Coming off of online-only events because of the pandemic, the American Jazz Museum is kicking off its 25th anniversary celebration with a gala and concert, in person, on Saturday. “25 years is just a small segment of time but a significant marker for us,” says Rashida Phillips, the museum’s executive director “An event like this really gives you a sense of the history and the weight of our mission. We want to truly celebrate jazz.” Saturday’s “Believe In: Legacy 25” event will mark one of the museum’s first major public events in awhile. Last year’s first “Believe In” concert was a virtual experience due to the pandemic. But the event showed organizers there was an international audience for Kansas City jazz.
“Our digital content has been ramped up over the past year. Whether it be our livestreams or us broadcasting online, we are being watched by eyes all over the world,” says Phillips. Saturday’s gala begins with a wandering jam session film, where guests can explore the museum as well as culturally significant locations in the area.
Entertainment will be provided by The Mingus Big Band, celebrating the centennial birthday of jazz great Charles Mingus. The band is now headed by Sue Mingus, the widow of the jazz legend. Charles Mingus had deep roots in the Kansas City jazz scene along with fellow legend and band mate Charlie Parker. This performance will mark The Mingus Big Band’s first concert in Kansas City as a modern collective. In the heart of Vine Street, the museum is not only home to the premier jazz club The Blue Room but also maintains the historic Gem Theater. The museum strives to not only keep alive the memories of the jazz legends of the past but also put a spotlight on current local artists. “Jazz is always living and moving,” says Phillips. “Recently we had Harold O’Neal in the Blue Room, who is one of the newer Kansas City luminaries who had the building packed with people of all ages and creeds.”
In addition to live music, the museum is working to launch new programming. Disney’s touring “The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure” concludes at the end of April after almost five months in Kansas City. This year the museum plans an exhibit showcasing its extensive collection of historical media that wasn’t available to the public before. “We are home to the largest collection of jazz shorts and films outside of the Library of Congress. So we have a responsibility to share that content. It’s a mix of music, film, and culture,” says Phillips, who took over at the museum in January 2020.
With a relatively fresh leadership at the helm, the organization looks to re-establish its place as one of the top jazz organizations in the country. For newer members of the team, like Marketing Director Taylor Smith, Saturday’s event is a much needed experience to emphasize the museum’s impact.
“The thing about the museum is it is so much more than a museum,” says Smith. “It is like a community center, performance art center, and events space with initiatives like First Fridays and Juneteenth. We have goals to take that jazz footprint we have here at 18th and Vine and sprinkle it around the city.”
The American Jazz Museum is offering three ways to enjoy its gala and concert on Saturday, April 30, at 1616 E. 18th St.:
▪ $125 VIP ticket (in person): Cocktail reception starts at 5:30 p.m. and includes a gift bag with commemorative 25th anniversary items and an interactive wandering jam session film.
▪ $25 general admission (in person): 8 p.m. Mingus Big Band concert at the Gem Theater.
▪ $25 virtual admission (online): 7 p.m. virtual access only to “Believe In: Live at 25,” a video tribute to the 18th and Vine Jazz District featuring a performance by Logan Richardson.
Tickets are available via Eventbrite.
--J.M. Banks, Kansas City Star