Sliding Workin' With the Miles Davis Quintet into the stereo, I hopped in the car and gunned it for 18th & Vine in search of salvation. But when I got there, the place was deader than Dizzy Gillespie. The Blue Room and Red Vine were closed, and the show was over at the Gem Theater.
I set a course for the Savoy, which had given happy feet a place to stomp back in the day. I needed some nitro, so I put in "Better Git It in Your Soul" by Charles Mingus. Some dapper cats celebrating a stag party came charging out of the Savoy, but inside, the chairs were already stacked on the tables. I drove up to the Phoenix Piano Bar (closed) and the Majestic Steakhouse (closed), through Kansas City's red-light district -- named, apparently, for the traffic signals every six feet.
At Jardine's on Main Street, the bartender said that the Wild Women of KC had already played two early shows, so I made my way to Jazz on 39th. The right kind of music was on the jukebox, but there were fewer people around than drinkers at an Islamic barbecue.
Luckily, I got a call from the Pitch's clubs editor, Lorna Perry, who had taken a break from a six-day bourbon-and-cocaine binge to get some work done. A sweet little jazz band was playing at Fred P. Ott's, she said. "P. Ott's?" I asked. "Ain't that a rock-and-roll joint?"
"Just get yer ass down there and see fer yerself, ya bastid," she snapped. I knew better than to argue with a strung-out broad, so I made a beeline for the Plaza.
I had to fork over two clams at the door, but inside, the scotch was strong and the jazz was stronger. Crammed into a corner of the yard-sale-decorated dive was the Grand Marquis -- the best reason to believe that Kansas City jazz hasn't yet gone the way of Charlie Parker's liver.
Decked out in cufflinks, suspenders and a straw Panama, singer Bryan Redmond belted out the blues and played the sax like he was born with a silver reed in his mouth. It made my heart sick that the Grand Marquis has been around for seven years and has played more than 750 shows without getting so much as a plate of cookies for its work keeping this city's heritage alive. Soaking in the band's slow-cooked stew of real Kansas City jump and jive, I wondered how five white kids, none of them much older than 30, could play so damned good.
I'd have told 'em I could make 'em all stars, but, hell, I'm just a two-bit hack working for a free paper.