness” Underwood is truly an asset to Kansas City.

Harold Smith

Harold Smith is an educator and multimedia artist who lives and works in the Kansas City area. Most of his work is focused on his experience within the American black experience.

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