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Mary Ellen & Nelson Farney, a Great Pair of Jazz Ambassadors


Mary Ellen and Nelson Farney go back a long way as Jazz Ambassadors--- back to 1989, when the organization was just getting started. Officers, board members, Pub Crawl Chairs and founders of the Musicians Emergency (now Assistance) Fund, their Kansas City jazz story reads like an Ambassadors history all by itself.

Mary grew up in Idaho, loving the big band sound at high school dances; artists like Fats Domino, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Sara Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, and KC’s own ‘Big’ Joe Turner.

Nelson is a Shawnee Mission East graduate. That’s when he picked up Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out” album (his folks did not agree) at a Prairie Village record store and fell in love with the music.

Mary Ellen studied with well-known jazz pianist John Elliott. He taught her the basics of harmony and opened up a wide new world (before that, she’d been trained in classical music). While Mary was busy with her jazz studies, Nelson attended UMKC Dental School. With an active practice in Blue Springs, Nelson has still found time to volunteer for his many jazz activities, and with the school’s “Give Kids a Smile” program.

The Farneys’ jazz haunts and favorite artists read like a Who’s Who of KC Jazz. They got their start with Milt and Betty Abel at the Horseshoe Lounge and Marilyn Maye at the Colony Restaurant on Broadway, moving on to Joe Cartwright and Richard Ross at the Phillips Hotel, Todd Wilkinson at the Tuba and City Light Orchestra at their eponymous club.

Bassist, Daahoud Williams, Frank Smith, Sonny Kenner, Pete Eye and Eddie Saunders were also some of the couple’s early KC favorites, along with Jay McShann, and the McFadden Brothers. When Ron Schoonover opened The Phoenix in 1990, Mary Ellen and Nelson loved being at the piano bar, listening to Tim Whitmer, the Scamps, Bram Wijnands, and Karrin Allyson.

Avid readers and supporters of JAM Magazine, the Farneys have a delightful circle of friends who love jazz and enjoy frequent jazz parties in their home. These parties feature some of our town’s best musicians.

The couple hangs out at the Blue Room and frequent the Black Dolphin and take in Tim Whitmer’s quartet—Tim, Jim Mair, James Albright, and Ray DeMarchi—every chance they get.

They love the magic of live music and feel so lucky to be here in Kansas City to enjoy it, and we are so thankful that they are here.















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