An Elder Statesman of KC Jazz Guitar Releases His First Album as a Leader
Every jazz scene in America has a cornerstone that provides the strength and stability of the community. That musician in Kansas City is veteran jazz guitarist, Rod Fleeman. For over five decades, he has backed up the best local, national, and international talent with a seasoned approach of sonic cool. At 70, with non-stop touring and countless sideman credits; he is now entering the lead role—his first album, with his name finally on the front cover, and not buried in the long list of thank-you notes and also rans on the inside cover.
The album is entitled Saturday Afternoon Live at The Green Lady Lounge and both Volume One and Volume Two are now out on the streets. It all began with a Saturday afternoon slot at the iconic Kansas City nightclub, Green Lady Lounge. Others had tried this less-than-optimal daytime slot, with little or no success. In fact, entrepreneur John Scott, the master-mind behind the Green Lady concept, even had given daily, daytime concerts go before settling in on Saturdays.
“John (Scott) has been tremendous,” said Fleeman. “He suggested we do a live recording. We did (the first one) before the pandemic. The production was interrupted by the COVID lockdown. The album sat around for a while, then I would then hear it being played on the (nightclub’s) sound system on Green Lady Radio* and I would think to myself, ‘that sounds pretty good.’”
Green Lady stalwart and Jazz Daddy Records founder, Ken Lovern agreed it was a tasty recording, and he had begun mixing what would become Volume One, with Todd Strait at the drums, bassist Gerald Spaits, and Fleeman at the guitar.
“I'm so excited to have something out under my own name.” said Fleeman, “The other thing that has been a tremendous boost was that it’s all original music. John wants originals for Green Lady Radio* and the challenge for me, was to come up with three hours of original music. That was daunting!”
Even though he was used to playing the standards—representing songs he had played his entire life, this project urged him to pen his own music.
“It turns out (writing my own songs) was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I started writing a lot more,” said Rod. “I am excited to get my original songs out there to be heard. This has been a super motivator!”
Rod’s lifelong love for jazz began as a freshman, at Kansas City’s Southwest High School. From that initial flame, the inferno took hold, he studied jazz guitar under Dr. William Fowler at the University of Utah. After college, he returned to Kansas City, to begin his professional career.
“When I first started playing in KC back in 1972,” recalled Fleeman, “it was almost like the city was ashamed of its past. We had been known as a wild town with Tom Pendergast running things. These days, our history is being celebrated. We have references to Boss Tom, and Tom’s Town. It's cool to see this jazz celebration being recognized regularly at the Green Lady.”
Over his long career, Rod has brushed up against the greatest jazz players of our, and other generations. He was lured to the University of Miami by his friend, and now 20 time Grammy winner, Pat Metheny. He’s backed up a bevy of vocalists and still works regularly with the highly acclaimed (and 95-year-young) Marilyn Maye.
“I have been incredibly blessed to be able to work with iconic vocalists like Marilyn, Karrin Allyson, Deborah Brown, and now and again, Diane Schuur,” said Fleeman. “It's been quite an honor.”
Rod Fleeman has spent much of his life on the road. He raised his son Spencer in Leawood, Kansas, in-between trips around the globe with Ms. Allyson and Ms. Schuur.
“I think there is a lot of talk about the Green Lady all around the world. And, in Kansas City, it's ushering in a renaissance locally,” claimed Fleeman. “The nightclub's been going on for some time now, and I love the fact that my first album was recorded at the Green Lady. That, really represents a personal renaissance for me.”
Currently, Saturday Afternoons at the Green Lady Lounge, are a mainstay for Rod, along with quick trips to record, or perform in New York with Marilyn Maye, and they’ll be doing a show at the Folly this autumn. He has recently taken a position at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
by Joe Dimino
Get the CD via The Green Lady Lounge: https://store.greenladylounge.com/cd.html As Rod notes: “Best place (to purchase my disc) is to come down to the Green Lady and pick it up. I have made it affordable, so it's only 10 bucks and you can get it from me right off the bandstand.” Hear the latest from the Green Lady: https://greenladyradio.com/ Stream Volume 1 and 2: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/rod-fleeman-trio/1657902716 The Full Rod Fleeman Neon Jazz Interview Link: https://youtu.be/6PPl5as0zVs