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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Roundtrip Kansas City Jazz Musician Rob Scheps of Oregon and New York

Updated: May 9, 2021

by Joe Dimino Full Interview @:

How do you feel about having material coming out during a pandemic?

We would be releasing music anyway. We are not able to perform, but we are able to record. We can release records, and in that way, it has a different emotional impact, but the work in some ways is business as usual.

Talk to me about this new live CD that you have put out.

It's called live at the Churchill School because we recorded at the venue Baker City, Oregon. The band was out there on Labor Day of 2020 and we banged out 2 records of my original compositions. All new pieces in 3 days.

What do you want the listener to get from this CD experience.

Whatever they want to. The music is varied. There's straight-ahead jazz, there's funk and there's old-timey-kind of-sounds. Open your ears and listen to it. There is enough variety. You might like this tune and not the other one.

What do you miss from that old world of March 2020 and look forward to getting back to?

Same as everybody else. Community, being around people and playing some music without a fuss.

What do you hope both the audience and musician gets from this long time away from live music?

That's a hard question for me to answer because I am so angry about it. The only thing that I have gotten from it, that is of any value, is getting a deeper gratitude for community and live music. I have colleagues that believe live music will come back in a huge way. I'm not confident that that's going to happen.

You have deep Kansas City ties. Talk to me about that.

I split my time bi-coastally between Oregon and New York. In my heart, I consider Kansas City my 3rd home. I'm not rooted to KC in a full-time way, but for many years, I would come to KC twice a year, in April and October. Then it split open and became a little sporadic and unpredictable.

As a matter of fact, when the quarantine started in March of 2020, Kansas City is where I was. We were recording in the studio with Roger, Brad Gregory, and Bobby Watson, along with a host of other folks. We did 4 days of recording right around St. Patrick's Day. From there, I was supposed to drive to Indianapolis, then New York City and play both of those places in the following week. I ended up quarantining in Kansas City for three and a half months. We were all traumatized and in shock. We didn't know what to do except to stay home and be safe. My experience was this. since I already loved Kansas City with lots of connections, friends, and musical colleagues there, I told myself I was going to be stuck somewhere for 3-4 months, it might as well be Kansas City.

How did all of this begin for you? Where were you born and raised.

My family is originally from New York City. I'm the only native Oregonian in my family. I was born in Oregon. I grew up a little bit in Columbus, Ohio, but mostly in Long Island, New York. About 2 hours outside of New York City. When you are close to New York City, you are close to one of the fulcrums of jazz.

What was the first live jazz show you saw that was stellar?

I can't tell you the first live one, but I do recall a few I saw when I was a teenager. I heard George Coleman's quartet play a free concert in New York City. I heard Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard when I was 13 years old. Not long before he passed away. His last trio with Mark Johnson and Joe LaBarbara. It was incredible.

What had the biggest effect on me, and this will sound cliche as a saxophone player. When I heard John Coltrane play the piece Africa with the big band, that's when the dime dropped. That did it for me.

I'm always amazed at how much good and influence John Coltrane has had on players over the years.

I have had a lot of saxophone influences. You know, I have this interview series on Live Jazz KC called, Convo Improvo. ( ) We have done about 50 interviews since the pandemic started. About one a week.

If you could get into a time machine and see a show and talk to someone after the show, who would it be?

I would love to see Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie on 52nd Street. Hopefully with Thelonious Monk and Max Roach. I would love to hear the John Coltrane Quartet at Birdland or The Vanguard. I would like to hear the famous Miles Davis Quintet. The first one in the 1950s with Red Garland and John Coltrane. And then the one in the late 1960s with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

What have you learned from the jazz legends over the years that you in turn have taught to younger players that you are around?

I learned from trombonist Julian Priester, who is a good friend of mine and still cooking at 85, to never get a hotel room by the elevator or ice machine. We were having breakfast in Calgary, Alberta before a gig. I asked him specifically what he had learned in his older age over his career and that's what he came up with.

Why do you love jazz?

The first people that pop into my head when I hear the words love and jazz, I think of Gary Bartz, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, and Betty Carter. I would say the freedom to be an individual and the freedom in an oppressive society to fully express yourself in an honest way that is uncensored.

Everyone has a perception of you. Your family, friends, fans, and students. Who do you think you are?

I'm a very good musician who is committed who is committed to jazz on the saxophone and in composition. I am one who believes that music can improve the world in a deep way and that the arts are not optional.

Addendum - One more thing on mentoring the youth.

Can I say one more thing about that tribal torch passing on to youth thing. You had mentioned a few times this mentoring the youth thing and I do think that it's very important.

Somewhere where there are no computers, and the older cats teach the younger cats what they know. I spent three months in Taos, New Mexico for an artist’s residency and I learned about the local Native American culture that they have this thing called The Kiva, which is essentially an underground private learning center. It's a place where the kids that become a certain age are taken down there to learn the secrets of the tribe. It's a cool concept. I envisioned with jazz that it's like a giant Kiva.

The personal interactions and mentorships are even more important. Finally, what do you like the most about Kansas City? I love everything about Kansas City. You know the cliche, you get on an airplane and you are reading some boring airline magazine and it says come to Kansas City. the cliche is blues, barbecue, jazz, and fountains. That's how we market Kansas City. First, the jazz scene is incredible. The music scene, the quality of the symphony orchestra and beyond is great. Music is on a very high level in the Kansas City area. It's got great musicians. I think there is a bit more appreciation in the city that there is in most other places in America. It's still one of the great music towns.

I feel it is better integrated than many major American cities. I get a good feeling when I'm there. There is a lot of history. My good friend who was a writer for the Kansas City Star, Joe Klopus, one day he took me on a Charlie Parker tour. We spent the entire day going around Kansas City looking at schools and homes where Charlie Parker had lived. Kansas City has much soul. As much as I have ever been. I have a deep, abiding love for the city. Even if I'm there and I have a couple of days, I'll end up at the Nelson Atkins or Kemper Museum to look at art. There are so many things I love about Kansas City that what I just said is my lame attempt at trying to articulate how much I love Kansas City.

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