Kansas City Gets New Jazz Festival For Memorial Day Weekend

Feb 22, 2017

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect developments since its publication Wednesday afternoon.

Kansas City has another chance to get the concept of a jazz festival right — though its rollout suggested organizers were not yet ready for the national stage.

The American Jazz Museum on Wednesday announced a new music festival to be headlined by Janelle Monae, the Kansas City, Kansas, native who is currently riding a wave of accolades for her performance in Hidden Figures.

Shortly after that news broke, however, Monae tweeted that was not the case.

"Unfortunately this is untrue information. An alternative fact," she wrote.

The jazz museum released a statement Wednesday evening saying it had made a mistake.

"This morning we were very proud to announce the Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival. Unfortunately, we must retract the statement of Janelle Monae performing at the Jazz Festival," the statement said. "Janelle was not confirmed for the event and was incorrectly advertised. The American Jazz Museum sincerely apologize to Ms. Monae, her Fans, and our media partners."
 
The statement said the museum "is working to secure another major headliner" and hoped to make another announcement in the next three weeks.

John Scofield
Credit Courtesy John Scofield

For this new festival, the museum has moved what had formerly been called the 18th & Vine Jazz and Blues Festival from the fall, when it has been held for the last few years, to Memorial Day weekend, expanded it from one day to three days, and renamed it the Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Other national performers on the schedule, and presumably not in dispute, are John Scofield, Brandy, Regina Carter, The Hot Sardines and Trombone Shorty.

Sharing the spotlight are also local celebrities and exports Bobby Watson, Logan Richardson, Eddie Moore, Queen Bey, Angela Hagenbach, and Oleta Adams.

"One of the themes that was very important to us, was 'Made in Kansas City,'" Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, the Jazz Museum's executive director, told KCUR on Wednesday. "We want to have people begin to promote Kansas City as a music city, and also promote the musicians from Kansas City — both who have made it and left Kansas City and those who are still here producing their music. Our goal is to elevate those musicians, but also have pride in our city and heritage."

Over the last few decades, local jazz festivals have come and gone with varying levels of success. Securing talent on Monae's level and putting on a three-day event is the result of the museum board's work with a consultant who studied 28 other festivals around the country to figure out a better approach for Kansas City.

Logan Richardson attended Kansas City's Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts. NPR named his 'Shift' one of the Best 50 Albums of 2016.
Credit Courtesy Logan Richardson

"A number of things came up," said Kositany-Buckner, who took over as head of the jazz museum just over a year ago. 

The consultants determined that the festival needed to reflect the entire city, not just a particular neighborhood. So, out went the iconic-street-corner reference in its name.

The board also considered whether it should be free. It's not — at least on the main stage, where a single-day ticket is $50 and a four-day pass is $150 (with more expensive VIP tickets also available). But Kositany-Buckner promises free music anyway.

"There will be a marketplace with a community stage that will be free, where the community can come in and listen to music and shop, but don’t have to pay to enjoy music if that’s not something they want to do," she said.

The Memorial Day Weekend provided much less competition in terms of entertainment, school-related activities and, potentially, the Royals' post-season, Kositany-Buckner said, adding she was mindful of the Kansas City Symphony's annual Celebration at the Station on Sunday night.

She said the museum had been in talks with the Symphony and hoped to "partner and connect everybody and not compete. So we plan to offer transportation: If you're here and want to go to the Symphony, you can leave your car at 18th and Vine."

More information is now on the festival's website.

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.