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Book: Kansas City Jazz

Chapter: The Rockets That Didn't Quite Take Off

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.42628


The Kansas City Rockets, a band that was formed by trombonist Thamon Hayes but was taken over by fellow Bennie Moten alumni Harlan Leonard, is depicted as one of the missed opportunities of Kansas City jazz. Both Hayes and Leonard were dismissed from Moten’s band when Count Basie’s favored musicians replaced them, and as a result the Rockets carried a chip on their shoulders that motivated them to become respected heirs to the Kansas City “stomp” rhythm tradition. They bested Moten in a battle of the bands and had a shot at a big hit when they recorded “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” but their producer persuaded them to play the song in an up-tempo arrangement rather than as a tender ballad. They were also thwarted by union rules that kept them from expanding from their Kansas City base into Chicago.

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