Michael Pagan | Kansas City Jazz Pianist

Stopped at the Majestic Saturday night to check out the Michael Pagán Trio. I had gig just down the street that ended early, so I figured I’d take advantage of the opportunity to go see someone else play.

For those of you who haven’t had a chance to hear Michael Pagán, he’s a great pianist. This Michael Pagan, Kansas City jazz pianistis the first time I’d heard his name, though they tell me he’s been around the area for quite awhile. Guess I need to get out more! Michael is a jazz professor at Ottawa University. As a composer/arranger Pagán has written over 150 works, mostly in the jazz idiom. In addition to being a very knowledgeable and talented jazz musician, I found him to be a very humble, and down to earth type of guy. Hopefully we’ll have the chance to work together.

To my surprise and delight, Michael had Seth Lee and Tommy Ruskin with him.

Seth Lee is a fantastic upright bass player. I’ve played quite a few gigs with Seth over the years, but I hadn’t  seen him for quite awhile. He sounded great with Michael Pagán just like any other time I’ve heard him. We got to catch up a little bit, although not as much as I would have liked. Guess I need to give him a call.

I can’t say enough about Tommy Ruskin. Tommy was one of the first people I met when I came to Kansas City. He’s always been somewhat of a mentor to me.

When I first came to Kansas City, I didn’t own a drum-set. I was coming here from the Army Band, and they supplied all our instruments for us. I told Tommy that I was shopping for drum-sets. He told me not to spend a bunch of money and go into debt. He said he had several drum-sets at his house, and I could come over and pick one out. He said he’d sell it to me cheap. I bought a Ludwig set from him, put some new heads on it, and it sounded great. I’ve been playing it ever since.

He gave me some great advice when I got here as well. He said I should start my own group, and do my own bookings. I got to do a lot more playing right away because I booked my own group than I probably would have done if I had waited in line with all the other drummers for the phone to ring. It also gave me a lot more opportunity to develop as a singer, since at that time, I’d done very little singing with a jazz group. It gave me a lot more control over my career.

Saturday night, I got a chance to site down and talk with him. It had been a long time, way too long. We talked about the Kansas City jazz scene, and what had gone right for me, as well as some things that had been really frustrating and disappointing. Tommy, as always was encouraging. Talking to him was like getting a shot of confidence, and enthusiasm in my arm. He let me sit in with the trio, which of course was a blast.

He told me he’s now 70 years old. He still swings. He still has that great touch with the brushes, and he still plays some of the most musical, and creative solos I’ve ever heard. It inspired me once again, and made me want to keep playing and practicing so that hopefully when I’m 70 years old, I can be playing as well as Tommy.



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