Young New Century Jazz Band musicians learning from the best

Elite KCKCC-based band to perform Wednesday at Unity Temple on the Plaza

Former KCKCC Director of Bands Marlin Cooper was guest soloist at the first performance of the New Century Jazz Band at the Mason Jar Wednesday. The band is honoring Cooper for his legacy as one of the very first to teach jazz education at the college level in Kansas City. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC

It’s true. Old musicians don’t fade away, they just keep playing.

In many cases, such as the New Century Jazz Band, they also give direction, experience and motivation to a new wave of up-and-coming jazz musicians at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

An elite group of musicians made up of KCKCC alumni, music educators and graduates and present and future students, the New Century Jazz Band will make its formal debut in “Spirituality and All That Jazz” series Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th. Held by well-known jazz icon Tim Whitmer, it’s the longest running jazz series featuring local jazz musicians.

Organized and directed by Jim Mair, KCKCC director of instrumental music, the band made its public debut Thursday night at the Mason Jar Restaurant at 94th just south of State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. The debut featured guest soloist and co-director Marlin Cooper, KCKCC’s instrumental band director for 27 years (1972-1999).

Director of Instrumental Studies at KCKCC Jim Mair has founded and directed the New Century Jazz Band, so named in preparation for KCKCC’s 100th birthday in 2023. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

“We chose the name New Century in preparation of KCKCC’s 100th birthday in 2023 and we’re featuring Marlin Cooper to honor his legacy as one of the very first educators at the college level teaching jazz education in Kansas City,” Mair said.

Mair is a veteran at organizing instrumental groups. His first community band organized shortly after his hiring at KCKCC in 1999 eventually evolved into the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, an elite orchestra he and his wife Mary headed until 2010 when they stepped aside to devote more time to their two children, Mandy and Jameson.

“With Mandy starting college at KCKCC where she’ll be singing with John Stafford’s choral groups and Jameson playing trumpet and drum set at Olathe Northwest, we figured it was time to start a community band, one that plays at the highest level possible, not one that plays just for fun,” Mair said. The response was almost overwhelming. “We have a waiting list; we started in June and have enough people for two bands. We’re trying to work out the logistics for two bands. It’s a good problem to have. It encourages everyone to get better and a great motivation for our incoming freshmen.”

Saxophonist Herschel McWilliams was one of a half-dozen KCKCC alums helping give direction and motivation to current and future KCKCC musicians as members of the New Century Jazz Band. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

Of the 21 members of the band, four are current students at KCKCC; five are or will be incoming freshmen; and six KCKCC alums. Herschel McWilliams II, a lead saxophonist who played for Cooper in the late 1990s, is the oldest alum. His father, Herschel Sr., also played in Cooper’s first band in 1973. Trombonist Karita Carter, the sister-in-law of KCKCC grad and Kansas City jazz legend Bobby Watson, could have been an alum. “I tried to recruit her but she went to Wichita State,” Cooper remembered.

Andres Reyes, who played drums when Cooper took the KCKCC Jazz Band to the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1985, has two sons play in the hand – Andre Jr. who plays keyboard and drummer Antonio, a current KCKCC student. Other current students include Tm Keith, guitar; Densil Malabre, congas and percussion; and saxophonist Adam Bender, who is also an apprentice at BAC Music as an instrument repair technician.

Incoming freshmen include Evan West of Shawnee Mission North and Samantha Angel of Tonganoxie, trumpets; and Henry Fears of Shawnee Mission Northwest and Lucas Porterfield of Tonganoxie, trombones. A fifth, KCKCC Jazz Camp grad Asa Martin, is a senior at Shawnee Mission North and will enroll at KCKCC in 2020.

Alums include trumpeter Jon Tobaben, a recent grad entering the home health care profession; and bass Sean Phelps, who is employed in information technology by Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools. The band will be losing two saxophone alums, Rayvon Haggerty, who is finishing his music degree at Missouri Western University, and Richard Tucker who was recently hired by the Sweetwater Corp. and will be relocating in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

Non-alums bring a wealth of talent. Saxophonist Michael Harris II is the band director at Washington High School while trombonist Sarah Braun is a UMKC grad and a substitute with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. From the trumpet section, Joe Sisco plays with the Fountain City Brass Band; Armando Gutierrez leads a mariachi band in Kansas City; and Daniel Dissmore is a recent graduate of Kansas State.

Mair also joins in on occasion. One of Kansas City’s top saxophone and clarinet players, Mair now performs with Tim Whitmer’s host band and with his son Jameson, who recently took first place as Downbeat magazine’s No. 1 middle school trumpet soloist in the nation.