[photos by Diallo Javonne French]
The crowd at The Blue Room on Thursday night was not easily impressed, a right they duly reserve. During Kansas City’s jazz heyday in the 1930’s and 1940’s, upwards of 140 or so jazz clubs sprawled across the KC metro, with the real epicenter scalding at the 18th & Vine neighborhood which included approximately 40 jazz clubs on a single strip. The Blue Room is just one of them. Based off speaking to one of the American Jazz Museum’s more integral figures on Thursday night, he painted a picture for me that I could only describe as a Westport on steroids while we did our best to compare the current Westport dance crowds with the jazz scene in the 30’s and 40’s. Though that era has passed, Kansas City’s old jazz explosion has shrapnel still flying today in 2012.
Dutch producer, Nicolay, probably most loved for his work as part of The Foreign Exchange alongside North Carolina rapper, Phonte, has built a reputation as a real favorite for the hip hop and jazz aficionados kicking it amongst us. As usual when I attend a show there, the host at Thursday’s show asked the audience how many of them had never been to the Blue Room before. I could guess that it’s at shows like this in which a scheduled performer mixes hip hop into their jazz set or is known for hip hop work, where the Blue Room tends to see a lot of unfamiliar faces under their roof at the corner of 18th & Vine. I can specifically remember Reach, Izmore and Diverse’s live hip hop tribute shows at The Blue Room wherein what seemed like nearly half of the crowd raised their hands to note their first time to the venue. Nicolay’s clout for warm, relaxed beats injected the Blue Room in the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District in Kansas City, MO on Thursday with a shot of new faces. And unfortunately, a lot of Kansas City music heads probably missed out on this event. I went to the show after hearing about it for the first time on the day of.
Nicolay was accompanied by a band called The Hot at Nights, spearheaded by 8-string guitar hotshot, Chris Boerner, a real saxaphone ace in Matt Douglas, and Nick Baglio on drums. Nicolay manned the keys.
If you’re a sucker for house music with horns like I am, the group’s second or third song in paired some electronic drums from Baglio’s keyboard and some wicked sax play from Matt Douglas. I wasn’t expecting to go to 18th & Vine and hear something that would’ve made Roy Davis Jr. blush. Regardless, it was enough to cause my head to jerk up from the notes I was taking on my phone from that first kick. It fittingly served as a jam that a lot of people could draw some kind of pulse from. After some equally rousing instrumentation from the group, it was clear that the crowd was on board.
Then, in the middle of one song, Nicolay came out of nowhere with his own vocals, adding some Roger Troutman-esque key effects, altering his notes mid-wail. The result was pure magic. Aside from the standing ovation we gave at the end of the show, this was probably the pinnacle of the entire performance. Nicolay’s veins were practically popping through his neck, and I thought he might explode at one point. It was one of those moments when your jaw just drops and the thought of firing up the video function on your phone never enters your mind until the morning.
In an age where the hottest rapper in New York sounds more like Three 6 than The RZA, this show was evidence to me but probably a mere reminder to many who frequent The Blue Room that the influence of jazz circles the globe. Being located in the vast metro and one of the original cradles of jazz that is Kansas City, it put a lot of things in perspective. Three types of people made up this show; those who couldn’t have cared less, those who wondered how it went (with a hint of jealousy), and those who left with perhaps some of their favorite live performance memories of the year so far.