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Morgan Faw: Keeping the KC Jazz Flame Brightly Lit

Morgan Faw is a rising Kansas City star. The KC saxophonist and bandleader is a strong product of the KC jazz system, a protégé of Bobby Watson. Although Faw grew up “living across the United States,” as he says, he “grew up as a musician in Kansas City.” He moved to KC in 2012. Not only is Faw a musician, but he also dedicates his time and talents to promoting jazz when off stage. He worked as a marketing intern for the American Jazz Museum (2017-2018), connecting with and performing as an opening act for Kevin Mahogany, Joshua Redman, Ida McBeth, The McFadden Brothers, Ravi Coltrane, and other contemporary luminaries. Faw “caught the eye” of Bobby Watson and became his mentee when Faw was just 16. Faw was a featured performer for the KC Charlie Parker Celebration Festival, the KC Jazz and Heritage Festival, and has performed across the KC area—and beyond. Faw performed at the Monterey Next Generation Festival in 2017, as part of the Monterey Jazz Festival on the California coast. At the American Jazz Museum, Faw noted that he “played a critical role” in the youth jazz program called KC Jazz Academy, which “now has 35 students annually.” Faw also serves on the advisory board of The Burnett Music Foundation, a KC jazz non-profit organization, led by KC saxophonist and jazz educator Chris Burnett.

Faw graduated high school in 2018 and received a full scholarship to The Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he graduated in May 2022. While at Berklee, Faw performed, wrote for, and recorded an album with the late great drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr., and Peterson’s Generation Next Bigband, a band “made up entirely of the best musicians at Berklee,” Faw said. The album, “LISTEN UP!” includes a Faw arrangement of the Hoagy Carmichael classic, “Skylark,” and can be streamed on common streaming services.

Faw also has a new, hot album out, IT TAKES A VILLAGE (2022) (ARC-8777). The album is a mix of contemporary and legacy jazz. It grooves hard. It’s a great listen. It’s reminiscent of a contemporary Bobby Watson or Branford Marsalis album and has a youthful energy. It speaks to the “now.” Faw’s new album can also be streamed or found through the Burnett Music Foundation and ARC (Artists Recording Collective), a nonprofit recording label. The album features all original music by Faw collaborating with trumpeter Will Mallard and one composition by Pamela Baskin Watson. “In this moment, I’m now three months out of graduation from Berklee,” Faw said, “and I have this immense gratitude that is building up… (that I) want to share. That’s what this album is. It’s my first of hopefully many acts of gratitude towards the community that raised and guided me musically…I am starting to find my sound, and I think it will be worth sharing…” Faw’s heart is with KC jazz, and in an article written by the NEA, Faw said, “Because of what I have been taught by my mentors as well as my family on 18th and Vine, I have been raised to know in my heart that community is everything to me.” Faw’s work at the American Jazz Museum, for one, speaks to and attests to this. So too does Faw’s regular and consistent work as a local KC performer, bandleader, and composer. Faw draws inspiration and influence from legendary mainstream, iconic jazz groups such as Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Bobby Watson and Horizon, the Adderley Brothers, Dizzy Gillespie, and KC’s Charlie Parker. His KC mentors include Bobby Watson, Christopher Burnett, Lonnie McFadden, and Lisa Henry. Faw’s bandmembers on his new album hail chiefly from Berklee-Boston. All are Faw’s contemporaries and friends: Ebba Dankel on piano (from Sweden), Isaac Coyle on bass (from CA), Will Mallard on trumpet and piano (from Decatur, IL), Christian Napoleon on drums (from Cleveland). Faw’s album is full of lightning-like energy. The rhythm section smokes and sizzles through both swing-based and straight (2 & 4) grooves. Faw’s drummer, Christian Napoleon, displays Jeff “Tain” Watts-like presence, chops, and power. This album has muscle car momentum. And Faw blows that sax in the Bobby Watson tradition—with grace and lift, with intelligence and heart, and with an understated (then fiery) whiskey-like burn. “I believe there are a lot of great moments on this album,” Faw said. “My favorite track is probably the last cut, ‘Always in the Right Place.’ That was the biggest collaboration I had with my friend and trumpet player, Will Mallard.” Faw said, “I think what many people in the community may be thinking about is whether or not…the music is in good hands, because this is a cultural music and…lives…due to the next generation. My faith wants me to share that. You can expect to see a group of young musicians who not only can play amazingly but are operating from a place of honesty and a genuine approach to Black American Music. You can expect honest playing from the heart on August 22nd.” Faw’s group plays Aug. 22 at The Blue Room in an album release performance, starting at 7 pm.

Faw will be joined by co-host Houston Smith (also on sax) for a jam session directly following the album release. Houston is a fellow graduate of Berklee College of Music (2019). Houston’s KC roots run deep; Houston studied for 10 years as a youth in Mr. Leon Brady’s Music Studio as a percussionist before turning to the sax. Houston writes, “Without music, there is no complete Houston…music has the power to bring people together…(and) can break down barriers that often impede life’s pathway. My life’s mission is to break those barriers and unite people through the power of my music.”

Bobby Watson, KC/NYC (and international) contemporary jazz legend, will make a special guest appearance at Faw’s album release party at The Blue Room. He’ll have his horn. This you will not want to miss.

Come see and hear Faw and his talented group live. Hear the real deal. Faw’s Blue Room show helps open the SPOTLIGHT CHARLIE PARKER festival in KC. But the fun does not stop there. Faw and Houston Smith join Bram Wijnands at KC Bier Co on August 25, 5-8 pm. Faw and Smith and The Flame return to The Blue Room on August 26 for “Ode 2 Bird,” 8:30-10 pm. And Faw will likely join in additional “Bird” celebratory events, during the run of SPOTLIGHT CHARLIE PARKER. There will be lots of opportunities to hear Faw on sax, along with his friends and contemporaries.

—Kevin Rabas

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