There are a few hidden treasures here in Kansas City. Among them is the Kansas City Jazz Vespers series. The ongoing program at the First Baptist Church of Kansas City offers free jazz concerts for enthusiasts who would like to escape the club ambience. Here one can hear the music style in its full capacity, echoing in a beautiful, historical church.
“The jazz culture in Kansas City is ever-evolving,” says Angela Hagenbach, booking agent for the series. “It would be wonderful if Kansas City could help elevate jazz to encourage tourism. So that we may be recognized as a destination location for jazz.”
Roughly 45 people showed up on January 10 for The Roger Wilder Quartet’s inaugural performance of the 2016 series. As the musicians moved through their playlist, each note their instruments hummed was magnified throughout the church. Many listeners tapped their fingers on the mahogany pews, or tapped their feet on the church’s blood-red carpet.
The quartet brought confidence and skill to their set, performing tracks from their newest album, “Stretch,” as well as playing familiar tunes such as John Coltrane’s version of My Favorite Things. The crowd was calm, so the band members—saxophonist, pianist, bassist and drummer—derived energy from the music.
“We wanted bands with a really good sound, that a church-audience would like, as well as the general public,” says Hagenbach. “Roger Wilder is a marvelous pianist, educator and radio DJ.”
There was a dizziness of fluidity that just sounded right, most likely because there were no background noises, as there usually would be at a club venue. Attendees were able to hear the music in its purest form—without interruption.
“We wanted to provide listeners with 100 minutes of jazz, uninterrupted,” says Dr. Stephen Jones, the founder of the KC Jazz Vespers. “It’s a concert setting with a diverse crowd and diverse music. We want all of those who come out to experience something different together.”
This is the fourth jazz vespers series Jones has organized. His first, in Detroit, is still going strong 20 years later. He also created one in Seattle, which is ongoing, and St. Louis, which has ended.
“The talent here is amazing,” says Jones. “Some of the best in the country. And the featured artists—we ask them to do the music they love singing and playing without restriction.”
“It’s neat because we’ve had just about every racial group attend,” he added. “It’s usually a rich, diverse crowd that attends.”
With this series, Jones and his Jazz Vespers colleagues hope to help resurrect Kansas City’s reputation as a jazz epicenter. And by allowing jazz to resonate within the hearts of those who truly appreciate the art form, and who live south of 435, the Kansas City Jazz Vespers is reintroducing the jazz concert experience to a broad geographic audience.
Jescia Poell performed Feb. 21. Kansas City Jazz Vespers continues at First Baptist Church of Kansas City, 100 W. Red Bridge Rd., on March 13 with Eddie Moore, April 10 with Paula Saunders and May 15 with Charles D. Williams. For more information, call 816.942.1866 or visit kcjazzvespers.com.