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Brant Jester: Kid From Ozark Growing up in Kansas City

How did you survive the 2 year COVID Period:

During COVID I was still in Springfield, MO. I grew up near Ozark, MO. During that time, I was teaching piano lessons online. Most of my teaching went online. In any given week I was seeing between 15-25 students a week. That was keeping me afloat. Gigs in Springfield were not happening.

What are you doing these days on the KC Scene:

I moved here in June 2021. I moved up here to try to get on the scene and play gigs. Low and behold and one thing led to another. I found that Carl Allen was heading up the jazz studies at UMKC, so I decided to enroll and go for my Master's. My steady gig is at The Majestic on Saturday nights from 6-10 pm with a trio.

Was it a big jolt to move to KC:

Matt Villinger reached out to me, and we were talking. I have known him for the last few years. I would see him at gigs I would see. He reached out to me, and he told me about the Saturday gig spot at The Majestic. That was in March/April 2021. I started driving up here to make that solo gig. After 8-9 weeks, I decided to just move here. Once I moved and things picked up. It was the right town and I'm glad I moved.

Talk about growing up in Ozark, MO and the beginnings:

I started to play the piano late. I was 13 years old. I was just going into 8th grade. I tried the trumpet because my sister played it, and I just didn't like it. I found that I could sit at the piano for several more hours and be fascinated by it than the trumpet and not be so tired. Piano gravitated to me. I also sang. I sang in choirs for over 13 years. That sparked a lot of curiosity in writing and arranging. Just after a year of playing the piano, I started accompanying the junior high school choirs. And friends and peers. I found a lot of excitement in that. Once in 8th grade, I discovered Clifford Brown. I heard him on this recording playing Joy Spring. It just hit me real quickly that this is what I was looking for. I grew up in a household with my parents that listened to 60's and 70's music. My mom would play Barry Manilow and The Doobie Brothers. My dad was listening to Steely Dan and Earth Wind and Fire. I had a background of rich music and interesting harmonies. It makes sense that I wanted more. I found this recording on Youtube of Monty Alexander and Billy Taylor playing two pianos on Joy Spring. That was it. Once I found those two guys, I was off to the races. I kept playing jazz through high school.

First jazz show live:

It was the Missouri State Jazz Band. They came to my high school to play. They played a couple of selections from Thad Jones and a few Bob Mintzer arrangements. I knew right then and there that I was really into it. The harmonies. Randy Hamm was the leader of the jazz studies program, and they were killing it. That's actually where I did my undergraduate studies.

Talk about what you like the best about being a part of the Kansas City Jazz Scene:

Everybody is cool here. There's a lot of players. A lot more players here than Springfield. A lot of mature, seasoned and experienced musicians. A lot of older cats that are willing to play with me. That makes a big difference. I feel a lot of people in my age group are trying to play with folks their age. I am more interested in playing with older cats. That's where I learn the most. That's been the best thing about moving here to this scene.

What does the tradition and history of KC mean to you:

The tradition is here. I love Count Basie. I know Jay McShann is big. In my path, I listened to Count Basie quite a bit. The time he spent in Kansas City is very important to me. One thing he did was swing. He swung real hard. I'm trying to figure out how to do that and keep that tradition going. I just want to keep swinging like Basie.

If you could go back in time and see a jazz show anywhere. Where:

I would love to go back and hear cats like Tommy Flannagan, Hank Jones, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell and Barry Harris. Would love to hear the bebop cats in the 50s and 60's. I did get to see McCoy Tyner and that was cool. Tommy was one of my favorites. He's not talked about a lot. He had quite a touch. He played with Ella Fitzgerald for quite some time. He got sidelined. I wish I could have heard him.

What do you like the best about being a professional musician:

It's the community. It's the hang. It isn't even really about the music. If you are around the right cats with the right attitude. They bring an uplift and joy. The music will come. The music will be a side product of the friendship. Friendships are the most important thing for me. More than anything else. If you don't have a connection with the people you play with, that can be hard. Just moving here over a year ago, I have played with a lot of cats for the first time, and I love the fire that is kindled. Then it grows. I dig the community and how open everybody is.

What do you like the best about Kansas City:

I love the diversity. There's a lot of different musicians with varied mindsets and goals in terms of the music they play and the bands they assemble. There's a lot of different things going on. It makes Kansas City special. That's very cool.

Why do you love jazz:

I like to swing. There is something so fun about it. The other thing is that it's a language. You meet someone that you never met before, but you connect. Everybody comes from different places, but if I sit down and yell A Train, the band will know. It's a different language and it brings folks together. It's unique and special.

Everyone has a perception of you, who do you think you are:

I think I am somebody who enjoys playing music with other people. Sharing experiences on and off the bandstand. I definitely think that I'm a person that needs to be around other people with more experience and loves this music as much as I do. So, who do I think I am? I think I'm a jazz musician. I think I am going to keep on going after that. There's nothing more exciting than playing a gig. To just disconnect from all the things going on in society that can be a drag. It's an escape for me.

Joe Dimino

Listen to the Full Brant Jester Jazz Interview -

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