Tom Moon has been a music critic and commentator and a musician for decades. Now he's a correspondent for NPR, among other outlets. He has just issued the paperback version of "1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener's Life List."
We asked him to drop us a list of the five most essential recording artists from Kansas City. He obliged.
- Charlie Parker (pgs. 577-579): Together with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, Parker developed an idiosyncratic musical language (bebop) that opened up new vistas for jazz in the 1940s. His playing style – fast and furious, yet winningly melodic – is instantly identifiable.
- Bennie Moten: The pianist led one of the hottest bands in the Midwest in the 1920s, and pioneered the “riff” style of big-band blues copied most effectively by William “Count” Basie. After Moten died, in 1935, Basie hired many Moten veterans and took the shouting KC swing style nationwide.
- Big Joe Turner (pgs. 790-791): The “Boss of the Blues” had an intense bullhorn of a voice and an agile way with a phrase. He began his career singing from behind the bar (while mixing drinks) at the Sunset Club and evolved into one of the most exciting performers in all of popular music.
- Lester Young (pgs. 884-885): Though born in Mississippi, tenor saxophonist Lester Young rose to prominence after moving to Kansas City in 1933 and joining the Basie band. Young’s ethereal, lit-from-within tone and unusual phrasing influenced virtually everyone who followed him – including Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins. (A case can be made for KC as the cradle of modern tenor playing, with Young representing one school and the broad-toned Coleman Hawkins another.)
- Jimmy Rushing (pgs. 50-51): Among those who joined Basie after Moten’s death was singer Jimmy Rushing. Nicknamed “Mr. Five by Five” because, according to his signature tune, he was “five feet tall and [he's] five feet wide,” Rushing pioneered a flip, hard-charging style that connected jump blues with the powerful horns of a big band – Basie himself once said that Rushing “never had an equal” as a blues singer.
So our rock scene is ignored. No Get-Up Kids or Rainmakers. No Kansas. No Tech N9ne. But Boston made the cut. So did Norah Jones, the Decemberists and Sarah McLachlan. Who locally should qualify? (And for the most part, he kept it to one album per artist, so the list includes about 950 bands/artists.)