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KC Jazz Clubs Cautiously Re-Opening

Updated: Sep 5, 2020

by Jam Staff

As summer turns to autumn Kansas City’s jazz clubs are slowly reopening for business. Mostly centered around downtown, our city’s music venues are taking baby steps into coming back while Covid-19 concerns still blanket the metro.

A downtown jazz stalwart- the Majestic Steak House at 9th and Broadway - is back with nightly performances in their celebrated downstairs dining and music room. We have been told Majestic regulars, Peter Schlamb and Bram Wijnands have been holding court there on a limited basis.

The Phoenix at 8th and Central revived its Friday-Saturday tradition with trumpeter Lonnie McFadden at 4:30pm Fridays and Tim Whitmer’s KC Express in the early slot Saturdays.

Pianist Tim Whitmer, who owned the nightclub and restaurant for a time asked, “Do you think I hold the longevity record yet? I’ve played the Phoenix now 31 years!”

Phoenix operator, Carisa Lynch confirmed that the popular nightspot again has live music Tuesday through Saturday nights, with a brunch performance each Sunday. The 7-piece ensemble, The MGDs have opted to wait a bit before they attempt to perform again on the club’s rather small stage. (cover)

We spoke with a couple of Kansas City’s hardest working musicians and got 2 very different responses.

“The Ambassador Hotel (at 1111 Grand Boulevard) has been very creative in giving musicians work,” explained trumpeter Stanton Kessler. “They feature live music (Saturday nights) with plenty of space and fresh air."

The music at the Ambassador is now presented in a covered parking garage adjacent to the hotel lobby. The new arrangement seems to be very popular with musicians and patrons alike.

However, pianist Mark Lowrey told JAM, “I am not doing club dates.” Lowry is choosing to take precautions. “I am watching the numbers daily,” he said, “looking for optimism.” Many of the listed clubs still had him on their calendars.

In the Crossroads Entertainment District, Corvino, a high-end supper club at 18th and Walnut is again offering live music with dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

The Black Dolphin, a performance venue next door to Green Lady Lounge, has been hosting Guitar Elation Thursdays, the RSS Trio each Friday and Ken Lovern’s OJT every Saturday night. It is a live-stream concert with a very limited live audience 8pm – 10pm. (cover-restrictions)

On the Plaza, Café Trio has their brought back some regularly scheduled pianists, Tim Whitmer is playing solo piano at a new time, 5pm until 8pm Thursdays. Again, check ahead before planning a night out to make things go smoother.

In Waldo, KC Bier at 310 W 79th street has some music on their calendar. The Intercontinental Hotel, on the Country Club Plaza has begun a “soft opening” of their long-running music policy.

Director of Sales and Marketing, John Brewster told JAM, “We are offering 2 of our most popular bands for now, from 7pm – 10pm Fridays and Saturdays.” The hotel has offered live jazz music nightly, since the 1970s.

They were locally owned before becoming the Ritz Carlton, The Fairmont and now the Icon. “We have booked Lori Tucker on Fridays and Jimmy Dykes Trio on Saturdays, through the month of September.” said Brewster, “We are excited to get things back to normal.”

As we checked with the venues and the musicians, we found that plans are continuing to change. Best to call ahead. Make a reservation and ask pertinent questions about safety requirements pertaining to the pandemic.

Johnnie’s Jazz Bar and Grill in Liberty has A La Mode Jazz, Lori Tucker and others scheduled for their bandstand in September.

"Johnnie's is locally owned and has been very supportive,” continued Kessler. “They are trying their best to stay open and have music on weekends with social distancing, a roped off stage and a staff wearing masks."

Still to open? Jazz fan favorites The Blue Room, Green Lady Lounge and Chaz – while others are still waiting to see how the pandemic goes. Sadly, the Gaslight Grill in Leawood announced that it’s looking for new ownership. Hope that room continues to be a big band haven.

Stay tuned for more and hopefully better news.

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