News Articles

Coda Jazz Fund comes through

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 1/8/2008

A singer who thrilled audiences with her vocal artistry deserves a proper send-off.

So soon after Kansas City blues icon Annetta “Cotton Candy” Washington died on Christmas morning of complications from a stroke, a call for help went out, a call that recently was answered.

Despite having lost a leg to diabetes, Washington enjoyed performing, especially when the cause supported other local jazz and blues musicians. In fact, she literally died helping people. The 76-year-old singer suffered a stroke Dec. 15 while performing at a breast-cancer benefit in Westport .

Like many older musicians, when she died she didn’t have much money stashed away.

That’s why the Coda Jazz Fund, which I persuaded The Kansas City Star to establish in 2002, decided to pay the cost of her funeral and burial. The Coda Jazz Fund was founded to provide financial assistance to the families of local jazz musicians who can’t afford to pay funeral costs.

No one knows quite what that generosity means more than Arlene Buford, Washington ‘s second cousin. At first, Buford wasn’t sure how she was going to pay for Washington ‘s funeral.

“I would like to say thank you,” Buford said last week. “I really, truly appreciate that Coda stepped forward to help me. I was kind of in this by myself. You are a blessing.”

The support for “Cotton Candy” is just one of numerous acts of benevolence the fund has been engaged in recently. During Christmas the past few years, the Coda Jazz Fund has distributed baskets to sick and shut-in musicians. This year was no exception.

Pam Hider Johnson, program director for the Elder Statesmen of Kansas City Jazz , identified the musicians who needed baskets the most. Then Celeste Rogers Reed, events and promotions manager for The Star and a volunteer with Coda , put together the 20 baskets. Each contained socks, deodorant, hand towels, body gels, candles, a jazz CD, books and other items.

“We’re just letting the musicians know they’re being thought of,” Rogers Reed said. “It’s not so much about what the baskets contain. It’s the fact that they, the musicians, know we’re thinking of them.” Coda Jazz Fund volunteers such as Joe Spease, president of Pristine Power, a Lenexa alternative energy business; Gerald Dunn, the music coordinator for the American Jazz Museum; and Sam Johnson Jr., a local drummer, did their part by delivering the baskets.

When Spease made his rounds on Dec. 23, he took along his 14-year-old son. “It’s the most rewarding thing to ever do,” Spease said. “You just wish you could do even more for them.” Jazz singer Pearl Thuston Brown, 80, is widowed, and her only son is deceased.

“Receiving the Christmas basket overwhelmed me,” she said. “To know that there were people thinking of me floored me. It welled me up in my heart. It brought tears to my eyes.”

The same sentiment was expressed by Monroe Nash, a local trombone player, who at 71 needs a hip replacement and has been bedridden since last February. The Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors helped by purchasing his prescriptions, which totaled $473. He also received a holiday gift basket. “I love Coda ,” Nash said. “I was so surprised when I got it, I didn’t know what to do. I’m down, but I’m not going to give up.”

There was a time when jazz musicians here may not have known how the public felt about them. But that sentiment has changed, and Coda has had a big role in that. Cotton Candy isn’t the first person the fund has helped. And she won’t be the last. Not every family will need the fund. Nor will every family qualify. But with the continued help of the public, when the families of jazz musicians do need it, it’s nice to know the fund will be there for them.


Coda Fund Deserves a National Encore

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 6/12/2007

We identified the problem. We attacked the problem. And for the foreseeable future, we’ve resolved the problem.

Before May 2002, when a jazz musician died in Kansas City with no assets, often this town resorted to passing the hat or holding an impromptu fundraiser or jam session to come up with the money for a funeral. Now, after just five years, that approach has virtually been eliminated. The Coda Jazz Fund, which provides money to bury jazz artists who die impoverished, has raised more than $150,000 and has reached its goal. As a result, Coda will not hold its annual fundraising concert this year. The money means no jazz musician has to die in Kansas City and be buried in an unmarked grave. No jazz musician’s burial or funeral has to be delayed while a jam session is pulled together. And no family ends up burdened by debt.

Those days are over. The Coda Jazz Fund now has the means to ensure that each and every jazz musician who dies in Kansas City receives a proper sendoff if the family can’t afford the cost. Mission accomplished.

In case you’re not up on the Coda Jazz Foundation, here’s how it came to be.

Year after year, as a reporter, I watched and reported on families of jazz musicians struggling to give their loved ones a proper sendoff. In 2002, I persuaded The Kansas City Star to establish the fund. We enlisted the support of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation to manage it.

The collaboration has included the American Jazz Museum , Sprint Nextel, the Elder Statesmen of Jazz , the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors, Phillips-West Public Relations and many others.

Randy Smith, deputy managing editor of The Star, serves as chairman of the Coda Jazz Fund Advisory Board and believes the cause has reached a major milestone.

“It’s rare when a foundation is able to identify a problem, gain community support, then go on to solve it,” Smith said. “That’s not to say we won’t have any more needs. But there aren’t too many efforts that can claim victory in less than five years.”

In the five years the fund has been around, the need has been obvious.
The Coda Jazz Fund has addressed more than 30 requests for burials, gravestones and other services. In the last six months, the fund has paid for the funerals and burials of three noted jazz musicians. Claude “Fiddler” Williams played at the second concert. And when he died, the fund provided for his funeral and burial.

And if you ever wanted an example of how generous Buck O’Neil was, look no further than Coda . At the outset of the fund, O’Neil wrote a check for $1,000 of his own money.

Sherman Titens, co-founder of the Private Bank, serves on the advisory board.

“The Coda Jazz Fund is an amazing success for the entire community,” Titens said. “It’s brought together people of diversity. They’re in the room because of their love of jazz and the purpose of Coda , to help people that really need help.”

Pamela Heider-Johnson, program director of the Elder Statesmen of Jazz , said she’s proud to serve on the foundation’s advisory board.

“We didn’t just talk the talk,” Heider-Johnson said. “We are actually providing much-needed services with dignity and respect for our community.”

Dean Hampton, a member of the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors, also serves on the advisory board. “This is probably one of the most professional not-for-profits I’ve ever worked with,” Hampton said. ” Coda has done something that no one really nationally has stepped out to do. I think we’ve set a mark for the rest of the nation.”

Too often, we blame the government for not addressing certain problems. But Coda shows us all that there are issues that the private sector can resolve. The foundation’s success wouldn’t have been possible without people who have one thing in common: their love for jazz musicians.

Supporters of the Coda Jazz Fund have created an example for the way jazz musicians in communities all across this nation deserve to be treated.

FOR MORE INFORMATION Go to , write to P.O. Box 412116 , Kansas City , MO 64141-2116 , or call 816-234-4417.


The Coda - it's music to our ears

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 5/27/2006

The Coda Jazz Fund Benefit Concert last Saturday made for an exciting evening of entertainment. Here are some of the remarks and vintage moments captured from my vantage point backstage.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver kept the program flowing, and he told me he looks forward to participating in the event each year. And he often boasts about the initiative back in Washington .

“I’ve seen the Coda event start out as an embryo, and now it’s a full-fledged teenager,” Cleaver said. “It’s moving quickly toward adulthood. It’s going to be one of the highlights for this community in terms of jazz for many years to come. Those of you who got it off the ground ought to feel extremely proud.”

Saxophonist Bobby Watson performed a spirited set with students from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Watson is preparing to take the university’s 16-piece big band on a trip to Europe . The UMKC jazz band was chosen from audition tapes submitted to the International Association of Jazz Educators. The July trip will take the students to Paris ; Switzerland ; and the Netherlands . As he did last Saturday night, Watson probably will play a few tunes with his students. “You’re not trying to show them up,” Watson said. “You’re trying to make music, and you want to keep it at a level they can reach for themselves.”

Watson thinks the trip will make his band even tighter.

“When we can go across the water, it will create a bond that will last forever,” he said. Singer Marilyn Maye accepted her lifetime achievement award with a song. While waiting for the distinction, Maye said a song by Ray Charles came to mind. “Hey everybody, let’s have some fun,” Maye sang. “You’re only living once, and when you’re dead, you’re done.”

Maye thanked the many musicians who have accompanied her over the years. “Whatever I’ve achieved, much of the credit goes to the many wonderful musicians who have accompanied me and the audiences that have been so loyal to me.”

Pianist Joe Sample told the audience that he appreciated his inclusion in the event. “I must say, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Sample said. “I want to thank you. I’m very, very supportive about what is going on here. Hopefully, you will be a guiding light to other cities.”

Celeste Rogers Reed, who works on promotions and special projects with The Kansas City Star, is the person behind the scenes who pulls together the details for the concert. At a meeting earlier this week, she was recognized for her volunteer efforts with a special award. ” Coda gives me the opportunity to work for a great cause,” Reed said. “The work I’ve done has been a labor of love. After all, I love our local jazz musicians.”

Von Smith’s performance was the kind that the audience wanted to stand up for. On his first song, the 19-year-old singer from Lee’s Summit received a rousing standing ovation. “It was a blast,” Smith recalled. “I was superexcited to be onstage. It all just kind of happened out there. I wasn’t nervous. And it became one of the best moments on stage I’ve ever had.”


Coda Jazz Fund marks its fifth year of caring

by Robert A. Cronkleton, The Kansas City Star, 5/21/2006

Saxophonist/composer Bobby Watson could not resist the chance to plug his latest CD Saturday evening.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it online,” Watson told those attending the Coda Jazz Fund Benefit Concert. “I will be checking my statement.”

Watson, along with the University of Missouri-Kansas City Jazz Combo, then proceeded to play “Lemoncello” a song off his “Horizon Reassembled” CD.

The musicians were the first to entertain the hundreds who attended the benefit concert at the Gem Theater in Kansas City’s historic 18th and Vine district.

Others who performed were the Joe Sample Trio, singer Queen Bey and vocalist Von Smith. U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver served as master of ceremonies.

The concert was the fifth annual benefit concert, which raises money so jazz musicians can have proper funerals and burials.

Blanche Williams, the widow of the late Claude “Fiddler” Williams, donated “his cherished violin” to the American Jazz Museum in the 18th and Vine district. The fund helped with funeral and burial expenses when Williams died in 2004.

Since its inception five years ago, Coda Jazz Fund has provided more than $25,000 in assistance for deceased Kansas City area jazz musicians and vocalists.

The Coda Jazz Fund has raised more than $125,000 through donations and ticket sales from the annual benefit concerts. Going into Saturday’s concert, the fund stood at $111,000. The amount the concert raised Saturday was unavailable; however, it had sold out of its 500 tickets.

The Kansas City Star columnist Steve Penn came up with the idea after learning many local musicians died without enough money for proper memorials.

“To be honest, I never envisioned it being like this or that it would catch hold,” Penn said. It shows that Kansas City cares about its local musicians, he said.

Randy Smith, chairman of the fund and deputy managing editor at The Star, said the fund has taken care of some well-known musicians and some not so well-known.

“We believe everyone has a face and everyone has a name,” Smith said.

“We have done our best to take care of them.”

The fund has paid to bury seven people and provided grave markers for several other deceased Kansas City jazz musicians, Smith said.

Saturday’s event also featured the 2006 Coda Jazz Lifetime Achievement in Jazz awards, which were given to saxophonist Robert Watson Sr., who is Bobby Watson’s father; singer Marilyn Maye; former radio hosts Ginney Coleman and Ruth Rhoden; band leader Leon Brady; pianist Pete Eye; bass player and singer Jackie Anderson; and saxophonist Ahmad Alaadeen.

The Star, Sprint Nextel Corp., M&I Bank and the American Jazz Museum were the main sponsors of the concert.
To reach Robert A. Cronkleton, call (816) 234-5994 or send e-mail to


Musicians find joy in jammin'

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 5/18/2006

There’s nothing like a jazz jam session to bring people together.

It’s like a pot of musical gumbo. You mix a few senior jazz musicians in with a few young ones who will play until dawn. Add in a good cause and some assistance from the Mutual Musicians Foundation, and the get-together leads to a good time had by all.

I’m still trying to catch up on my sleep. From noon Monday until noon Tuesday, I was host of a 24-hour jam session at 18th Street and the Paseo in the Historic 18th and Vine Jazz District. Someone else called it my 24 hours of jazz insomnia.

The jam session, my second, was to draw attention to the Coda Jazz Fund Benefit Concert being held Saturday night at the Gem Theater.

This year’s jam session brought together a wide array of talent, ranging from a young girl singer to a band featuring nobody younger than 75.

All the musicians expressed a common theme. They wanted to help the Coda Jazz Fund and play with musicians they had never played with before.

At noon Monday, a small combo featuring singer Arrika Brazil, drummer Sam Johnson Jr. and pianist Murray Fields kicked off the session. It wasn’t long before trumpeter Lonnie McFadden and many other musicians started dropping by.

David Abrams, a trombone player, was glad to participate.

“I figured this would be a great opportunity to come down and play with some people I might not play with,” Abrams said. “It’s a good way to help support jazz in Kansas City.”

Abrams was elated to have played a few tunes with McFadden.

“That was quite a thrill,” he said. “You just hope some of that skill rubs off on you.”

Chris Hazelton, 20, who attends Kansas City Kansas Community College, played organ. He stayed until 3 a.m. and also played bass and guitar.

“I love to play jazz organ,” Hazelton said. “I came out because I heard there would be some great players here. I want to help the Coda Jazz Fund.

“It was a fun time, and I met some new people.”

Like Abrams, Hazelton savored playing alongside McFadden.

“That was amazing,” he said. “I hope I get to do that again.”

In the afternoon, a brief spate of rain fell. But just as quickly as the rain cropped up, the sky cleared and the jam session continued. On with the show.

Don Nelson, a trumpet player, brought three of his band members with him.

“This is my passion,” Nelson said. “It’s so fun not only playing the music but working with the people. Music keeps musicians young. All four of my main members are over 75.”

Around 11:30 p.m., the jam session moved to the Mutual Musicians Foundation, 1823 Highland Ave.

In the wee hours, Norman Williams, 68, an alto saxophonist from San Francisco, was playing with a group of young musicians.

“I really enjoyed it,” Williams said afterward. “Everybody had a nice feeling for the music. Everybody had a good attitude. And that’s the main thing.”

By 9 a.m. Tuesday, musicians were back on the corner at 18th and the Paseo. Singer Ray Reed, who helped organize the event, sang a couple of songs before ending the session officially.

I appreciate all the musicians who came out to show they truly care about their own.

To purchase tickets call (816) 931-3330 or (816) 474-6262.
To reach Steve Penn, call (816) 234-4417 or send e-mail to


Coda fund a dignified measure

by Joe Klopus, The Kansas City Star, 5/18/2006

Hardly anyone gets rich off this jazz business.

Embracing it often means a lifetime of worrying about steady income.

And when that lifetime’s over, there’s often worry about scraping together the money for a dignified funeral and burial.

So the Coda Jazz Fund was created to provide that final dignity to Kansas City’s jazz musicians. And this week is your chance to help.

On Saturday Coda’s benefit concert will take care of this serious business while also grooving like crazy. Keyboardist Joe Sample’s trio, singer Queen Bey and Bobby Watson and his University of Missouri-Kansas City student musicians will provide the grooves.

The event is Coda’s fifth annual benefit concert. With Sample, a longtime member of the Crusaders, and Watson and Bey, who represent the best of Kansas City musical styles today, it’s bound to be a memorable evening. And the money you give by buying a ticket will help Coda keep the dignity alive.

To reach Joe Klopus with comments or news of jazz events, call (816) 234-4751; send e-mail to; or write 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108.

The Coda Jazz Fund benefit concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the Gem Theater, 1615 E. 18th St. Tickets cost $50 to $125 through (816-931-3330; 816-474-6262).

North Kansas City’s Saturday in the Square jazz jams are back. With pianist Mike Ning and singer Sherry Jones and leaders, the free sessions take place every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the North Kansas City Town Square, 321 Armour Road.

Singer Megan Birdsall is this month’s guest on Joe Cartwright’s “Best of Kansas City Jazz” series. The show’s at 8 tonight at Jardine’s, 4536 Main St. A Sunday highlight at Jardine’s is a performance by the Kansas City Bass Quartet, with bassists Bob Bowman, Gerald Spaits, James Albright and Craig Akin, from 3 to 5 p.m.

The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., features the Sons of Brasil at 7 tonight; it’s free. Singer Lisa Henry performs at 8:30 p.m. Friday; cover is $5. The singing, tap-dancing, horn-playing McFadden Brothers (Lonnie with the trumpet, Ronald with the saxophone) perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday; tickets are $15. The Jazz Disciples are in charge of the Monday jam session at 7 p.m.; that’s free.


A very deserving music star

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 5/13/2006

Marilyn Maye will pick up her Lifetime Achievement Award next weekend.

But she wants people to know that, despite getting an award for her career, she still has much to accomplish.

Maye will receive the award at the Coda Jazz Fund Benefit Concert on May 20 at the Gem Theater. The award is one of eight that will be presented that night.

“I’m not finished yet,” Maye said. “I’m still singing, I’m still energetic, and I’m still happy.”

Steve Allen is credited with discovering Maye as she sang in a Kansas City nightclub. Allen eventually turned Maye into a fixture on his TV show.

Maye went on to make numerous TV appearances and had a successful recording career. She’s still wowing audiences today.

In October, Maye performed at the Lincoln Center in New York for a tribute to Jerry Herman, a well-known composer and lyricist. Herman had major hits with musicals “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame.”

“I did a lot of his material in front of him,” Maye said. “And I’ve done `Hello, Dolly!’ many times.”

This October, Maye has been invited to perform again at the Lincoln Center. During our chat, she expressed gratitude to all the local musicians who have performed with her over the years.

“All the musicians I have played with here have been tremendous and an important entity in my performances,” Maye said. “I love that rapport with musicians when I’m onstage.”

Anybody who ever wonders if jazz will survive should visit Leon Brady’s studio. Brady has spent his entire career teaching, nurturing and coaching young musicians.

Brady also will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Coda Jazz Fund Benefit Concert.

Brady is worthy of the honor, and I should know. Brady was the band director at Sumner High School when I was a trumpet player in the stage band and marching band.

And he still has a knack for teaching teens to swing.

At Brady Music Studio, 1317 Central Ave. in Kansas City, Kan., he cranks out the next generation of musicians.

“I’m appreciative of the award,” Brady said. “It has always been my lifetime achievement to work with the kids. I want to make sure jazz is preserved and passed on. My philosophy is, anything will die if it’s not preserved or passed on.”
Brady doesn’t buy into the notion that interest in jazz has dwindled among young people.

“People say that jazz is dead,” Brady said. “I disagree with that. If they come to 1317 Central, they’ll see a big difference.”

His four bands recently held a concert at Unity Temple on the Plaza. One of the musicians in his jazz combo wrote a tune that was performed.

“You can’t imagine how that makes me feel,” he said. “The kids get to the place where they’re loving it so much that they enjoy spending extra time at it writing. That’s the ideal situation.”

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends. The song aptly reflects my sentiments regarding this coming Monday. At noon, I’ll be on the corner of 18th Street and the Paseo in the jazz district holding a 24-hour jam session to draw attention to the concert next Saturday and the remaining tickets. Musicians interested in coming out and sitting in can call Ray Reed at (816) 820-5680.

Tickets to the concert can be purchased at (816) 931-3330 or (816) 474-6262.
To reach Steve Penn, call (816) 234-4417 or send e-mail to


Coming to `Groove Town'

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 5/9/2006

Joe Sample is on a crusade to spread what he calls the healing power of jazz.

And he’s excited about doing it in a city he considers a jazz mecca.

After a stint as a pianist with the Jazz Crusaders, Sample went on to have a successful solo career. Now he’s coming to town later this month to assist the Coda Jazz Fund.

The Coda Jazz Fund Benefit Concert will be held May 20 at the Gem Theater. The event will feature the Joe Sample Trio, Queen Bey and Bobby Watson with the University of Missouri-Kansas City Jazz Ensemble.
I spoke with Sample over the weekend from his home in Houston, and he had high praise for the musical heritage of this city.

“Kansas City is a mecca,” Sample said. “I know I’m going back to one of the musical bread-baskets of America. It always excites me to go there.”

Sample can recall performing with the Crusaders numerous times at the Uptown Theater almost four decades ago.
He called Kansas City a “groove town,” a place where the emphasis is on the enjoyment of the music – not its complexities.

“I’ve always thought of Kansas City as a groove land,” Sample said. “The groove factor in music is just as important as the intellectual side of jazz. I’ve always known about the music that was coming out of KC.”
Although he’s been successful financially, Sample understands the need for the Coda Jazz Fund.
“I think when I die I will have money to bury myself,” Sample said. “I make a good living. I believe that I’ve been blessed.”

Sample told me that he was shocked when he learned years ago that Art Tatum, a legendary jazz pianist, died in 1956 without much money.

“They described him at the time of his death as a pauper,” Sample said. “That was very hard for me to understand. Here was this man with all these skills.”

Sample’s skills were honed early. He learned to play piano at 5. He went on to attend Texas Southern University for three years and then founded the Jazz Crusaders along with trombonist Wayne Henderson, tenor sax man Wilton Felder and drummer Stix Hooper.

The group earned numerous gold and platinum albums over almost three decades of recording. His solo recordings include the 1999 release “The Song Lives On” and the 2002 release “The Pecan Tree,” a recording based on his hometown of Houston.

“I learned to get into other forms of music like classical and Caribbean music,” Sample said. “I get into country and western music if it’s very good. I love all music if it’s good. I dislike with a passion bad music.”
Here’s what’s amazing about Sample. He’s convinced his music is therapeutic for listeners.

“I sense a purpose in me,” Sample said. “God sent me here to communicate. When I communicate with people, they have an opportunity to be healed by a healing force. I just feel like I’m a tool transmitting through the supreme being, the power of healing.”

That’s deep, I told Sample.

“I feel that,” Sample said. “And when I’m playing, I’m healing myself. So consequently, for as long as I’m healing and people can sense the healing, I’ll be here to the day that I die.”

The Coda concert is the feel-good event of the year. And supporters will feel gratified that evening for helping out such a worthy cause. And who knows. If Sample’s right, concertgoers will not only enjoy an unforgettable evening, they may come away feeling better than before.

Tickets to the event can be purchased at (816) 931-3330 or (816) 474-6262.
To reach Steve Penn, call (816) 234-4417 or send e-mail to


Coda Fund: good tunes, good cause

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 5/2/2006

When Milt Abel died earlier this year, the Coda Jazz Fund immediately stepped in to assist his family in their time of need.

And when the family of Linda “Lady Red” Oliver also needed assistance this past year, Coda responded as well. From Claude “Fiddler” Williams to trumpeter Oliver Todd, the Coda Jazz Fund has made sure area jazz musicians are treated with dignity and respect when they die.

The effort, which now stands around $100,000, always has relied on the support of the public. This year is no exception. The Coda Jazz Fund will hold its annual fundraising concert Saturday, May 20, at the Gem Theater.

The lineup of artists will include the incomparable Joe Sample Trio. Sample is a Grammy award-winning pianist who was one of the original Jazz Crusaders.

Singer Queen Bey, saxophonist Bobby Watson and the University of Missouri-Kansas City jazz combo will perform as well.

Von Smith, an amazing young vocalist whom I featured in this column, also will be featured. U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver will serve as master of ceremonies.

I recently spoke to Linda Abel, wife of the late bass player Milt Abel, who died in February at age 77. She plans to attend.

“The Abel family has been overwhelmed by the generosity extended through Coda,” Abel said recently. “We hope in the future that we will be rewarded in a way that we can share back with our fellow musicians.”

The event will feature the 2006 Coda Jazz Lifetime Achievement in Jazz awards. The recipients this year include saxophonist Robert Watson Sr., singer Marilyn Maye and former radio hosts Ginney Coleman and Ruth Rhoden. Band leader Leon Brady, pianist Pete Eye, bass player and singer Jackie Anderson and saxophonist Ahmad Alaadeen also will be honored.

I recently spoke with Maye, who will be there to pick up her award.

“I do so sincerely appreciate the Coda Lifetime Achievement Award,” Maye said. “I consider it an acknowledgment from the great musicians I work with. As I see it, my achievement is to have worked nationally while remaining right here as a part of the Kansas City jazz scene.”

Robert Watson Sr., another honoree, also plans to attend.

Watson is the 79-year-old father of Bobby Watson. The senior Watson is a fine saxophonist and once had a popular group known as the Gospel Jazz Messengers.

“I’d play with my mom when she sang with gospel groups,” Watson told me, “and I’ve been playing ever since.”

His son told me that he clearly understands just how vital the cause has become. In fact, Watson secured health insurance just five years ago when he was hired by the university.

“I’ve seen musicians die with nothing,” Watson said. “The norm for that is always holding a benefit for them. I think Coda is beautiful because it helps them retain their dignity. It keeps their privacy. When families are forced to hold a benefit, that’s not good.”

To draw attention to the concert, I will once again be host of a 24-hour jam session starting Monday, May 15, at 10 a.m. on the corner of 18th Street and the Paseo.

The jam session will continue after dark at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

Tickets to the Coda Benefit Concert are $125, $75, and $50 and can be obtained by calling Ticketmaster at (816) 931-3330 or at the American Jazz Museum admission desk at (816) 474- 6262. Contributions can be sent to Coda Jazz Fund, P.O. Box 412116, Kansas City, MO 63141- 2116.


Musicians wail for the benefit of Coda Fund

by James Hart, The Kansas City Star, 5/22/2005

A concert to benefit the Coda Jazz Fund brought some of the nation’s best-known jazz musicians to the Gem Theater on Saturday night.

The Grammy-winning Chuck Mangione led his band through a spirited set. Ellis Marsalis, one of jazz ‘s elder statesmen, played piano. Angela Hagenbach belted out songs. Bobby Watson, of the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, joined a team of younger musicians, the Logan Richardson Quintet, for a horn-blaring, keyboard-rattling jam.

But there was a larger purpose behind the music, beyond just having a good time. The show helped raise money so jazz musicians can have proper funerals and burials when they die.

“This may be a concert, but it’s really a cause,” said Steve Penn, the Kansas City Star columnist who founded the fund.

Since it started, Coda has helped in 11 or 12 cases. Penn came up with the idea more than four years ago, when he learned that many local musicians died without enough funds for proper memorials. “They just don’t make a lot of money,” he said.

It wasn’t clear how much money Saturday’s concert raised. The fund had about $90,000 going into the event, and organizers expected the show would push their coffers beyond the $100,000 mark.

Seven local musicians were awarded Lifetime Achievement in Jazz awards during the concert. The honorees were Milt Abel, Ronnell Bright, Pearl Thuston Brown, Tony DiPardo, Terry Hughes, Eddie Saunders and Myra Taylor.

The Star, along with Sprint Corp. and Gold Bank, was one of the main sponsors of the concert.

To reach James Hart, call (816) 234-4902 or send e-mail to


It Was a Jammin' Day for Jazz

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 5/21/2005

There’s nothing like a true jazz jam session. The kind where musicians of different styles and backgrounds come together to improvise. And believe me, there’s nothing like one held for 24 hours.

In hosting the Penn- Coda 24-hour jam session earlier this week, I had pledged to camp out in the 18th and Vine district for 24 hours, from noon Wednesday until noon Thursday. The goal was to draw attention to the Coda Jazz Fund Benefit concert, to be held tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Gem Theater.

Well, I made it. But I couldn’t have done it without support from musicians and the American Jazz Museum .

Ray Reed, a local jazz singer, helped me big time, summoning musicians across the city to accompany me as I played the trumpet on the corner of and 18th Street and the Paseo.

Threatening skies couldn’t prevent musicians from flowing in and out all day.

At noon , pianist Murray Fields pulled up with his pickup and a PA system. He tipped his hat to the Coda Jazz Fund, which pays burial expenses for indigent jazz musicians.

“Who knows,” Fields said. “I might die impoverished. Hopefully the fund will be around to buy me a headstone.”

Tracy Neely, a guitarist, and Chris Clarke, a pianist, teamed up with Dave Luvin, a bass player who was on his lunch break. Clarke played for almost five hours.

“I’m just glad the Coda Fund is here to recognize all those who don’t get recognized,” said Clarke, who studied at The Juilliard School.

Around 3 p.m. , Monica Nightengale, who delivers the news on Magic 107.3, dropped by for an on-air update. She even sang “My Funny Valentine.”

“Many musicians play for the love of the music and not the love of the money,” Nightengale said. “Many musicians aren’t thinking about insurance. They’re too busy sharing their art.”

Guitarist Andy Masters and flute player Lori Lacy showed up a little later.

Saxophonist Chris Burnett played for four hours.

“I’ve been aware of what the Coda Jazz Fund is,” Burnett said. “So I came out and had a great time today.”

When an electrical outlet was needed, Ronnie Medlock, a tenant in the apartments above us, obliged.

“Hey baby,” he yelled from his third-floor window as the cord was thrown up. “The show must go on.”

At 7 p.m. , saxophonist Bobby Watson teamed up with singers Luqman Hamza and Arika Brazil , Theo Wilson on bass, and others.

Around 9 p.m. we moved to the nearby Mutual Musicians Foundation, which had cooked up a late-night jam session for us.

The early morning session featured 20-somethings Mike Herrera, saxophonist; Brad Williams, drummer; Adam Kabak on bass; Kevin Cerovich on trombone; and pianist Oscar Williams.

By 4:30 a.m. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. But a guy named Matthias from Belgium who had stopped by asked me to explain the concept of a jam session.

“I never thought that I would drop into a jam session like tonight,” Matthias said. “Never.”

By noon Thursday, I was fatigued but satisfied.

For a day we brought musicians together. We showed that the jazz district is safe. And we drew attention to a worthy cause, the Coda Jazz Fund Benefit concert. That’s what I call a good day.

For ticket information, call Ticketmaster (816) 931-3330 or the Gem Theater box office at (816) 474-8463.

To reach Steve Penn, call (816)234-4417 or send e-mail to


Tradition of giving plays on

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 4/16/2005

The show must go on. And the story of Gregory Green shows why.

Green followed in his father’s footsteps as a Kansas City jazz guitarist. He had a great melodic style, but his renown had faded by the time he died earlier this year.

The Coda Jazz Fund stepped in to help lay him to rest.

The need to assist local jazz musicians continues, so the fund-raising efforts of the Coda Jazz Fund do, too. The Kansas City Star spearheaded the community effort three years ago to cover the burial and funeral expenses for jazz musicians whose families can’t afford the cost.

The biggest source of money for the fund is the annual benefit concert. At this year’s show on May 21 at the Gem Theater, the next generation of jazz musicians will share the stage with the artists they grew up listening to. The headliner will be flugelhornist Chuck Mangione, who played with Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He had one of the biggest-selling jazz albums with 1977’s “Feels So Good.”

The concert will also feature Ellis Marsalis, regarded as the premier modern jazz pianist in New Orleans . Three of his six sons have attained worldwide acclaim. One of them, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, will play with the Logan Richardson Quartet.

I wrote a column on Richardson, a saxophonist, when he was a student at Paseo Academy . Today, the 24-year-old is holding his own on the New York jazz scene.

“It’s about continuing the tradition,” Richardson said. “I’m just trying to hone my craft so I’m a good representative for the jazz and for Kansas City .”

Singer Angela Hagenbach also will perform, and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver will be the master of ceremonies.

The concert also honors local musicians. Last May, Claude “Fiddler” Williams’ widow, Blanche Williams, received the award in his name, and pianist-vocalist Jay McShann received an honor. Honored at this year’s event will be drummer Terry Hughes; bassist Milt Abel; saxophonist Eddie Saunders; Chiefs trumpeter Tony DiPardo; singer Myra Taylor of the Wild Women; singer-pianist Pearl Thuston Brown; and pianist Ronnell Bright.

Bright, 74, graduated from University of Southern California with a doctorate in music. He has played with such legends as Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne and Peggy Lee.

“I’m a bit surprised,” Bright said recently of the honor. “But I’m very much appreciative. It’s a great feeling.”

For the second year, Coda will also play host to the free Youth Jazz Band Concert and workshop on May 17-19 at One Kansas City Place downtown. Students will perform for the public during lunchtime.

“I applaud the musicians and the community for coming together,” said Gerald Dunn, the music coordinator for the American Jazz Museum and a member of the Coda Jazz Fund board. ” Coda has been able to figure out how to solve one problem.”

The principal sponsors of the concert are The Star, Sprint Corp. and Gold Bank. Contributions to the fund can be sent to P.O. Box 412116 , Kansas City , MO 64141-2116 .

Tickets to the concert are available starting today at Ticketmaster by calling (816) 931-3330 or from the American Jazz Museum box office at (816) 474-8463.

Put two members of the Marsalis family on stage. Top it off with a legendary flugelhorn player. Mix in some young musicians and some emotion, and it promises to be a memorable night.

For previous columns, go to

To reach Steve Penn, call (816) 234-4417 or send e-mail to


Jazz fund proves its purpose

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 5/4/2004

When a headliner was needed with national and local appeal, Claude “Fiddler” Williams filled the bill for the Coda Jazz Foundation’s concert last year.

And now, when it’s needed, the Coda Jazz Fund is there for Williams and his family.

A memorial jam session on Sunday and the funeral on Monday were appropriate finales to Williams’ life. Yet, there was one fact that wasn’t discussed yet truly is vital to understanding jazz musicians like Williams.

Even though he had recorded CDs, played at the White House, traveled abroad and was a fiddle virtuoso, Williams died without any money.

To pay the funeral and burial expenses, Blanche Williams, his widow, had to apply to the Coda Jazz Fund last week. The fund ‘s advisory board has graciously agreed to pay the majority of the costs, with a private donation covering the rest.

“I know a lot of people will be surprised that we had to avail ourselves of the fund ,” she said. “You know what? I am so humbled by the fact that the money is there and it’s available.”

The fund was conceived for precisely situations like this one.

Few people are aware of Blanche Williams’ own struggles. Last year, she was diagnosed with cancer and underwent six months of grueling radiation treatments. She realized her husband, 95 at the time, needed care she couldn’t provide. So with his health slipping, she decided to place him in a nursing home.

She had some savings, but the bills devoured their nest egg.

“My plan for his burial went out the window,” Williams told me tearfully. “Musicians like Claude just aren’t paid enough to practice their craft, unless they’re among the privileged few. His best gigs were out of town, and they were few and far between.”

Williams hopes her story garners more support for the fund .

“I’m not too proud,” she said. “I truly value the fund .”

With the public’s continued support, the Coda Jazz Fund will always be around for musicians such as Williams, a man who clearly understood its purpose.

He was the first entertainer considered when planning the first concert back in 2002. But before the event, he fell and broke his shoulder. Nevertheless, with his arm in a sling, he came out with his wife that night to support the event. I made him stand up during my remarks, which he did to thunderous applause.

I played trumpet on the finale. Later that night, I saw him climbing into his car.

“I’m going to play with you next year,” he said. “That’s right.”

Everywhere I went, I told people, “Fiddler wants to play with me.”

Last year, Williams participated in the event and was remarkable.

After he and Jay McShann finished one tune, the two men embraced. As they stood in the spotlight, the local jazz legends received a standing ovation.

The audience sensed the special nature of the moment.

Once off-stage, Williams clearly wanted to continue.

Sitting in a chair, he kept strumming, despite the performances on stage.

“Claude, stop playing,” his wife pleaded.

I didn’t want him to stop. And neither did anyone else. We all wanted his music to go on forever.

Blanche Williams’ story illustrates the reason the fund is so important. The Coda Jazz Foundation will eternally be indebted to Williams. He supported the cause with his musical gift. He realized its importance.

At the next Coda Jazz Fund benefit concert – May 15 – he will be sorely missed.

To reach Steve Penn, call (816) 234-4417 or send e-mail to


Buried with dignity, Finally at rest

Coda Jazz Fund gives late jazz musicians a final measure of pride When last note is played, Coda Jazz Fund is there

by Robert Butler, The Kansas City Star, 5/2/2004

The footage is 30 years old, but the decades melt away as you watch the face of Sonny Kenner playing his guitar.

The movie is “The Last of the Blue Devils,” the acclaimed documentary about Kansas City jazz . Kenner , 39 at the time, performs on virtually every song behind pianist Jay McShann and blues shouter Big Joe Turner.

Look at Kenner ‘s face. His eyes are closed. He’s smiling. His head bobs with the rhythm.

He looks like a God-struck saint from a Renaissance painting, a soul riding waves of pure bliss.

This was the Sonny Kenner his friends and fans knew best, a man transported by his art, by the music he loved and played so beautifully.”I think I would be kind of empty without music,” Kenner once told a reporter. “That’s all I know.”

But music – especially jazz – can be a harsh mistress. In a lifetime of playing, Kenner never found financial success commensurate with his talent. To survive he played all sorts of music – blues and jazz and funk and Latin-inspired rock, even a bit of hip-hop. He gigged at clubs and concerts, school dances and private parties. He gave guitar lessons.

And he worked day jobs. The same hands that coaxed exquisite cascades of notes out of six strings also operated a pants press at a clothing store.

When he died in 2002, Sonny Kenner left behind a wife and five grown children and several self-produced CDs – but not enough money for a proper burial.

Fund provides money

Sadly, Kenner ‘s story is a common one.

“A lot of these cats, they went out broke” is how Kansas City jazz legend Jay McShann has put it.

“In every city with a large jazz community, you’ll find benefit concerts being held to pay the hospital bills or funeral bills of some old player,” said Bobby Watson, the veteran saxophonist who runs the jazz program at the UMKC Conservatory of Music. “It’s a common thing.”

In Kansas City , though, it may be a thing of the past.

Thanks to the Coda Jazz Fund , which began operating shortly after Kenner ‘s death, the families of Kansas City ‘s veteran jazz players can pay to bury their loved ones. The single biggest source of money for the fund comes from an annual jazz concert, scheduled this year for May 15.

The Coda Jazz Fund (a coda is a passage formally ending a song or composition) was founded in the spring of 2002 with the intention of raising $100,000 as a permanent source of funding to meet the final expenses of jazz players. Organizers know of only one other outfit in the country – in New Jersey – offering such services.

A volunteer advisory council sets policy. The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation manages the nonprofit effort, investing contributions and disbursing funds.

The Coda Benefit Concert, held each spring in the Gem Theater in the 18th and Vine district, is organized by the American Jazz Museum here. It has emerged as arguably the most important event on Kansas City ‘s jazz calendar, a gathering of national and local stars. Some of the players get paid at a reduced rate and others volunteer their time.

Local club owners say that the concert has stimulated interest in jazz in Kansas City and that their business has increased because of it.

The first such concert took place at the Gem in May 2002, just weeks after Sonny Kenner’s death. The lineup included singers Kevin Mahogany and Ida McBeth, saxophonist Watson and the Jazz Sextet Plus-1. Singer Marilyn Maye stepped in to replace Claude “Fiddler” Williams, who was sidelined by an injury.

It was a sold-out evening.

Last year’s second edition offered Kansas City greats Jay McShann and Fiddler Williams (in one of his last public performances), singer Karrin Allyson, horn man Clark Terry, Watson, the Scamps and the Elder Statesmen of Jazz . Another sellout.

This year’s lineup

The 2004 edition promises not only a great night of music, but, organizers say, will most certainly push the Coda fund past its $100,000 goal.

“When we started this thing three years ago, we never expected by our third concert to be so close,” marveled Lisa Shepard, client accounts executive with the Community Foundation. “The story here is the numbers of people from different walks of life who have come together to make this happen.”

Coda was the brainchild of Star columnist Steve Penn. Just a couple of nights after Sonny Kenner’s death, Penn visited the Levee, where Kenner used to regularly play. Patrons were dropping cash into a jar on the club’s stage, and one of Kenner ‘s daughters was passing through the audience, selling her father’s CDs table to table.

Just to raise money for a funeral.

“That scene broke my heart,” Penn wrote in a column that week. “No one – not relatives, not friends – should have to struggle financially to bury a career jazz musician. That certainly should be true in this town, home to some of the most brilliant jazz figures of all time.”

Kansas City – a town that too often has embraced its jazz heritage in theory while largely ignoring it in practice – responded.

There have been the volunteers. There have been the corporate sponsors such as Sprint and The Star, which from the beginning have thrown their support behind the benefit concert. More recently Gold Bank and DST have come aboard.

It’s unusual for newsroom personnel to serve on local boards. But because Penn, a Star Metropolitan columnist, came up with the Coda idea, he’s remained on the advisory board. Randall Smith, deputy managing editor, serves as the board chairman. Because of that, this story was written in the Features Department.

There were also the average citizens who wrote checks or stuffed a few bills into the kitty at Coda events.

Some did more than that.

Lisa Poehlman of Smithville donated $4,500 in honor of her uncle, the late big-band leader Jim Lenge. She recalls as a girl accompanying her uncle to the city’s jazz clubs; those nights on the town instilled in her a love of the music that has never faded.

Butch Berman, who operates a nonprofit jazz foundation in Lincoln, Neb. (“I turned my inheritance into a tax shelter that turned into a lifelong calling”), pledged $1,000 a year for life.

Then there are the organizations, small businesses and individuals who donate services, from the stonemason who makes grave markers to local cemeteries and a church providing space for services.

“What’s amazing is that so many people are offering services that relatively little money is actually being expended from the fund ,” Shepard said.

The elder statesmen

The men we now regard as the elder statesmen of Kansas City jazz came of age in an America divided by color. Because they played a form of music the establishment found morally suspect, they were regarded as outlaws of sorts. Some took that designation to heart.

Liquor. Gambling. Women. Drugs. Many a great jazz man burned out at a young age. Kansas City ‘s Charlie Parker is a textbook case.

But even those who avoided those excesses found survival a struggle, especially in their later years.

“I’ve been friends with these musicians,” said Berman by telephone from Lincoln . “A lot of them, all they know is music. They didn’t get rich. Even the ones who were successful and made lots of records saw the record companies end up with all the money.”

“Back then, playing jazz meant a lot a bus riding,” Watson said. “If you were black, it meant staying in people’s houses, because in certain cities you couldn’t check into a hotel or eat in a restaurant.”

Because they rarely played in clubs affiliated with the musicians’ union, these jazzmen didn’t have union benefits. Most were too busy living the life to worry about the future.

“They had lots of fun,” Watson said. “The money was good, and they were among the highest-paid professionals in the black community. Many of them owned houses.”

But relatively few had enough to establish a nest egg. There were no retirement plans then. And because most were paid in cash after every gig, they only contributed to Social Security if they held down full-time jobs.

“A lot of the die-hard musicians consider it an insult to take a day job,” said Pam Hider Johnson of the Elder Statesmen of Jazz , an organization that attempts to meet many of the needs of the city’s aging players.

Forget about health and life insurance. Relatively few jazz players had the money for such frivolities.

“Nobody wants to think that after being a somewhat famous musician you die not having enough money to be buried,” said Gerald Dunn, 37, a player and the director of education at the American Jazz Museum . “But what’s happening to these older guys could have happened to me. Because I work at the jazz museum, I’m lucky enough to have insurance. But I never had any insurance before getting this job.”

All too often, jazz players delay medical treatment because they cannot afford the expense, Watson said. “They put off going to the hospital as long as they can. They’re dying of poverty.”

Buried with dignity

On a breezy warm day in April 2002, the Coda Jazz Fund officially went to work. About 40 members of the jazz community gathered in Lincoln Cemetery , east of Interstate 435 and north of Truman Road – just a stone’s throw away from the grave of Charlie Parker – to place a headstone on the final resting place of bassist David Daahoud Williams, who died in 1998.

As Penn and Dunn set the stone in place, the musicians in the crowd lifted their instruments and saluted the fallen jazz man with a bopping rendition of Parker’s “Now Is the Time.”

Since then the ritual has been repeated nearly a dozen times. The Coda fund has provided monuments or full funerals for such players as trumpeter Oliver Todd, singer/dancer Speedy Huggins, pianist Elbert “Coots” Dye, pianist Lonnie V. Newton, bandleader Lawrence Wright Jr. and saxophonist Rudolph “School Boy” Dennis, who replaced Charlie Parker in Jay McShann’s band.

Who qualifies for assistance from the Coda fund ? Career local jazz musicians whose estates were insufficient to pay funeral expenses or buy a grave marker. Their families must prove financial need. And there’s a $2,000 cap on the money given for an individual.

The support for the Coda fund took even its organizers by surprise, and it has set people to thinking about the fund ‘s long-term function.

Some would like to see an emphasis on educating the young so that there continues to be an audience here for jazz . Others believe the fund should address the health of the players still out there, perhaps by offering group health insurance.

Still others envision the fund as an umbrella or clearinghouse for the organizations and agencies in Kansas City that work to meet the needs of the aging musicians.

All agree that the fund ‘s original purpose – to bury the dead – isn’t going to go away. Many a player now in his 50s or 60s will check out broke, they say.

Now, at least, they’ll be buried with dignity.

Robert W. Butler is a writer for The Star. To comment on this story, call

(816) 234-4760 or send e-mail to

Here’s the lineup of the 2004 Coda Jazz Fund Benefit Concert scheduled for 7:30 May 15 at the Gem Theater. Ticket prices range from $50 to $125 and are available from Ticketmaster. (816) 931-3330.

Jay McShann

Jay “Hootie” McShann returns to the Coda Jazz Fund Concert after his triumph last year.

The undisputed king of living Kansas City jazz , this self-taught pianist has played professionally for more than 70 years. A Kansas City resident since 1936, McShann filled the void left by the departure of Count Basie’s band in the late ’30s by forming his own ensemble featuring such players as bassist Gene Ramey, drummer Gus Johnson, singer Walter Brown and, briefly, the young alto saxophone player Charlie Parker.

Following World War II, McShann moved to Los Angeles for a few years, leading small combos behind singer Jimmy Witherspoon. He then returned to Kansas City , which became his home base; for nearly two decades he played local clubs, toured the Midwest and raised two daughters. Forced by financial constraints to perform with small groups or as a solo act, McShann developed his singing voice, a reedy tenor that perfectly complemented the blues-based piano jazz that has become his signature style.

Rediscovered by jazz enthusiasts in the late ’60s, the Muskogee , Okla. , native began nearly 20 years of nonstop touring in the United States and overseas. His reputation increased with the release in 1979 of Bruce Ricker’s documentary “The Last of the Blue Devils,” in which he was teamed with blues singer Big Joe Turner for a series of memorable performances. He has continued to record over the years. Amazon.

com makes available more than 40 McShann albums.

Most recently McShann was featured in the Clint Eastwood-directed “Piano Blues” segment of last fall’s PBS series “The Blues.”

Curtis Fuller

Like J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, bop great Curtis Fuller has made the trombone a superb lead instrument, capable of leaping between octaves and firing off phrases while maintaining a sense of fluid lyricism and impeccable rhythm.

Fuller cut his musical teeth in an Army band alongside Cannonball Adderley. After gigs in Detroit with Kenny Burrell and Yusef Lateef, he moved to New York and made his recording debut. During the years, Fuller has cut albums for the Blue Note, Prestige, United Artists, Warwick, Smash, Epic, Impulse!, Mainstream, Timeless, Beehive and Savoy labels.

A charter member of the Jazztet with Benny Golson and Art Farmer, Fuller played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers from 1961 to ’65. He toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie and during the ’70s experimented with hard bop played in part on electronic instruments. He later toured with the Count Basie Band, co-led the quintet Giant Bones and played with groups led by Blakey, Cedar Walton and Golson. During the ’80s, he toured Europe with the Timeless All-Stars.

Jon Hendricks

Singer Jon Hendricks is acclaimed for his uncanny ability to write lyrics to complex jazz improvisations.

The Toledo , Ohio , native spent several years after World War II studying law before concluding that his future was in music. He became a founding member of the classic jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, which first gained acclaim by re-creating vocal versions of famous Count Basie tunes. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross influenced a generation of jazz vocalists, especially Manhattan Transfer.

In 1960, Hendricks wrote and directed the production “Evolution of the Blues” for the Monterey Jazz Festival; that show has been revived several times over the decades. He spent several years playing in Europe, then moved to San Francisco, where he wrote about jazz for the San Francisco Chronicle, taught and formed the Hendricks Family, a musical group featuring his wife, Judith, and children Michelle and Eric, as well as other singers, among them Bobby McFerrin.

Red Holloway

James W. “Red” Holloway has been playing music since the age of 12, when his stepfather presented him with a tenor saxophone. Over the years he has become proficient on the banjo, harmonica, clarinet, flute, piccolo, piano, bass, drums and violin.

Born in Arkansas , Holloway grew up in Chicago . At age 16 he was hired as a professional musician by bassist Gene Wright (later of the Dave Brubeck Quartet); for three years he played with Wright’s big band at Chicago ‘s Parkway Ballroom. At age 19, Holloway enlisted and became bandmaster for the U.S. Fifth Army Band.

After his discharge, Holloway returned to the Windy City to work with Yusef Lateef and Dexter Gordon; in the late ’40s he toured with blues vocalist Roosevelt Sykes. His work so impressed other bluesman that he soon found himself playing and recording with legends like Willie Dixon, Junior Parker, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Lloyd Price, John Mayall, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin, Arthur Prysock and B.B. King.

Though he often is described as a bluesman, Holloway has impeccable jazz credentials, having worked with Ben Webster, Jimmy Rushing, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Sonny Rollins, Red Rodney, Lester Young, Sonny Stitt and Lionel Hampton.

In the early ’60s, he was an essential member (with guitarist George Benson) of Brother, Jack McDuff’s ensemble. For 15 years he was the talent coordinator for L.A. ‘s hotbed of jazz and blues, the Parisian Room.

In recent years Holloway has maintained a musical partnership with Clark Terry, who was a guest at last year’s Coda Jazz Fund Benefit Concert.

The McFadden Brothers

Kansas City natives Ronnie and Lonnie McFadden grew up hearing great music – their father was local bandleader and hoofer Smilin’ Jimmy McFadden. Small wonder the brothers ended up singing, playing and, especially, dancing.

Lonnie McFadden quit Lincoln High School at 16 to go on the road with his first band, the pop-rock ensemble Clyde N’em & Her. Six months later, after a stint in Las Vegas , he returned to KC and recruited younger brother Ronnie for a new group.

The siblings have performed together ever since, touring in the United States and abroad. Ronnie plays alto sax and choreographs; Lonnie specializes in trumpet and provides the musical arrangements. Both are accomplished tap dancers whose routines have been compared to those of the Nicholas Brothers.

Their talents were showcased in “After Hours,” a long-running show at Union Station that re-created life in a KC jazz club in the 1930s; they also displayed their acting chops in the Coterie children’s theater production “The Little Tommy Parker Celebrated Colored Minstrel Show.” For years they were regulars at Branson’s Wayne Newton Theatre.

The Wild Women

of Kansas City

These four local singers offer a world of experience, emotion and talent. They are:

Geneva Price: This versatile performer sings with grace, style and “a kind of clarity and conviction that elevates the music above the level of mere ` jazz ,'” according to Ingram’s magazine.

Myra Taylor : Her career began in the ’30s at the Sunset Club on 12th Street and she had a big hit with “Spider and the Fly.” At 87, she’s as spunky as ever.

Lori Tucker: Her musical tastes range from jazz to R&B, blues and gospel. A featured guest with the famous Ink Spots, she has performed locally with Everette DeVan and the late Richard “Groove” Holmes.

Millie Edwards Nottingham : She’s the tiny woman with the big voice that has made her a regular on the local jazz and blues circuit. She’s also frequently heard on radio and television spots. One of the KC’s best-kept secrets.

– Robert W. Butler

Coda preview

Before the concert on May 15, three free noontime performances have been planned for the food court at One Kansas City Place, 12th and Main streets.

The shows feature the Elder Statesmen of Jazz and high-school musicians between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

The schedule:

May 12: Leon Brady’s KC Jazz Band

May 13: The Lincoln High School Jazz Band

May 14: The Olathe East High School Jazz Band


Performers line up for benefit concert

by James Hart, The Kansas City Star, 4/24/2004

The Coda Jazz Fund – which helps pay funeral, burial or cremation costs for local jazz musicians – has announced the lineup of its third annual benefit concert.

Headliners include vocalist Jon Hendricks, pianist Jay McShann, saxophonist Red Holloway and trombonist Curtis Fuller. The McFadden Brothers and the Wild Women of Kansas City also will perform at 7:30 p.m. May 15 at the Gem Theater in the 18th and Vine Jazz District.

Kansas City Star columnist Steve Penn said this year’s show probably would help the fund reach its $100,000 goal.

The lineup was formally announced at a news conference Friday at the Red Vine restaurant.

The Wild Women – Millie Edwards, Geneva Price, Myra Taylor and Lori Tucker – sang during the event.

The Coda Jazz Fund was formed because many local jazz musicians were dying in poverty and did not have the money for proper burials.

Organizers said the fund was the brainchild of Penn.

Baseball great Buck O’Neil and Juanita Moore, the executive director of the American Jazz Museum , will emcee the benefit concert.

To reach James Hart, call (816) 234-4902 or send e-mail to

On the Web

For more information about the May 15 concert to raise funds to help pay funeral, burial or cremation costs for local jazz musicians, visit


Be noble: Support jazz fund

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 4/22/2004

Jon Hendricks, a world-renowned jazz vocalist, believes the Coda Jazz Foundation is an extremely noble cause.

Coming from someone of Hendricks’ stature, that means plenty.

Hendricks, who lives in Toledo , is traveling to Kansas City next month to use his enormous talent to put the Coda Jazz Foundation over the top in its fund -raising goals.

Three years ago, the Coda Jazz Foundation was formed to raise money to pay the burial, funeral and cremation expenses for families of jazz musicians who couldn’t afford the cost.

Now the effort is on the precipice of reaching its goal. The third annual Coda Jazz Fund Benefit Concert, to be held May 15 at the Gem Theater, should propel the fund past its original goal of $100,000. As with past Coda benefit concerts, the public won’t be disappointed.

Hendricks is bound to be a hit. He’s a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master and a pioneer of the style known as vocalese. He’s also the founder and creator of the singing group Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.

In addition to Hendricks, the lineup includes local pianist Jay McShann, legendary tenor saxophonist Red Holloway and trombonist Curtis Fuller. Holloway has gigged with the likes of singer Billie Holiday and saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Fuller performed with saxophonist John Coltrane.

The concert also will feature an appearance by the McFadden Brothers and the “Wild Women of Kansas City,” featuring Geneva Price, Millie Edwards, Myra Taylor and Lori Tucker. The lineup officially will be announced at a news conference and happy hour at 5 p.m. Friday at the Red Vine, 1700 E. 18th St. , in the 18th and Vine district.

“With all these performers coming together, it’s going to be magical,” said Gerald Dunn, a local saxophonist who is the music coordinator for the concert. “This will be like a parade of stars.”

Juanita Moore, the executive director of the American Jazz Museum , and Buck O’Neil, chairman of the board of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum , will be hosts of the event. Tickets are $125, $75 and $50 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster at (816) 931-3330 or at the American Jazz Museum admission desk.

While The Kansas City Star and Sprint are the primary sponsors, others sponsors this year include Gold Bank and DST. Those companies should be applauded for stepping up to the plate.

Now it’s up to the public to do the same.

“I think Coda is a very noble thing to do,” Hendricks said. “Actually, it’s something that should be done by the government. Foundations like this do the good that is really the responsibility of the government.”

Hendricks finds the thought of passing a hat to pay for a career jazz musician’s funeral or burial repulsive. He says countries such as France and Great Britain do a much better job of supporting the arts than the U.S. government.

” America is the only country in the world that doesn’t recognize its own cultural art form,” Hendricks said. “That must stop. Otherwise we have no right to criticize anyone anywhere.”

Kansas Citians have always been willing to share the burdens of people they care for. And local jazz artists are some of the most beloved people in this city.

Supporters of Coda this year will forever stake claim to a unique niche. They will always have the satisfaction of realizing their efforts sent the Coda Jazz Fund over the top. And according to a living jazz master, that’s a very noble gesture.

To reach Steve Penn, call (816) 234-4417 or send e-mail to


Honoring a statesman of KC Jazz

by Steve Penn, The Kansas City Star, 4/13/2004

The time has come to mark the final resting place of Everett Alvin Dodd.

Dodd isn’t a household name in the jazz world. Yet he was known around town as a fine jazz drummer.

And when it came to the Mutual Musicians Foundation, Dodd would do anything to keep the doors open and the lights on. He was there for the foundation.

Now another foundation, known as the Coda Jazz Foundation, will be there for Dodd.

As a jazz drummer, Dodd traveled with many bands during the early part of his career. From 1991 to 1997 he was vice president of the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

His career included two cameo motion picture appearances, in “Bucktown” in 1975 and “The Last of the Blue Devils” in 1976.

Dodd was inducted into the Elder Statesmen of Kansas City Jazz in November 1999. That event turned out to be his farewell.

Afterward, Dodd battled pneumonia, lapsed into a coma for two weeks and died a month later, on Christmas Eve.
His family was able to pay for his burial in Forest Hill Cemetery. But his grave has gone unmarked.

“I have a piece of paper that shows me where his grave is at, and I know just about where it is,” said his widow, Shirley Dodd.

Now she will know for certain. The Coda Jazz Fund plans to permanently mark his grave soon. The fund covers the burial, funeral or cremation cost for lifetime jazz musicians whose families are unable to pay.

Shirley Dodd told me that her late husband’s death so soon after he received his induction into the Elder Statesmen was not a coincidence.

“The way I looked at it, that award was what he was waiting for,” she said. “Being inducted into the Elder Statesmen was something he always talked about. It was something he wanted. After that, it seemed like he really just gave up. He was satisfied.”

Dodd was born in 1938 in Springfield, and his family moved to Kansas City when he was 4. He attended R.T. Coles High School, where he learned to play drums. Before he finished school, Dodd started performing with bands.

Dodd eventually concentrated on performing in Kansas City. He played a few gigs with notables such as pianist Jay McShann and Claude “Fiddler” Williams.

Don Cox, who is on the board of the Mutual Musicians Foundation, remembers Dodd as a sharp dresser and a dedicated foundation member.

An aching back the last 10 years of his life left Dodd’s musical career at a standstill.

“He couldn’t carry those drums like he used to,” said Shirley Dodd. “The last 10 years, he really wasn’t playing too much anywhere.”

At the time of his death, Dodd’s only income was a Social Security disability check of about $500 a month, not nearly enough for a grave marker.

Brookings Cemetery donated the marker to the jazz fund, which will place it on Dodd’s grave. An event marking its placement is being planned.

“I’ve been trying to get enough money to do it,” Shirley Dodd said of a grave marker. “It doesn’t look like I’m getting there very fast. Now I’m retired from nursing. But I always keep it on my mind.”

To reach Steve Penn, call (816) 234-4417 or send e-mail to

First glance
The third annual Coda Jazz Fund Benefit Concert will be May 15. The public can help by supporting the event or sending contributions to the Coda Jazz Fund, P.O. Box 412116, Kansas City, MO 64141-2116.



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