Kansas Citians were so nice to this musician, he left the East Coast for the West Bottoms
Xavier Foley was a child prodigy bassist who had played at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Then the pandemic hit, followed by Hurricane Ida. Now, his 30,000 Instagram followers watch him play from Kansas City's West Bottoms.
Growing up in Marietta, Georgia, bassist Xavier Foley was a child prodigy who won music competitions and eventually graduated from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. He was a featured soloist with the Atlanta Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra and had played at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
But just as his career was blossoming, the pandemic hit and he felt hopeless living in his small New Jersey apartment.
“After about 10 months in Jersey, I was so unhappy," he said. "And decided to just drive west.”
Foley had an invitation from Hans Sturm, the president of the International Society of Bassists and a bass teacher at the University of Nebraska, to teach a master class there. Sturm also had a suggestion for Foley's journey west.
“He said, ‘Hey, you might want to try Kansas City. I hear it’s a very musical and artistic place,'" Foley said.
Foley connected with Johnny Hamil, a Kansas City bassist and teacher, who had met Foley more than a decade ago, when Foley was the teenage winner of a prestigious bass competition.
“Xavier really just started on fire," Hamil said. "I believe he was 11 and I was watching him at 13 or 14. So within two years of playing the bass, he was already out of this world.”
When Hamil heard Foley was coming through Kansas City, he jumped at the chance to be his guide.
“It’s been a real delight to watch him grow," Hamil said. "So the minute I got a text — it said ‘Hey, Xavier’s coming to Kansas City.’ And I like to refer to it as the bass family, and of course I was like ‘Sure!’ Any time a bass player needs to be shown around my town, that’s easy to do.”
With Hamil showing him around, Foley noticed something about Kansas City.
"I got to meet people in the city, just out in the street sometimes, and they would talk to me and be nice," he said. "And I was like, ‘Why are you so nice to me?’”
Hamil could sense Foley was searching for a connection.
“I felt really sad that he felt that way in New Jersey," Hamil said. "He felt alone. He didn’t think anybody was his friend.”
After a week and a half on the road it was time for Foley to go back to New Jersey, which had just been hit by Hurricane Ida.
“While on my way back, the person who sold me the apartment, he said ‘Hey, Xavier, did you know that there was a hurricane, and it hit your apartment? I was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that. What happened?’ He was like, ‘Oh, the whole entire thing flooded.’"
Even with advance notice, Foley was surprised by what he found.
"I try to open the door, and I can’t because the moisture soaked into the wood so much that the door expanded. So I had to keep like punching and punching the door until like 10 minutes," he said. "I break it down and gosh, the first … oh god.”
Inside was a soggy moldy mess. There was nothing left.
“I got nothin’ here. I got no bed, no table," he said. "I might as well just go.”
Foley asked friends and colleagues where he should move.
“I gave him my advice," Hamil said. "Like, these cities are cool, you know they've got good music scenes. So he went to those other places, and Kansas City won out.”
Foley has settled into his West Bottoms apartment, taking advantage of Kansas City's central location as a starting point for performances around the country. He’ll also be participating in Johnny Hamil’s summer youth bass program, the Kansas City Bass Workshop.
And now, when Xavier Foley composes and creates videos for Instagram, his nearly 30,000 followers are seeing music made in Kansas City.
A longer version of this interview originally aired on Classical KC. Hear that conversation and listen to music at classicalkc.org.