Jazz Band salutes Benny Carter’s “Kansas City Suite

Amelia Perron

The chapel will be subject to a transformation into 1930s Kansas City Friday night, thanks to a performance by the Lawrence University Jazz Band. The jazz band will perform Benny Carter’s “Kansas City Suite,” as inspired by the legendary performance by the Count Basie Orchestra.
Kansas City was a happening place in the 1930s for jazz musicians. As jazz band director Nick Keelan said, “Many musicians got stranded in Kansas City. Count Basie was one of those. The great players that located there musically fed each other. Kansas City was a place that players could find jam sessions every day and night which allowed them to develop musical skills and directions.”
The influence of this time and place was significant enough to merit a set of tunes recorded by the Count Basie Orchestra in 1960. That music is the “Kansas City Suite,” written by bandleader, alto sax player and composer Benny Carter.
The various pieces all commemorate certain key aspects of the place and time. Many of the songs pay tribute to specific places – “Rompin’ at the Reno” and “Blue Five Jive” give a nod to their namesake clubs, and “Jackson County Jubilee” refers to the county Kansas City is located in.
Carter wrote the music not only to commemorate the time and the place but also to recognize their influence on the Count Basie Orchestra. Consequently, the suite is written in the trademark swing style of the orchestra.
“Characteristic of his rhythm section was an equal emphasis on all four beats of the measure,” Keelan explained. “Basie’s piano style is open and sparse, not emphasizing great technique but instead simple melodic and sometimes humorous phrases. Some incorrectly interpreted this style as generated by a lack of technique but this was not the case.”
The 10 pieces have a wide range of tempi, from slow ballads to fast swing tunes. But the pieces do have some unifying factors. “Typical of Benny Carter’s writing and the style of the Basie Orchestra, all are ‘happy sounding’ pieces,” said Keelan.
“The concert will be more than just a performance,” he said. “Along with the performance of the pieces will be introductions of the pieces with a brief discussion of the music, the players and the era that generated the music.”
The concert is at 8 p.m. Friday in Memorial Chapel. Admission is free and open to the public.