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Kansas City Jazz

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Nominated for the 2024 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research
Nominated for the 2024 Jazz Journalists Association Book Awards in the category History/Criticism/Culture

The brand of jazz that developed in the Kansas City area in the period from the late 1920s to the late 1930s is recognised as both a distinct stylistic variation within the larger genre and a transitional stage between earlier forms of African-American music, such as ragtime and blues, and later, more modern forms, up to and including bebop. Kansas City’s brand of jazz has been described as “the most straightforward and direct style which has been developed outside New Orleans,” by Hughues Panassié and Madeleine Gautier in their Dictionary of Jazz. Kansas City jazz has inspired the creation of a museum and has been the subject of a feature-length film, Robert Altman’s 1996 “Kansas City,” and even a sentimental rock song, “Eternal Kansas City” by Van Morrison.

The first comprehensive work on the subject in over 15 years, this book draws on new research to delve deeper into music of the American Midwest that evolved into Kansas City jazz, and includes profiles of individual musicians who developed very different styles within or beyond the framework of the sub-genre. Kansas City Jazz focuses on the broader themes and the stories of the major personalities whose individual talents came together to create the larger whole of Kansas City’s distinctive brand of jazz.

Published: Mar 20, 2023

Book Contributors


Section Chapter Authors
Preface Con Chapman
Chapter 1
Roots: Ragtime, Minstrelsy and Tent Shows Con Chapman
Chapter 2
From Stomp to Swing: From Tuba to Bull Fiddle Con Chapman
Chapter 3
Bennie Moten and his Competitors Con Chapman
Chapter 4
Rhythm: From Banjo to Guitar, Two Drums to Trap Set Con Chapman
Chapter 5
From Bennie to Basie Con Chapman
Chapter 6
Riffs and Jams Con Chapman
Chapter 7
From Boogie-Woogie to Bop Con Chapman
Chapter 8
Tenor Legacy Con Chapman
Chapter 9
Shouters and Singers Con Chapman
Chapter 10
Trumpets Con Chapman
Chapter 11
Trombones Con Chapman
Chapter 12
The Clouds of Joy and the Lady Who Swung the Band Con Chapman
Chapter 13
Buster Smith and Other Altos B.B. (Before Bird) Con Chapman
Chapter 14
The Rockets That Didn't Quite Take Off Con Chapman
Chapter 15
Bird Takes Flight Con Chapman
Chapter 16
Jay McShann and the Last of the Great Kansas City Bands Con Chapman
Chapter 17
A Little Evil Will Do You Good Con Chapman
End Matter
Acknowledgements Con Chapman
Notes Con Chapman
Select Bibliography and Abbreviations Con Chapman
Index Con Chapman


Scrupulously researched and deftly organized, Con Chapman’s Kansas City Jazz both synthesizes and enhances our understanding of jazz in this formative location. The information about Jelly Roll Morton is particularly welcomed, but every chapter provides valuable discussions from both musical and historical contexts. Chapman has a gift for simultaneously humanizing legendary figures and elevating awareness for so-called minor players, and the result is a fluid, energized jam session.
Sascha Feinstein, editor of Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz & Literature

The jazz that emerged in Kansas City in the 1920s and 30s was as beloved as it was influential. In the neighborhood of 18th and Vine, Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Mary Lou Williams, and Charlie Parker pioneered a style that would set the tone for the Swing Era—and well beyond. With great thoroughness, Con Chapman brings to life the music and personalities of these and other figures who once called Kansas City home.
John Check, Professor, University of Central Missouri

A fresh and enlightening look at the jazz of the American Southwest that reached its culmination in Kansas City in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, with new historical research into the origins of the music that developed out of ragtime into bebop.
Terry Teachout, author of Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington and Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong

Chapman profiles some of the most important and under-credited figures in ragtime, blues, and jazz music to come out of our home state. The book also places the development of jazz music into a greater historical context, taking into consideration how gender and race dynamics and ideas of propriety in the U.S. at the time were challenged by the new genre.
The Pitch, Kansas City