Listen on KCUR FM 89.3 every Saturday at midnight for Public Radio’s Weekly Jazz, Blues and Comedy Jam!
David Basse has that sort of honey-dripped voice that is suave, urbane, laced with the right touches of spice. His appearance is that sort of debonair that harkens back to a better-groomed day. His 12TH STREET JUMP singing companion, Nedra Dixon, brings that winsome voice that can speak volumes with a whispered phrase or that full-out forte that moves listeners to goose bumps. Those Kansas City listeners can hear the show on KCUR 89.3 FM every Saturday at midnight. Nationally, they are on public radio stations in Miami, Fla,; Juneau and Kodiak, Alaska; Bryan, Texas as well as in northeast Iowa, northern California and Wisconsin. The show can also be heard live on bostonfreeradio.com as well. More than 3,000 listeners tune in to the Kansas City jazz broadcasts each week.
Of course, it’s not just the singers of 12TH STREET JUMP that leave their marks on an audience. Drummer Mike Warren keeps the beat and delivers that sort of solidity to the group. Another stalwart figure is Tyrone Clark, who has traveled the world playing jazz. He was also part of the Robert Altman production of Kansas City. His bass playing includes the electric bass and the upright. During one of the weekly tapings, he described the work as a creative chaos that unites into a popular show. “I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the show. It’s intense as we perform the forefathers of our music styling. However, it’s a real joy.”
Three years ago, Mark Edelman, the show’s creator and executive producer, wanted to pay homage to the area’s jazz history and found some willing musicians and singers to join him. Basse says the show is officially public radio’s jazz, blues and comedy hour. “We put jazz in our blues and vice versa,” he says. “We find our jazz or blues great to feature and every week, we send out a great show around the country. When we started, we didn’t know what the show would become.”
Initially, the group decided to produce two concept shows to see how the process worked. With the success, Edelman knew he needed to share Kansas City’s talent. The group first performed at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, then the Downtown Marriott and most recently 1911 Main Street. “We’re recording in the studio now while we look for a permanent home for the show here in KC. We’re having a great time in our studio, but it’s fun to perform to an audience,” he says.
Edelman says every major KC jazz artist from Bobby Watson, Rod Fleeman, Stan Kessler and Lonnie McFadden to Angela Hagenbach, Danny Embry, Kim Park, Horace Washington and Everette DeVan has been featured on the show. We’ve introduced young players like Hermon Mehari while they were students at UMKC’s Jazz Studies program. National artists like Karrin Allyson, Harry Allen, Sean Jones, Eldar and Conana O’Brien band trumpet player Mark Pender have been featured as well.
Basse and musical director and pianist Joe Cartwright have known each other since they were teenagers. They have played together often. Basse is also a world-class drummer in his own right. “This is different. We have defined roles in the production. After a couple of hours, we put this all together. It’s also a treat for us to honor that famous jazz singer or musician.”
As an example, the last three weeks in January looked something like this: a birthday celebration of guitarist Lead Belly with blues guitarist Millage Gilbert and singer Sheila Bey (Jan 13) and the birthdays of French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and French guitarist and composer Django Reinhardt with guests Marvin Gruenbaum , violin, and Clayton De Long, guitar (Jan. 20); and Jorge Nila on tenor sax honoring Stan Getz, jazz saxophonist (Jan. 27).
Basse says he does research on the featured artists while Cartwright picks the tunes. The comedy writers get their licks in and it all just comes together. One other perk is to allow a younger audience the understanding that it takes lots of hours of practice and a real love for the art.
Cartwright says the name of the show ties to Kansas City’s first jazz heritage that started on 12th Street. The shift to 18th Street came in the 1920s and 1930s. “It just so happens that 12th Street is where I played my first gig. I played at Harry T’s Lounge in the Phillips House Hotel. Six nights a week for seven years, I had a good gig. It even paid my way through college.” Cartwright graduated in 1986 from the UMKC Conservatory with a degree in piano performance. He calls 12TH STREET JUMP a controlled creativity that has to be based on the clock. “We have a specific time frame to hit. It’s also a sort of weekly challenge and I enjoy that. We all have to adapt to what is available of the specific artist’s collection. We have to make sure we can have the compositions we need.”
Dixon serves as the lead female singer. She has also clearly established herself in the Kansas City area as an actress, choreographer and director. The jazz group gives her a chance to stretch her vocal wings. Initially trained in the more classical and musical worlds, Dixon came aboard because she had worked with Edelman in the 1980s. “I am the sort of person who wants to learn something new each day. There is a deep breadth of growth that happens with the 12TH STREET JUMP. It also helps expand my artistry.”
Dixon also gets the chance to sing with her sister, Bey. “I love to do the blues shows. It’s like an express train to history and it’s so cool that the local artists get a chance to be part of 12TH STREET JUMP. We have the younger artists »» and the more seasoned. The show is the chance to highlight that Kansas City has something substantial and wonderful to share with the world,” Bey says. She says she started singing at 16 in the church choir and sings with the Kansas City Women’s Choir now.
Pete Weber, one of the co-hosts, says 12TH STREET JUMP provides a strong and animated model of Kansas City jazz going out hot and fresh to markets across the United States and of course, online.
“For many, jazz can seem sort of exclusive. That there seems only like a select group of people who get it, but when we get a hold of the jazz, I feel like we fill the music with a heart and accessibility. We make it inclusive. Of course, we still give it that air of cool and magic that is jazz, but we also fit it with heart,” he says.
For Weber and co-host Pearl MacDonald, jazz and blues are entertainment that they add their humor to with the 12TH STREET JUMP weekly recordings. When the group performed live, Weber and MacDonald enjoyed interacting with the audience.
Weber’s counterpart, MacDonald is an improvisational actress who can also have a sweet voice and a cutting wit to be timely while providing some back-up vocals if needed. “We do come from different worlds. Pete and I are probably the closest with acting and improv, so we appreciate this musical world,” she says. “It’s an intense process.”
“We are very fun and totally lucky to be part of 12TH STREET JUMP,” he says. “It’s like a family. Sure there are differences, but we all this to thrive. We may give each other opinions, but no one is so set in their ways not to accept them. It’s why we are going on four years with the program.”
While some jazz and blues artists may seem to have bigger egos and more diva-like behavior, 12TH STREET JUMP may be motivated more by the pride in producing the best show possible. “Egos are checked at the door and the pride serves a good purpose,” Weber says.
Photos by Brad Austin