Music News & Reviews

MAY 3, 2015

Kansas City Jazz Orchestra presents Gershwin gala May 9 at Kauffman Center

The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, hand-picked from among the area’s best jazz musicians, plays the memorable music of George and Ira Gershwin on its gala celebration concert this year. But it’s no ordinary run through the standard tunes. The orchestra also promises a brand-new arrangement of the enduring “Rhapsody in Blue,” made by leader Clint Ashlock and featuring pianist Joe Cartwright.

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Italian boy learning jazz in KC


KANSAS CITY, Missouri – A boy traveled from Milan to Kansas City just to learn jazz.

Frankie, 11, is from Italy where he studies concert piano. However, he came to Kansas City to learn jazz from a pro.

Charles Williams, a Kansas City musician, is teaching.

Someday, Frankie said he would like to play music professionally. However, he wants to be an NBA star too.





Kansas City Jazz Orchestra: Take One (2006)


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Kansas City Jazz Orchestra: Take One

The debut recording by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra marks the pinnacle of a dream come true for cofounders Jim Mair and Gene Hall—a repertory orchestra comprised of top-notch musicians from the Kansas City area, patterned after others around the country with local sponsors, a board of directors and national grants to lend financial support. After honing its chops during three highly successful concerts, the band entered KC’s Soundtrek Studio in November ’04 to establish a more permanent record of its burgeoning prowess.Keenly aware of the long and glorious tradition of big band jazz in Kansas City, the KCJO was eager for the challenge, and everything seemed to fall neatly in place. Deciding on a name for the album was easy, as most numbers were neatly wrapped up on Take One. And what better way to open a KC-style session than with Benny Carter’s “Vine Street Rumble, building a solidly swinging groove in which everyone is loose and comfortable.Later on, the band offers a trio of snappy salutes to the legendary Count Basie, a founding father of the Kansas City school of big band jazz—the Count’s classic “One O’Clock Jump, Freddie Green’s “Corner Pocket and Neal Hefti’s “Cute (the last showcasing guest drummer Harold Jones). Duke Ellington is represented by his composition “Come Sunday and Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train.Clark Terry’s “Tee Pee Time is a cooker, with solos to match by tenor Doug Talley, trombonist Paul McKee and trumpeter Stan Kessler. Kessler’s burnished flugel is featured with pianist Charles Williams on Lennon/McCartney’s “Michelle and with baritone Theodore Wilson on Ernie Wilkins’ “Jenny. Williams and tenor David Chael are out front on “Rumble, Mair (alto) and Doug Talley (soprano) on “‘A’ Train, Talley (tenor) and trumpeter Steve Molloy on “Corner Pocket, flutist Bob Long and flugel Bob Harvey on “Sunday, Williams, Talley and flugel Jay Sollengerger on “Jump. The KJO has a splendid vocalist in Lisa Henry, and she acquits herself well on “I Just Found Out About Love, “We’ll Be Together Again and “You Make Me Feel So Young, with sturdy support from the orchestra.

The studio recording is bright and clear, although the brass is a tad too distant at times (at least on my headphones), while the less-than-lavish 47:41 playing time is at least acceptable for a first effort. In fact, an admirable enterprise all round for the rosy-cheeked KCJO, and, one would hope, a harbinger of more memorable adventures yet to come.

Track Listing: Vine Street Rumble; I Just Found Out About Love; Take the �A� Train; Michelle; We�ll Be Together Again; Cute; Jenny; You Make Me Feel So Young; Tee Pee Time; Corner Pocket; Come Sunday; One O�Clock Jump (47:41).

Personnel: Jim Mair: music director, alto sax; Steve Molloy, Bob Harvey, Jay Sollenberger, Stan Kessler: trumpet; Bob Long, Greg Briggs: alto sax, flute; Doug Talley: tenor, soprano sax, flute; David Chael: tenor sax, flute; Kerry Strayer: baritone sax, flute; Jeff Hamer, Paul McKee, Stephanie Cox: trombone; Lee Hill Kavanaugh: bass trombone; Charles Williams: piano; Rod Fleeman: guitar; Theodore Wilson: bass; Lisa Henry: vocals (2,5,8). Special guest: Harold Jones: drums.

Record Label: KCJO

Style: Big Band

Review: Topeka native lifts TJW

Posted: March 9, 2010 – 5:55pm

Born and bred in Topeka, singer extraordinaire Ron Gutierrez proved anew why he is in a league of his own nationally and regionally in a Sunday afternoon Topeka Jazz Workshop concert that lifted body and soul.

Putting his compelling voice and winning personality to the test with such standards as “Night and Day” and soul-funk classics like “The Look of Love,” the singer thrilled a full house at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center with a musical persona that was part Sinatra, part Stevie Wonder and all Ron Gutierrez.

Gutierrez’s stylistic breadth works because of his superior musicianship. His bluesy phrasing, razor-sharp intonation and breath-taking range that takes his rich baritone into the stratosphere with an impressive falsetto range are among his many assets.

The singer is also a compelling storyteller. In his heartfelt limning of “When I Fall in Love” accompanied by the wonderful Kansas City pianist Charles Williams, Gutierrez brought us into a shimmering romantic world whose enduring sentiments were at once personal and universal.

What a great voice. What great diction. We were wowed.

Throughout the afternoon, Gutierrez received first-class backing from Williams, as well as guitarist Will Matthews, bassist Steve Rigazzi and drummer Mike Warren, all from KC. Also on board was Carlos Martinez, a master Brazilian percussionist swept to Topeka in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Gutierrez’s adept programming is also to be commended. In the first “acoustic” set, the singer beautifully reframed chestnuts, such as the touching Louis Armstrong hit, “What a Wonderful World.” In the second “electric” set, with Williams and Rigazzi moving to electric piano and bass, the singer segued to pop hits of the 1970s and 1980s, such as “Just the Two of Us.”

Gutierrez, whose personal warmth also was palpable in his effective announcements, made a telling point in thanking his sidemen for upping the artistic ante due to their jazz experience. Here, the insinuating fusions of jazz and pop worked at all levels. Indeed, by reconnecting his music to the impulse to move, to dance, Gutierrez had us shaking and baking — as well as listening.

Among the afternoon’s show-stoppers was Gutierrez’s singular take on the Nora Jones megahit, “Don’t Know Why.” Cool and hip, and also the quintessence of restrained intensity, Gutierrez’s soulful plaints were perfectly counterpointed by the effectively wired forays of Williams and Matthews.

Sitting on the stage just to the right of the singer was an alto saxophone, which though untouched, was the singer’s tacit tribute to his father, the late Tony Gutierrez, whose inspired playing lifted Topeka bandstands during the 1950s and 1960s.

With a grooving version of the Peter, Paul and Mary classic, “If I Had a Hammer,” Gutierrez left us with “love for our brothers and sisters all over this land.” We stood and cheered as one.

Salute Ron Gutierrez! It was an exultant afternoon!

Chuck Berg is a professor at The University of Kansas. He can be reached at