This morning I was listening to Blues singer Etta James singing Trust in Me and my years in Kansas City come alive. Moving to Kansas City in the mid-1950s was a real eye-opener for a Texas girl who grew up with ranch style houses, the Grand Ole Opry, Minnie Pearl, and two or three days of snow every few years.
It was definitely not Texas!
Bill and I married the first week of January moved to Kansas City a few days later, it was colder than anything I had ever experienced and the first thing I did was buy a REAL winter coat and fur-lined boots. Then we started looking for a place to live, he was in the military and we were required to live within so many driving minutes of his base. In this part of town the buildings were mostly dark brownstone, very old, very dismal, and covered in black soot from the steel mills. What I really wanted was a place that was painted white and not covered in soot! We went east on Truman Road to Independence and found a tiny white duplex and moved in, emphasis on tiny! Time passed and we moved to a much larger apartment in one of those soot-covered brownstone buildings. Once you got inside it was fine and I loved, really loved, the basement, the floor in our apartment was always warm.
After the initial surprise of everything being so different I loved my years in Kansas City, particularly the music—definitely not the snow and soot! New Orleans is said to be the birthplace of jazz, but it’s also said America’s music grew up in Kansas City. KC jazz is a style of jazz that developed in the 1930s when the transition was made from big band to the musical improvisation style of Bebop. The Kansas City sound was largely instrumental, but it showcased the blues vocal traditions of New Orleans and became known as the Kansas City Blues.
There was a saying among the Army guys where my husband was stationed, “All roads lead to Kansas City Jazz Clubs,” so when Bill had time off we would head for 18th and Vine streets in the heart of downtown KC. This was home to many blues and jazz clubs and all were great. Jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker, Big Joe turner, Ella Fitzgerald, and Orin “Hot Lips” Page are forever linked to this neighborhood.
The Blue Room exists today and is chock-full of jazz artifacts, vintage photographs and memorabilia. The club is part of the American Jazz Museum which celebrates the careers and legacies of Charlie “Bird” Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and other jazz greats.
A few years ago I was blessed to go on a trip with my two daughters and show them around Kansas City and Independence. We went to the Blue Room and had a wonderful (very nostalgic for me) night of Kansas City Blues music. Earlier that evening we enjoyed a delicious KC steak at the Golden Ox Restaurant in the stockyards where Bill and I loved to go. Special memories for me of the 1950s before my daughters were born, and now, special memories of the time when the three of us visited the places their dad and I loved.
Memories, they have a way of sneaking up on you and holding you captive. Today has been one of those days when my mind has been filled with our years in Kansas City, so many life-changing experiences, so many stories. Today, it was the Jazz clubs….
So here’s to my Bill and the life we shared,
I still miss you after 41 years,
A part of me will always be there … holding hands with my love,
In our favorite jazz club,
Sipping a vodka gimlet,
And listening to the soulful music of The Temptations!