A grassroots organization is bringing some of the best jazz musicians to Kansas City for a two-day festival.
Will people ever recognize Kansas City, Mo., as the jazz capital of the world?
According to Steve Irwin, co-founder of Kansas City Jazz International Inc., a lot of work needs to be done before Kansas City can become the center of every jazz lover's attention.
Irwin has spent the past three years trying to effect a change. Along with his wife, Jo Boehr, and friend John Jessup, he has formed Kansas City Jazz International Inc. and are the organizers for the annual Kansas City Jazz International Festival.
The nonprofit organization, established in 1995, is aimed at both preserving and promoting Kansas City's rich jazz heritage through the festival and free jazz clinics and workshops for area students.
``Ultimately, our goal is that the festival becomes a fund-raiser for our educational programming,'' Irwin said. ``We're bringing in the best jazz talent in the world and putting them on stage with the Kansas City greats.''
This year's lineup includes Pete Fountain, Take 6, Joe Lovano and Dee Dee Bridgewater.
``We started the real grassroots way,'' Irwin said. ``We'd hear people we wanted to try and book, and we'd look in their CD for a management listing and start calling. It was a cumulative process, and after a couple of years of doing this, our reputation grew. Now we're the ones getting the calls.
``And even though we lost a lot of money going into it, every year our support from corporations and foundations has increased dramatically.''
Even though Kansas City's 18th and Vine district is being revitalized, Irwin says there remains only one live music club there. He wants to see more support for Kansas City jazz from Kansas City residents.
``We need people to say Kansas City is the jazz capital of the world,'' he said. ``The elements in the community and the city government need to get behind that and do things to make that statement a reality. When you look back at the history, we have just as much right to claim that title as anybody else.
``The city needs to understand that, if marketed correctly, jazz can have a regional impact on the economy,'' he said. ``Nashville, for instance, has done a great job marketing country music. Kansas City can do that with jazz.''
One problem, Irwin said, is that people have begun to take jazz for granted.
``The city seems to have become glutted with free events over the past decade or two,'' Irwin said. ``People seem to perceive jazz as something to toss the frisbee to. Until you put a value on it, jazz will continue to stay ambient music at free festivals and street fairs.''
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