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Jay McShann: Goin' to Kansas City

Chip O'Brien

Jay Mcshann

Goin' to Kansas City

Label: Stony Plain
US Release Date: 2003-09-23
UK Release Date: 2003-11-03

He's 87 years old and still going strong. Jay McShann's enjoyment and appreciation of what he does, which is cook up some great jazz and blues, is infectious. Maybe that's why he's lasted this long. Joined by such talent as pianist Johnnie Johnson, Maria Muldaur, and guitarist extraordinaire Duke Robillard on Goin' to Kansas City, this living legend delivers again and again.

As a young man during the late '30s and early '40s in Kansas City, Missouri, pianist and vocalist Jay McShann was at the forefront of two new musics: the rhythm and blues that would eventually morph into rock 'n' roll, giving American pop a permanent facelift, and bebop, the harmonically complex and demanding new genre of jazz that was perhaps rock's antithesis. McShann cut a record, his first hit, as a young man in the early '40s called "Confessin' the Blues" with a group that included a young Charlie Parker, one of the two progenitors of bebop (the other being Dizzy Gillespie). "Confessin' the Blues" was popular for several years and became a sort of primer for early R&B groups.

Goin' to Kansas City is a good album by any assessment, comprised of solid blues and standards, great musicianship, and the requisite guest appearances by such contemporary blues luminaries as Maria Muldaur and Duke Robillard. But when you throw in the fact that McShann is 87, the album takes on a bit more grandeur. One comes to realize that Goin' to Kansas City is more a slice of American history, one that¹s still kickin'. Producer Holger Petersen also handles nicely the lengthy (19:51) bonus track interview with McShann at his home and at his piano, ultimately lending the album an archival aspect.

The most surprising thing about the choice of material for this album is that more than half the songs were either written or co-written by McShann. Tracks such as "Nasty Attitude", where McShann is joined by Robillard and his tasty fret work, and "Just for You", a solo piano piece played in the spirited stride style of James P. Johnson, stand up well beside blues and standards like "Kansas City", "When I Grow Too Old to Dream", and "Ain't Nobody's Business". McShann performs the latter alone, giving it a defiant edge. As well he should; he's defied much, namely, time.

The album opener, the Leiber/Stoller classic blues, "Kansas City", is apropos. After all, Kansas City is where McShann got his start and has lived and performed for most of his life. However, the full band arrangement of the song, while spirited, does not quite match the authenticity of the piano duet version of the song McShann plays with pianist Johnnie Johnson, with Johnson singing, later in the album. The second piano duet McShann and Johnson perform together on McShann's "Some Kinda Crazy" is probably the best track on Goin' to Kansas City. The interplay and weaving of bluesy runs and left-hand boogie woogie makes you want to get up and dance.

Other noteworthy tracks are McShann's duet with fellow blues pianist/vocalist Maria Muldaur on McShann's classic "Confessin' the Blues", and "My Chile", a McShann composition played in the style of New Orleans great, Professor Longhair. McShann and band members sizzle on this one, so much so that the listener seriously begins to wonder if McShann is lying about his age.

A great collection of recordings made over the past several years, Goin' to Kansas City is a must have for fans of Jay McShann and a probably-want-to-pick-up for fans of blues and jazz in general.

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