Young New Century Jazz Band musicians learning from the best

Elite KCKCC-based band to perform Wednesday at Unity Temple on the Plaza

Former KCKCC Director of Bands Marlin Cooper was guest soloist at the first performance of the New Century Jazz Band at the Mason Jar Wednesday. The band is honoring Cooper for his legacy as one of the very first to teach jazz education at the college level in Kansas City. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC

It’s true. Old musicians don’t fade away, they just keep playing.

In many cases, such as the New Century Jazz Band, they also give direction, experience and motivation to a new wave of up-and-coming jazz musicians at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

An elite group of musicians made up of KCKCC alumni, music educators and graduates and present and future students, the New Century Jazz Band will make its formal debut in “Spirituality and All That Jazz” series Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th. Held by well-known jazz icon Tim Whitmer, it’s the longest running jazz series featuring local jazz musicians.

Organized and directed by Jim Mair, KCKCC director of instrumental music, the band made its public debut Thursday night at the Mason Jar Restaurant at 94th just south of State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. The debut featured guest soloist and co-director Marlin Cooper, KCKCC’s instrumental band director for 27 years (1972-1999).

Director of Instrumental Studies at KCKCC Jim Mair has founded and directed the New Century Jazz Band, so named in preparation for KCKCC’s 100th birthday in 2023. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

“We chose the name New Century in preparation of KCKCC’s 100th birthday in 2023 and we’re featuring Marlin Cooper to honor his legacy as one of the very first educators at the college level teaching jazz education in Kansas City,” Mair said.

Mair is a veteran at organizing instrumental groups. His first community band organized shortly after his hiring at KCKCC in 1999 eventually evolved into the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, an elite orchestra he and his wife Mary headed until 2010 when they stepped aside to devote more time to their two children, Mandy and Jameson.

“With Mandy starting college at KCKCC where she’ll be singing with John Stafford’s choral groups and Jameson playing trumpet and drum set at Olathe Northwest, we figured it was time to start a community band, one that plays at the highest level possible, not one that plays just for fun,” Mair said. The response was almost overwhelming. “We have a waiting list; we started in June and have enough people for two bands. We’re trying to work out the logistics for two bands. It’s a good problem to have. It encourages everyone to get better and a great motivation for our incoming freshmen.”

Saxophonist Herschel McWilliams was one of a half-dozen KCKCC alums helping give direction and motivation to current and future KCKCC musicians as members of the New Century Jazz Band. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

Of the 21 members of the band, four are current students at KCKCC; five are or will be incoming freshmen; and six KCKCC alums. Herschel McWilliams II, a lead saxophonist who played for Cooper in the late 1990s, is the oldest alum. His father, Herschel Sr., also played in Cooper’s first band in 1973. Trombonist Karita Carter, the sister-in-law of KCKCC grad and Kansas City jazz legend Bobby Watson, could have been an alum. “I tried to recruit her but she went to Wichita State,” Cooper remembered.

Andres Reyes, who played drums when Cooper took the KCKCC Jazz Band to the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1985, has two sons play in the hand – Andre Jr. who plays keyboard and drummer Antonio, a current KCKCC student. Other current students include Tm Keith, guitar; Densil Malabre, congas and percussion; and saxophonist Adam Bender, who is also an apprentice at BAC Music as an instrument repair technician.

Incoming freshmen include Evan West of Shawnee Mission North and Samantha Angel of Tonganoxie, trumpets; and Henry Fears of Shawnee Mission Northwest and Lucas Porterfield of Tonganoxie, trombones. A fifth, KCKCC Jazz Camp grad Asa Martin, is a senior at Shawnee Mission North and will enroll at KCKCC in 2020.

Alums include trumpeter Jon Tobaben, a recent grad entering the home health care profession; and bass Sean Phelps, who is employed in information technology by Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools. The band will be losing two saxophone alums, Rayvon Haggerty, who is finishing his music degree at Missouri Western University, and Richard Tucker who was recently hired by the Sweetwater Corp. and will be relocating in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

Non-alums bring a wealth of talent. Saxophonist Michael Harris II is the band director at Washington High School while trombonist Sarah Braun is a UMKC grad and a substitute with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. From the trumpet section, Joe Sisco plays with the Fountain City Brass Band; Armando Gutierrez leads a mariachi band in Kansas City; and Daniel Dissmore is a recent graduate of Kansas State.

Mair also joins in on occasion. One of Kansas City’s top saxophone and clarinet players, Mair now performs with Tim Whitmer’s host band and with his son Jameson, who recently took first place as Downbeat magazine’s No. 1 middle school trumpet soloist in the nation.

Urban Sketchers capture the skyline and more at Central Avenue in KCK

Inside Splitlog Coffee the Urban Sketchers sketched away. Urban Sketchers draw on the spot, what they see, rather than in a studio. (Photo copyright 2019 by Rebecca Tombaugh)
Artists from the metro area painted the skyline from Splitlog Coffee on Central Avenue. (Photo copyright 2019 by Rebecca Tombaugh)

by Rebecca Tombaugh, reporting artist

Artists, collectively known as “Urban Sketchers Kansas City,” invaded Strawberry Hill last week to do what they do – paint, sketch, hang out and drink coffee.

“I said ‘absolutely!’” said Simeon Bricker, manager of Splitlog Coffee, 548 Central Ave., recalling what he said when he got the call from Cody Wheelock asking if the artists could use the coffee shop as a base of operations.

“I was already a fan of Cody online,” said Bricker.

“We really love this location,” said Simeon Bricker, manager of Splitlog. He says the spirit of the shop pays homage to the Wyandot Indians who settled here, including Mathias Splitlog. (Photo copyright 2019 by Rebecca Tombaugh)

Wheelock set up a Saturday morning for the Urban Sketchers to paint in July. The Urban Sketchers are an international organization with chapters all over the world. The sketchers just draw what they see in the moment and post it online. Anyone can join. The aim is to “show the world, one drawing at a time.” The Kansas City chapter is just a year old and has 500-plus members.

Wheelock, artist and instructor, says he got the idea for a “paint out” at Splitlog after he stopped one day by Slap’s BBQ across the street.

“I turned and saw that skyline – what a great spot to do a paint out!” he said.

Jennifer Rivas worked on her watercolor across the street from Splitlog. (Photo copyright 2019 by Rebecca Tombaugh)

Wheelock says his family was living in Nebraska when they recently decided to go for it – open a studio and teach classical art. They narrowed down the “where” to Denver, Minneapolis, and Kansas City. The cost of living, the laid-back atmosphere, and the way businesses support the art community made them pick this area.

“Kansas City has a phenomenal art community,” says Wheelock. “It’s just awesome.”

Cody Wheelock’s palette as he worked on his oil painting. Wheelock organized the “paint out” at Splitlog. (Photo copyright 2019 by Rebecca Tombaugh)

Splitlog Coffee is about two years old and from the coffee shop is a full view of the city of Kansas City, Missouri, skyline.

“We really love the location,” he says.

Some Urban Sketchers, like Rebecca Tombaugh, did an abstract of the skyline from Splitlog. (Sketch copyright 2019 by Rebecca Tombaugh)

Bricker says they picked this spot because it was on the “hill” and so close to the highway, there’s parking, a drive-through, and also – a person had to drive all the way to Midtown to get a good cup of coffee.

“We tried to make it easy to come and go,” said Bricker.

Splitlog Coffee has covered seating in the back of the shop, where more artists set up their own shops to paint among the coffee customers. (Photo copyright 2019 by Rebecca Tombaugh)

Splitlog is really coming into its own now, says Bricker with a “wonderful group of regulars.”

Bricker has been a barista for 10 years, and won a couple top national awards for his latte creations. He mentions the one-and-only “Strawberry Hill Latte.” You can drink it hot or iced, he explains. “It’s strawberry and vanilla, a good balance with espresso, and softly sweet, with chocolate-y and coffee notes.”

Splitlog Coffee is home of the original “Strawberry Hill Latte.” (Photo copyright 2019 by Rebecca Tombaugh)

Inside, actual split logs make up the counter and shelves on the wall. But the name is a way to honor the history of the Wyandot Indians who settled in the area, including Mathias Splitlog (1818-1897). Bricker talks about his man’s legacy of traveling to Washington to represent the Wyandot Indians on his own dime, of being an entrepreneur, and always giving back to his own community.

“We love his story,” says Bricker.

So, of course, says Bricker, Wheelock called to see if the Urban Sketchers could paint at the coffee spot, Bricker loved the idea. That’s what they wanted to do with the shop, create and support communities, a space for people to come be creative or a work space. Bricker says a lot of people who work for the Unified Government pop in as well. He expects even more customers when the new KU Med Center opens.

“It doesn’t cost you anything,” he says.

Splitlog is open 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. They are closed on Sunday.

Bricker says Splitlog is expanding its current location to include more seating and new food items. A second Splitlog location is planned for the Pendleton Heights on the Missouri side. Later this year, they will be roasting their own coffee beans.

For more information go to www.splitlog.coffee.

Jill Tichenor worked on capturing the coffee shop and the mural wall behind it. (Photo copyright 2019 by Rebecca Tombaugh)

Cody Wheelock’s studio is “Fount Atelier of Fine Art,” based in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. However, Wheelock is offering “blended” art courses for anyone of any skill level, including beginners, that mixes online teaching and studio. He says he starts with how to sharpen a pencil. For more information, go to his website at www.fountatelier.com.

Rebecca Tombaugh is a former managing editor for The Kansas City Kansan. She is also a founding member of the Kansas City Urban Sketchers. To join the group, go to Urban Sketcher Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/735851173249000/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

Story, photos and artwork copyright 2019 by Rebecca Tombaugh

At the Fringe Festival …

“Puerto Rican American Gothic,” a comedy, was playing on Tuesday night at the Loretto Commons, 1111 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Missouri. The performance includes adult language. The Fringe Festival continues through July 28. For more information, visit https://kcfringe.org/ (Photo by William Crum)
“Puerto Rican American Gothic,” a comedy, was playing on Tuesday night at the Loretto Commons, 1111 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Missouri. The performance includes adult language. The Fringe Festival continues through July 28. For more information, visit https://kcfringe.org/ (Photo by William Crum)
“Puerto Rican American Gothic,” a comedy, was playing on Tuesday night at the Loretto Commons, 1111 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Missouri. The performance includes adult language. The Fringe Festival continues through July 28. For more information, visit https://kcfringe.org/ (Photo by William Crum)