Kind of a dream night here in Kansas City last night. My wife, Roxanne took me to dinner. Lucky man, KC strips at the Golden Ox on 16th and Genessee. A 40s joint in the stockyard section, wood paneling, pleated bar, live jazz wafting in from the lounge. Even a brief departure from our glowy repast when, in the men’s room, I came face to face with a panoramic photo of the yards, circa 1910. The rawness of woodframed housings and pens, tiny figures of men burning remains — The hard terrors of the cattle industry churning my gut. And, yes, I turned from it, back to the paradise of the evening, which only got better.
We summoned our adoptive Pakistani cab driver, Al no less, who sped us back to our hotel, the Westin. Now it was a bottle of Riesling in the rooftop Benton’s (named for painter Thomas Hart Benton), where another jazz ensemble was playing, the Stephanie Laws Jazz Combo, with Wayne Hawkins, piano; Bob Bowman, bass; and Tim Cambron, drums. Even sans sax, they would’ve made Bird proud, moving like a long river through standards and pop surprises like Moondance. Even closing with “Over the Rainbow,” the tune Harold Arlen wrote in a rush on his way to the”Wizard” set; the tune Harold Arlen didn’t think had a shot. Oh yes, we are in Kansas.
And all the while, behind our couch was broad a picture window opening out onto the KC skyline. The Western Auto sign conducting the proceedings like a conductor with a neon baton, avenues of light funneling downtown.
Yes, I love America, and it doesn’t get purer to a junkie like me than the heartland. R’s like me. We revel in discovering the soul of a town. I need to feel its history, its music, its people. I need to peel back its layers, hear its long tales . I need it in the raw.
That’s what I’ve done in my songs over the last decade. I write about place. I try to see a city through time. That’s what I did in my debut album, “King Kong Serenade.” After all, New York’s my hometown. I drove its taxicabs, I sang on its streetcorners, I cooked in its kitchens and I wrote for its newspapers. As a sampler, try “Crossroads of America.”