“The black schools [in Kansas City] were much better than they had any right to be, partly because they were full of talented teachers who would have been teaching in college had they been white, and partly because Negro parents and children simply refused to be licked by segregation.” Then-reporter Roy Wilkins’s statement about education in the Kansas City area aptly summarizes the unjust obstacles that segregation created for black students, their parents, and educators at the segregated schools of Kansas City.
Photograph of Kansas City jazz drummer Jesse Price (left) and jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker in the summer of 1938 in Kansas City.
10" 78-rpm recording of "Hootie Blues", a blues dance by Jay McShann and Charles (Charlie) Parker with Walter Brown singing and accompanied by Jay McShann And His Orchestra. Matrix number: 93731A; Catalog number: 8559 B.
Band members playing in McShann band, including Charlie Parker, Tulsa, OK, 1940-41. Source: Gene Ramey.
Jay McShann Orchestra posing for a photo in the Century Room, located in Kansas City, Missouri. McShann is sitting at the piano.
Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on August 29, 1920. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, where he played in jazz clubs as a teenager and young man. The local jazz culture based in the Vine Street nightclub district cultivated his talents as a teenager. Indeed, it was during this period that Kansas City made notable contributions to jazz with hometown artists such as Count Basie, Bennie Moten, and Buster Smith.
On September 23, 1923, the Bennie Moten Orchestra made its first recording consisting of eight songs. By strict musical standards, the songs themselves were unrefined and not much removed from existing blues music. But the Bennie Moten Orchestra would soon build upon its earliest recordings to develop a distinct Kansas City style of jazz that later dominated the jazz scene in the late 1930s and 1940s.