Monday, March 9, 2009

Kansas City Here I Come

Benny Moten Orchestra, Thick Lip Stomp, 1926

Benny Moten Orchestra, Moten Stomp, 1927

New Orleans was the birthplace of Jazz, Chicago in the early 20s was its second home, and in the mid to late 20s, New York City became the place to be, but that doesn't mean that great Jazz wasn't played elsewhere. Until prominent Jazz bands became nationally broadcast in the 30s, so-called "Territory Bands" were more common, and the greatest territory band outside of the great capitals of jazz was Benny Moten's Kansas City Orchestra. Getting his start in the early 20s, Benny Moten's band dominated the midwestern-plains circuit. Its earliest recordings in 1923 show a more ragtime based rhythm, but also a focus on the blues that would remain characteristic of the Kansas City Style well into the 30s, and which was one of the elements that made the Basie band the force that brought the living, beating heart back into Jazz in the Swing era, when commercialism and sophistication were threatening to stifle it. By the way, the devil-may-care attitude of Kansas City's Mayor Prendergast and his machine encouraged the proliferation of night clubs with hot music and hotter patrons that made the city the center of vice, accompanied by the swinginest jams ever heard, all through the era.

And, if for no other reason, the Moten orchestra is famous as the birthplace and core of the later Count Basie Band. In fact, Basie got his big break from Moten later in the 20s, and he met a number of later Basie stalwarts, prominently bassist Walter Page, in the Moten band, or in Page's case, even earlier in Walter Page's Blue Devils, later folded into the Moten Band. Basie, and later Goodman, also featured Moten's tune 'Moten Swing' prominently in their playbooks in the 30s. Benny Moten himself, though, wasn't around to hear it. He died prematurely of what should have been a routine operation in 1933, and Basie inherited the greatest territory band that ever was.

We shall hear more of this band as we move through the years...

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