For more than eighty years, the small two-story building at 1823 Highland Avenue has been the heart of Kansas City jazz.
Today it’s the Mutual Musician’s Foundation, but in 1917, the building became the headquarters for the Local 627 Colored Musician’s Union. Over the decades, nearly every jazz great in the country has jammed here, and the all-night weekend jam sessions have also served as training grounds for jazz students.
Susan Wilson spent a late night there to find out what draws audiences and keeps them until the 6 a.m. closing time.
“I’m Sandy. I’m from Kansas City,” one patron said. “This is my favorite place in Kansas City. This is when I want to listen to good music, and this is when I get good music. It’s the best, I think. It’s the right kind of people. It is! It’s not for everybody, and I don’t want everybody to be here. I want to be here with these people.”
“I love music which, like, lasts really long,” explained Shovik. “Because otherwise, my evening would’ve gotten over by – what – twelve, one, two? But this place goes on – yeah, maybe three. You find interesting people out here even till five ‘o clock in the morning. So that’s the reason I’m here.”
“You know what? It’s the best time to play music,” said drummer and jam session organizer Brad Williams. “It’s the bewitching hour for some, but for others, it’s the hour of creativity, and you get to let loose and have a good time, you know, off the clock. You know, you have to play the gig with other people, and you have to play it a certain way. Now you get to loosen up and enjoy yourself.” Williams continued, “For me, it’s all about the music and being connected to the ancestors. Cause that’s the reality for me is there’s not a place like this in the world. This is the only place I can come a feel genuine connection to those who actually had to enter back doors and even before that so that I could be able to be up all night and play. It’s a beautiful thing for me to able to enjoy that. So I take every opportunity I can.”
The Mutual Musicians foundation is unique in Missouri for being the only place in that state that is legally permitted to serve alcohol all night. Vice President Anita Dixon says this is the result of intensive lobbying of the Missouri legislature by previous Mutual Musicians Foundation board members. Dixon says that the Foundation is a cultural tourist destination which should have this special liquor license so that it can preserve the all-night jazz club tradition of the city’s golden jazz age.
Although alcohol is undoubtedly a part of the Foundation’s atmosphere, the real spirit of the Foundation come from the music.
“Something, on occasion, takes over,” says Dixon. “And the music is really – I won’t say strange- but like its being channeled from someplace. You can see it in the musicians, and you can see it in the audience, and you can see it ‘cause everything gets real still. And the musicians are just swinging in this thing, and it doesn’t seem like it stops. So they don’t let it; it just keeps going. Somebody jumps on stage to add something to it, or somebody brings something into it. And I’ve witnessed that so many times now that that tends to be the thing that sticks in my mind the most. This is a very spiritual place. Depending on if you’re that kind of person or not or believe that kind of thing. The Foundation will make you a believer.”