Urban/Suburban: Bright Lights, Jazz City

Explore two of Kansas City’s favorite destinations for all things jazz.

Story by Katy Schamberger

(Editor’s note: Take Five Coffee + Bar is now closed.) 

If Kansas City’s official cuisine is barbecue, then there’s no doubt that the city’s soundtrack is filled with the smoky, seductive tones of jazz. Since blues singers and ragtime influenced the city’s early jazz in the 1920s, the music has flourished in Kansas City, which, at one time, was home to more than 100 live jazz venues including nightclubs, dance halls and vaudeville houses.

Music has undoubtedly changed since those early days, but jazz clubs remain a popular destination in Kansas City. And what better way to unveil KC Magazine’s newest feature, Urban/Suburban, than by highlighting two favorite local live jazz spots: Green Lady Lounge in downtown Kansas City and Take Five Coffee + Bar in Overland Park. Each venue’s signature experience may differ, but they share two important commonalities: a love of jazz and a dedication to helping Kansas City’s jazz community grow and thrive. We’ll raise a glass to that!

Urban/Green Lady Lounge

They say the best relationships build over time—and that’s exactly how John Scott, owner of Green Lady Lounge, cultivated his love of jazz.

“About five years ago, I started going to more jazz clubs with my aunt—The Majestic, The Phoenix—just different places,” he says. “I saw these musicians and started paying more attention. They had a great, honest integrity and I thought it was the real deal.”

Located just a few blocks west of Kansas City’s historic 18th and Vine Jazz District, Green Lady Lounge hosts some of the city’s best-known jazz musicians.

After Scott sold his group of local fitness centers, he “was ready to do something different. I felt like it was the right time and that I could apply my thoughts and aesthetic for a particular kind of bar that I felt would be successful and would represent Kansas City jazz, the brand—something I could really believe in.”

On December 15, 2012, Scott opened Green Lady Lounge, which quickly became a go-to destination for patrons seeking delightfully crafted cocktails, a captivating ambience and some of the best jazz performances in the city, thanks to Scott’s thoughtful approach to booking.

“I needed to find a niche that makes sense for my room, my developing clientele and my aesthetic,” he says. “So I booked a lot of different people and chose people I enjoy working with and I believe have legs—that is, they can make original compositions. Jazz needs to stay living and growing and I think there is good business to be done, not only in just rehashing the stuff that’s already been made.”

Green Lady Lounge might not be the largest venue in Kansas City, but there’s no doubt it’s one of the most distinctive. An intimate stage perches at the front end of the lengthy space, along which cocktail tables and banquette seating provide the perfect vantage point for intimate immersion in the action. Dimly lit lamps are the ideal accompaniment to Green Lady’s red walls, creating a sultry glow that infuses the venue with warmth.

Kansas City jazz stalwarts such as Mark Lowrey, Tim Whitmer, Todd Strait and Molly Hammer regularly play to a packed house and adoring audiences.

For Scott, Green Lady Lounge combines a favorite saying, “good and good: good culture, good business. I didn’t get started because it was a civic duty for people to love this new thing called jazz—rather, it made people happy and still has that ability today. Kansas City has fantastic players and professionals and I’m proud to work with them.”

Suburban/Take Five Coffee + Bar

Fair warning: step inside Take Five Coffee + Bar and you’ll want to take much more than five. Part coffee shop, restaurant, bar and live jazz venue, Take Five elevates the typical coffee shop experience, in part thanks to its location in Overland Park’s newest up-and-coming shopping destination, Corbin Park.

“We’ve always known we have to be a great coffee shop in an area where people demand the best,” says Lori Chandler, who owns Take Five with her husband, Doug. “Our focus is to pay close attention to details.”

An appreciative audience gave jazz great Bobby Watson a standing ovation on a recent Saturday evening at Take Five Coffee + Bar in Overland Park.

When the Chandlers opened Take Five in its original location at 151st and Nall in 2010, they always knew they’d welcome live music as part of the venue. Yet they didn’t initially expect that music would be jazz.

“In the summer of 2010, we hosted a fundraiser for the jazz trio, Diverse, to raise money to go to Paris,” Chandler says. “I couldn’t move throughout the duration of their performance—it sounded so good in that room.”

Chandler marks that particular performance as “the beginning” and says afterward, people frequently called to book a show.

“I completely fell in love with the jazz community and jazz as an art form,” she says. “It became so fun to do the booking.”

Fast forward to mid-October of 2014, when Take Five moved to its new location in Corbin Park, complete with two key additions: a 26-foot stage and a baby grand piano. Evening performances expanded into Sunday jazz brunch, which unites Take Five’s “comfort food-oriented menu” with live music. Hot plate dinner specials accompany evening performances, adding a dimension that’s “similar to a supper club,” Chandler says.

No matter the occasion, however, you know you’ll find one thing at Take Five: “the best musicians in town just wailing away,” she says.

In fact, one recent evening the legendary saxophonist, composer, arranger and educator Bobby Watson—who grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and went on to earn international acclaim—played the Take Five stage to a mesmerized crowd.

But it’s not only the live performances by such well-known KC jazz musicians as Bob Bowman, Shay Estes, Sons of Brasil and Rod Fleeman that captivate Take Five’s patrons. The intimate atmosphere, the art hanging on the walls by such local talent as artists Robert Quackenbush and Nancy Beaver, and the Chandlers’ passion for creating a suburban live music venue combine seamlessly to create a memorable experience.

The Chandlers are at Take Five for all the shows, a commitment that underscores their investment in the jazz community. And because Take Five performances end at 10 p.m., the couple has time to pursue another favorite pastime: watching live music at other venues.

“We go out when we can to Green Lady Lounge, The Ship, The Phoenix—we consume as much music as we can,” Chandler says. “These and other venues are great for musicians—it keeps them in town. People are expressing interest in moving to Kansas City because the jazz scene is revitalizing. There’s talk that jazz is dead. I don’t necessarily want to buy a CD—I want to see them live, see them interact, see all of the music that’s coming out of their heads at that moment.”