Stopped on my way home from work the other night at Hayward’s Pit BBQ for Todd Wilkinson’s Pit Band jazz jam. Had a fantastic time.
Just as I expected, Todd had big group of great players with him. These included James Ward on bass, Jeff Shirley on guitar, Paul Robertson on keyboards, and Keith Mallory on drums.
The jam session is every Monday evening, 6:00p.m.-8:30p.m. That works out great for me. I work just down the street from Hayward’s Pit BBQ, and I get off everyday at 5:30p.m. This means I can go directly from work to the jam session, and still be home early enough to get a good night’s sleep.
I’ve been to many jam sessions in Kansas City. What I found refreshing about Todd Wilkinson’s Pit Band was the fact that they play a lot of contemporary jazz tunes. It’s a lot of funk and jazz/rock fusion. It’s not that I enjoy this kind of jazz better than straight-ahead jazz, but I’ve heard very few bands in Kansas City playing contemporary jazz since I’ve been here.
I really believe that the reason most Kansas City jazz bands play mostly straight-ahead standards as opposed to contemporary jazz is because it’s simply more practical. Most of the busiest Kansas City jazz musicians play with lots of different people, and lots of different bands. They play with whoever currently has work for them. That’s how they stay busy. Contemporary jazz tunes tend to have pretty structured arrangements. Therefore, to play them well, you either have to rehearse them together, or have really well written charts and players that you know will read them accurately.
This is not true with most of the old jazz standards. Most jazz musicians already know those tunes, and there’s usually very little arranging involved, other than the melody and chords to guide you. That makes it very easy to grab a bass player, drummer, etc., and go play a gig, with no rehearsal whatsoever.
Todd Wilkinson has solved this situation by doing a couple of things. First of all, he’s playing with the same musicians every Monday night. That alone helps a lot. In addition he has well written charts, and musicians who read very well. This results in a tight ensemble, playing really interesting tunes that you probably won’t hear most other Kansas City jazz bands attempt.
The band played the first set by themselves and then opened the jam up for other musicians. I ended up doing lots of playing which was great.
I look forward to hearing them and playing with them again.