Section from chapter 1927-28: Harlem, Chicago and Kansas City   [ return to introduction ]

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By Mervyn Cooke • 325 illustrations,
82 in full color • 256 pages • 8-1/2 x 8-1/2"
Cloth • ISBN 0-7892-0399-5 • U.S. $45.00
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Bennie Moten (seated, right) shows a new arrangement to the young Count Basie at the Pearl Theater, Philadelphia, in c. 1931. Singer Jimmy Rushing stands between them. [ view larger image ] (The Frank Driggs Collection)
Kansas City

Jazz owed part of its origins to the ragtime music emanating from St. Louis at the turn of the century, and the state of Missouri again became important for the music's continuing evolution during the 1920s, when large ensembles in Kansas City began playing a distinctive brand of jazz. The style originated in the popular orchestrated versions of ragtime, but also benefitted from a mixture of blues elements alongside a new technique of repeated thematic fragments called the riff. This ultimately provided the foundation for the big-band music of the swing era (• p. 71). Bennie Moten's band, which recorded between 1923 and 1932, and Walter Page's Blue Devils from Oklahoma City both featured the gifted young pianist Count Basie (• p. 86), who formed his own band from Moten's dispersed members and took New York by storm in 1936.

Later products of Kansas City include bop giant Charlie Parker (• p. 136) and, more recently, fusion guitarist Pat Metheny (• p. 198).

In 1995, director Robert Altman revisited the city (his own birthplace) to film a reconstruction of the heady period around 1934 when the swing style was emerging there. Altman assembled a pool of over twenty leading contemporary jazz musicians on the set of his Hey Hey Club to re-create the jam sessions of the era, and described the resulting movie, Kansas City, as "a jazz memory."