by Rita Hanch

At the historic crossroad streets of 18th and Vine lays one of Kansas City’s most treasured cultural institutions: the Jazz District. There are many ways to experience this culture, but many enjoy freely walking the area, visiting the museum and whichever jazz clubs and restaurants they choose. For anyone unfamiliar with the area, here is a beginner’s guide to the Jazz District on 18th and Vine. 

Murals like this one decorate the buildings of Kansas City’s jazz district.

In the words of local poet Glenn North, 

“Yes, there was a majesty, a splendor, going far beyond wealth, that occupied the space between 18th and 12th. If you take the time to notice that glory isn’t gone, at the American Jazz Museum the tradition jams on.” 

One way to kick off an exploration of the jazz that the district prides itself on is to stop by the American Jazz Museum. For $10, guests are given full access to exhibits at the museum. The AJM gives a rich history of American jazz with interactive elements. Visitors will first learn about Charlie Parker, also known as Yardbird or Bird. A Kansas City native, Parker’s composing and saxophone playing became highly influential in the development of the fast-paced jazz called bebop. The museum is a great place to learn how American jazz evolved and the impact it made in the Kansas City Metro area. Not only are guests given the opportunity to read about the history of jazz, but the museum offers several interactive elements that allow any age to explore the sights and sounds of this famous genre of music. 

The exterior of the American Jazz Museum.

Visitors who have worked up an appetite might be interested in one of the city’s favorite barbeque restaurants, located just a block away on Brooklyn Ave. Arthur Bryant’s is a no-nonsense restaurant with smoked meats served on classic Wonder Bread. If wanting to venture off to other flavors, consider Bayou on the Vine. This restaurant offers home cajun cooking, which transports guests from 18th and Vine to the southern tastes of Louisiana. 

Around 7 p.m., the crowds usually head to one of the four jazz clubs on 18th and Vine. Seasoned visitors and newcomers alike can sit and listen to live jazz while enjoying the company of other music fans. One of the most popular clubs, The Blue Room, is connected to the museum and mimics the style of a retro jazz club in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Here guests can enjoy the sounds of local and visiting jazz players.  

The Blue Room is one of the KC jazz district’s most frequented clubs. Photo used with permission from Bridging the Gap.

The Blue Room is one of the KC jazz district’s most frequented clubs. Photo used with permission from Bridging the Gap.

Kristen Lewis, a Kansas City college student, and frequent 18th and Vine jazz club-goer, explained why she enjoys a night of jazz over other nightlife options in the city. 

“I like to see live jazz because it’s vastly different than the typical going out scene,” Lewis said.“The jazz club offers a calm and soothing environment, which makes it easier to enjoy than a nightclub.” 

As a college student, Lewis says she is always looking for inexpensive ways to have fun on a Saturday night. The low cover charges of Jazz clubs make hours of musically enriching entertainment possible, Lewis said.

If visitors of 18th and Vine are looking to keep the jazz going, the Mutual Musical Foundation opens every weekend night at 1 a.m. Here, musicians and listeners can gather together to produce and listen to jazz until the sun rises at 5 a.m. 

Cathy Callicoat, an attendee of the jazz sessions at the Mutual Music Foundation, explained her first experience at MMF.

Jazz sessions at the Mutual Music Foundation often stretch until the sun rises. Photo courtesy of KCJazzLark.

I became a true Kansas Citian in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I who have lived here all my life,” Callicoat said. “Way more than barbeque, the Royals, the Plaza…this is our heritage. The spirits of Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Big Joe Turner, and dozens of other legends live on here in the talented players who come here after their other gigs and jam till the cows come home. I’m always amazed at the quality of the local musicians you find in this town; nowhere is that truer than here.” 

Similarly, Lauren Caldwell of Kansas City gave an illustrative account of how her evening turned into a morning of jazz listening at KC’s oldest jazz institution.

“The music and magic happen upstairs,” Caldwell said. “Leave all fancy expectations behind. This place is made for music and nothing else. The tables and chairs are mismatched but the entertainment is spot-on. The band was already jamming out and they didn’t stop for hours. Suddenly I looked around and there was standing room only at 3 a.m. The band said they would play until 5 a.m. but I had to call it quits at 4.”

The landmark 18th and Vine light-up sign, replicating neon jazz clubs signs from the ‘60s and ‘70s.

To learn more about the American Jazz Museum and all things 18th and Vine, be sure to check out