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Busiest Guitarist in a Woke Kansas City — Meet Michael McClintlock

The path of Kansas City guitarist Michael McClintock has been one of the more unlikely, yet enlivened biographies for a self-actualized musician who prides himself on accidents & growth.

“Jazz is an endless sea of information, style and beauty. I am going to have to spend the rest of my life and another one to even understand half of it,” said Michael, “I like pursuing knowledge and struggling. It scares me, but it's a part of life.”

Originally from the small town of Neosho, Missouri, Michael learned to play guitar at the age of 13 with his Uncle Mark.

“Athletics were definitely not my thing and I never excelled in one particular subject in school,” said Michael. “The guitar made sense to me. I started with rock and blues.”

That thirst for growth led him to study classical guitar at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. During his tenure from 2002-2006, he couldn’t help noticing the stellar caliber of musicians in the Jazz Studies Program, under the sage guidance of Bobby Watson and Dan Thomas. That led Michael to his interest in jazz.

“After I graduated from college in 2006, I hooked up with Beau Bledsoe and learned Flamenco. That got me hooked,” Michael beamed, “I was thinking about leaving KC, but I decided to stay. I loved learning with Beau.”

These days, Michael is the leader of the band Cubanisms. The Latin flavor permeates his entire musical persona. He spent some good quality time in Cuba, and his music flourished, while learning from the locals.

“I met my wife in Havana and saw all of these guys playing with joy,” said Michael, “I got lucky, (because) my wife lived right in the middle of Havana. I got hooked up with one of the premier teachers, right out of the gate and I got taught correctly. The Cubans are such a lovely group of people.”

He has proudly called Kansas City home for the past several decades and feels a swell of pride playing in the local scene.

“It's got to be one of the most open and inviting cities in the entire country. It's interesting to be in a city that has so much talent, but still has a friendly kind of sharing vibe to it,” Michael said. “There are many world-class people in this town. It's a very navigable town.”

Over time, he has been recognized for his chops from the locals. He’s received crowd funding to take Cubanisms to Cuba, to perform at a festival. He is now recognized as one of the best guitarists in Kansas City.

Being nominated the best musician in Kansas City by The Pitch was a major honor. “I didn't expect that,” said Michael, “There are so many amazing guitar players in (this) town, so that was really flattering.”

During the 2020 lockdown and temporary end to live music, Michael had some time to really reflect on his life as a musician. He realized he needed to get busy on original compositions and at the urging of his wife, he decided to get to work and change that.

“I realized that I had been playing the guitar since I was 13, and a professional musician for almost 20 years. I only had 3 original compositions. That's not something I was too proud of,” said Michael, “I started composing in a studio I have in my house. Throughout the pandemic I released 5 original compositions and have 6 more to work on.”

He also realized that in the old world of March 2020, he took for granted all the work he had. All of that is changing now as the world wakes up and he hops back on stage in 2021.

“No matter how front or in the back I am, I want to be grateful for the gigs I have. It's a privilege to earn a living making music no matter what it is,” Michael said, “Every chance we get to play is a gift.”

Michael is a musician that marvels at the unending wonder and improvisational nature of jazz. He also knows exactly who he is and what his role is as he moves on leading the proverbial music march in Kansas City.

“I'm just a student. I have been so lucky to have access to good education and learning,” Michael noted. “I'm a student of this music and I'm not ashamed of that.”

by Joe Dimino

Hear the full Neon Jazz interview with Michael:

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