Warmest Wishes for 2015


Unidentified band wearing novelty fur costumes with hoods, c. 1920s (Pla-Mor Ballroom Photograph Collection)

In the midst of frigid temperatures here in Kansas City, the staff of LaBudde Special Collections and Marr Sound Archives offer our warmest wishes for the new year…no matter what your style may be.

Two scraps of paper. One historic recording session.

sheet for KFBI recording date

The Higginson Collection consists of two handwritten documents of great value and historic significance. These one-of-a-kind documents survived from the first recording dates for Kansas City jazz pianist Jay McShann and his band, which included alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, then only 20 years old. The recording session happened between November 30 and December 2, 1940, and was supervised by Fred Higginson of radio station KFBI in Wichita, Kansas.

The first document is a sign-in sheet containing the signatures and instrument played of each band member, and represents one of the earliest known signatures of Charlie Parker.

The second document contains the song list and corresponding band personnel for the two days of recording, November 30 and December 2, providing primary source information about the discographical details of the session.

Discography sheet for KFBI recording date

Chuck Haddix explains the significance of the session, especially as a conduit of Parker’s musical development, in his book Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop – A History:

As Decca [Records] released the Kansas City Jazz album in the spring of 1941, the last great big band to come out of Kansas City, the Jay McShann band, rose nationally, boosted by good fortune and a hit recording. After closing at Fairyland [Park in Kansas City] in September 1940, McShann returned to the Century Room and further refined the band’s personnel, replacing alto saxophonist Earl Jackson with John Jackson. Slim and pensive, Jackson rivaled [Charlie “Bird”] Parker as a soloist. While based at the Century Room, the McShann band toured regionally, ranging north to Des Moines, Iowa, east to Paducah, Kentucky, and west to Wichita, Kansas. During a Thanksgiving weekend engagement in Wichita, a brash young college student and jazz fan, Fred Higginson, invited McShann and other band members for a couple of after-hours sessions at radio station KFBI, named after Kansas Farmer and Business. KFBI traced its lineage back to Dr. Brinkley, the goat gland doctor. McShann, figuring the band could use a little experience in the studio before the pending Decca sessions, took Higginson up on the offer.

Orville Minor, Bob Mabane, Gus Johnson, Bernard Anderson, Charlie Parker, Gene Ramey, Jay McShann; recording date for radio station KFBI; Witchita, Kansas; c. November 30 – December 2, 1940 (Jay McShann Collection)

The station’s engineer recorded the sessions to acetate discs, capturing the unit jamming on the standards “I Found a New Baby,” “Body and Soul,” “Moten’s Swing,” “Coquette,” “Lady Be Good,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” and on their theme song, listed as an untitled blues. While the band struggled to find its niche in the Kansas City jazz tradition, Charlie Parker had already transcended previous jazz conventions. [McShann bassist] Gene Ramey felt band members could not fully appreciate Parker’s techniques and ideas. “When I look back, it seems to me that Bird was at the time so advanced in jazz that I do not think we realized to what degree his ideas had become perfected,” Ramey observed. “For instance, we used to jam ‘Cherokee.’ Bird had his own way of starting from a chord in B natural and B flat; then he would run a cycle against that; and, probably, it would only be two or three bars before we got to the channel [middle part] that he would come back to the basic changes. In those days, we used to call it ‘running out of key.’ Bird used to sit and try to tell us what he was doing. I am sure that at that time nobody else in the band could play, for example, even the channel to ‘Cherokee.’ So Bird used to play a series of ‘Tea for Two’ phrases against the channel, and, since this was a melody that could easily be remembered, it gave the guys something to play during those bars.”

Parker’s innovative technique and wealth of ideas are evident in his solos on “Body and Soul” and “Moten’s Swing.” Parker maintains the ballad tempo of “Body and Soul” while running in and out of key. Taking a cue from Parker, the band and Buddy Anderson switch to double time, before returning to the ballad tempo in the last eight bars of the out chorus. After the piano introduction to “Moten’s Swing,” the band launches into the familiar riff pattern. Parker follows with a confident, articulate solo, highlighted by triplets in the second eight-bar section, and triplet flourishes toward the end of the bridge, first stating, on record, his musical signature. Parker had matured into a fully realized improviser, already pioneering a new musical style critics later labeled bebop. He soon had company.

For Halloween 2014: The Exorcist – 1700s Style

Dissertations upon the Apparitions of Angels, Demons, and Ghosts, and concerning the Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia.

By the Reverend Father Dom Augustin Calmet. 1759
(orig. published in 1746)

Antoine Augustin Calmet, born in 1672, was a French Benedictine monk, eventually becoming abbot at two different monasteries.  He was a learned scholar, writing several volumes of Biblical exegesis as well as histories of different regions of France.  This volume, however, focuses on paranormal spirits and other beings, exploring the different characteristics of vampires and other demons, ultimately dispelling commonly-held superstitions and beliefs.

Selected chapters include:

“Story of the mark of a hand made upon a
handkerchief by a soul from purgatory.”

“Causes of the fluidity of blood, and growing of
the hair and nails in vampires.”

“Instances of the bodies of excommunicated
persons not putrefying.”

“Whence comes it that vampires give no account
of what they have seen in the other world, if
they are really dead.”

– Text by Stuart Hinds

Kansas City’s “Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Mama”


Priscilla Bowman singing with the Curtyse Foster Band: “Bumps” Love (piano), Foster (sax), Elmer Price (trumpet), Bill Nolan (drums); August 3, 1954

Priscilla Bowman was born May 30, 1928, in Kansas City, Kansas, the daughter of a Pentecostal minister. She made her singing debut at age seven in front of inmates at the state penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas. As a teenager she was encouraged by local pianist Roy Searcy as she began singing in area nightclubs. Later she was introduced to Kansas City jazz pianist Jay McShann and began performing regularly with his band.

In 1955, Bowman cut her first sides with McShann for Vee Jay Records, which resulted in the #1 R&B hit “Hands Off” – the recording most closely associated with her. She toured on the success of the record, highlighted by engagements at Mel’s Hideaway on the south side of Chicago and the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. With marquee performances and a hit record to promote, the incessant grind of the road took a toll on Bowman. On the advice of entertainer Moms Mabley, who shared the same tour bill, the exhausted and ill Bowman returned to Kansas City for much needed rest. In a 1987 article for The Squire, Bowman reflected on how the decision impacted her budding career: “I wish I’d stayed [on the road], but if I’d stayed, I would have died…By stopping and staying home, they [the public] just forgot about me. And I’d forgotten about singing.”

Bowman continued to record through the end of the 1950s, achieving artistic and critical triumphs in the face of waning commercial success. Highlights include “I’ve Got News For You, the follow-up to her #1 hit (1956); “Everything’s Alright,” a Billboard Magazine pick (1957), and collaboration with doo-wop group The Spaniels (1958-59). However, Bowman failed to rekindle her initial success or to tap into the emerging rock ‘n’ roll market, a style ironically owing much to the rhythm and blues music she purveyed. By the early 1960s, Bowman had put her career on hold to get married and to raise a family.

Bowman revived her singing career in the late 1970s and early 1980s, performing at area nightspots and festivals. Original Rock And Roll Mama, the first full-length album collecting many of her 1950s recordings, was released in 1986. Despite surgery to remove a cancerous lung that same year, she continued to perform into 1987. She was honored posthumously with a Kansas City Jazz Heritage Award (1988) and an Elder Statesmen of Kansas City Jazz Award (2003).

Priscilla Bowman passed away July 24, 1988.

Learn more about the Priscilla Bowman Collection housed in LaBudde Special Collections at the UMKC Miller Nichols Library.

Black History Month: Local activist Leon Jordan shaped by African experience

jordan-p168ipFrom police detective to politico, Leon Mercer Jordan became one of the most distinguished African-American leaders in the state of Missouri before his untimely death in 1970. Forging a prolific and colorful career that took him from Kansas City to West Africa and back again, Jordan served three terms in the Missouri House of Representatives, co-founded a local political organization for African-Americans, and trained the national police force in the Republic of Liberia.

The Leon M. Jordan Collection, housed in LaBudde Special Collections, consists of material related to the late activist and his wife, Orchid Irene Ramsey Jordan. Much of the collection focuses on their experiences in Liberia, Africa, a key impetus in Jordan’s later political and community activism. Also included in the collection are addendums of biographical research and writing material amassed by UMKC Professor Emeritus Dr. Robert M. Farnsworth, as well as police and FBI files and court depositions used in the investigations after his murder.

’68 K.C. Race Riots Remembered

1968riot-slideshowOn April 9, 1968, students in the Kansas City, MO, school district desired to hold a march in honor of the recently assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. The Kansas side of the city did not hold classes on that day, but the Missouri side did, and this led to tension, anger, and action by an African American population that had already been feeling the full weight of the institutionalized racism in America at the time. Students from Manual, Lincoln, Central, and Paseo High Schools marched out of school that Tuesday morning, culminating in a gathering at City Hall. While peaceful at first, these marches and gatherings soon grew restless and then violent as they spread throughout the city, with Police using mace and tear gas on marchers, widespread looting and destruction of property, and general civil unrest. After four days of these riots, the damages to the city neared four million dollars, and six people were killed. On one level, the ’68 riot was a direct reaction to specific current events, but it was also a result of long-established racial tensions in the city and the country as a whole. In this sense, it was not only an important moment in the history of Kansas City, but in our nation as well. *

The ’68 Riot Collection, housed in LaBudde Special Collections, consists of writings, interviews, images, audio and other items documenting the events surrounding April 9-13, 1968, in Kansas City.

[ *Excerpt from “It Finally Happened Here: The 1968 Riot in Kansas City, Missouri.” Joel P. Rhodes. Missouri Historical Review, April 1997 (Vol. 91, No. 3) pp. 295-315.]