Archive for Sunday, June 15, 2003

Funeral fund provides for Kansas City’s jazz pioneers

June 15, 2003

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— They soared with Bird and got down with the Count, putting the intersection of 18th and Vine on every jazz fan's map.

"It was the Kansas City style," said 87-year-old pianist and bandleader Jay "Hootie" McShann, who gave sax icon Charlie "Bird" Parker his first steady gig, in 1940. "They knew it on the East Coast. They knew it on the West Coast. They knew it up north, and they knew it down south."

But one by one, the city's jazz pioneers are falling silent. And after a lifetime of playing for a living, some musicians can't afford the cost of dying.

That's where the Coda Jazz Fund steps in.

The fund bought headstones for bassist David Daahoud Williams and trumpeter-bandleader Oliver Todd, who lay for years in unmarked graves. Williams was only a few yards away from the elaborate slab covering Parker's resting place.

The fund also paid to mark the graves of entertainer Speedy Huggins and pianist-singer Elbert "Coots" Dye. The fund was there when Rudolph "School Boy" Dennis, who stepped into McShann's band when Parker left, died with a month's worth of fixed income -- $538 -- to his name.

In music, the coda marks the spot where a repeated section skips ahead, usually to a point near the end of a composition.

"It's not the end, but it points to the end," said Steve Penn, creator of the fund and a columnist for The Kansas City Star. "This is sort of a coda to these guys' lives."

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