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What does Kansas City share with Hannover, Germany? The ‘international language’ of jazz

A man stands to play a saxophone solo while surrounded by other band members who are seated inside a restaurant setting.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The Hannover Big Band performed inside KC Bier Co. on Monday, Oct. 17, during their tour of Kansas City, as part of a sister city jazz exchange program.

Kansas City, Missouri, has 12 sister cities, including Hannover, Germany. Both cities are UNESCO Cities of Music and share a strong jazz tradition, particularly when it comes to big band orchestras.

On a chilly Monday afternoon inside the Bavarian-style beer hall at the KC Bier Co. in Waldo, strangers became friends as they sat side by side at the long communal tables.

Servers delivered plates of German sausages and salted pretzels and tall glasses of beer to customers before the first of two shows for the Hannover Big Band, a jazz orchestra from Hannover, Germany.

Hannover Big Band at KC Bier Co.

The big band’s performances — Monday in Waldo, Tuesday at Knuckleheads in the East Bottoms, and elsewhere through Sunday — are part of a sister cities jazz exchange program. In 2018, Hannover hosted the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and, this week, it’s Kansas City’s turn.

“And we are playing, of course, in different places because I want to play for everyone,” said bandleader Lothar Krist. “I want to bring jazz to everyone.”

Alisa and Andy Ramsey live just a few blocks away and stopped by to meet a friend. The 4:30 p.m. show had its appeal for the young parents of a nearly 7-month-old, Wilson, who was equipped with his own small headphones.

“I mean, we like to get out of the house when we can,” Alisa said, “so we're like, ‘we could go do something before bedtime.’ That's nice.”

A man wearing a suit coat stands to play a saxophone stands to play a solo amidst the orchestra he is playing with. Behind him are bar patrons sitting at wooden tables.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Lothar Krist, the Hannover Big Band's maestro, stood for a solo inside KC Bier Co. during an Oct. 17 performance.

It’s Traute Kohler’s role to organize events like this.

Kohler, who is chair of the Hannover Committee with the Kansas City Sister City Association, has lived in Roeland Park, Kansas, since 1964, but she grew up in Germany.

Sister Cities International, Kohler said, was a post-World War II initiative by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“And he felt that if people would visit each other, talk to each other, make music with each other, they would understand their differences and just have more understanding of the world,” she said.

On a footbridge over Brush Creek on the Country Club Plaza, flags of Kansas City’s 12 sister cities are on display: Arusha, Tanzania; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Guadalajara, Mexico; Kurashiki, Japan; Morelia, Mexico; Port Harcourt, Nigeria; Ramla, Israel; San Nicolas de los Garza, Mexico; Seville, Spain; Tainan, Taiwan; Xi’an, China; and Hannover, Germany.

Kohler said the aim is to bring people together — through tourism, education and music.

“Music, I feel, is the international language. We all understand music,” she said.

Closeup shot of men wearing dark coats and playing brass instruments inside a restaurant.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Sebastian Schulte played trombone with the Hannover Big Band Monday, Oct. 17, inside KC Bier Co. during their tour of Kansas City. Their visit is part of a Sister City jazz exchange program.

In 2018, the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra traveled to the Swinging Hannover festival in Hannover, Germany.

The orchestra’s Artistic Director Clint Ashlock said the audience then stood shoulder to shoulder, which he found really energizing.

"The folks that were at the festival were just a hundred percent engaged,” Ashlock said, “and there were 25,000 people I think there, which is definitely the most I've ever played some jazz music in front of.”

Ashlock hopes the Hannover Big Band will also attract big audiences in Kansas City. One thing to keep in mind, he said, is that jazz performances can take place in any location.

Men and women in dark suit coats perform different musical instruments including an upright bass, organ, drums and other brass instruments inside a cramped restaurant.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Andy Mokrus worked the electric piano to a full house Monday, Oct. 17, inside KC Bier Co. during their tour of Kansas City.

“It’s ironic that it's looked at as a sort of highbrow, artistic music — which it certainly is,” Ashlock said. “But it's also, you know, it’s music for the people.”

“It’s creative, spontaneous and can fit in anywhere,” he added.

The two big bands will take the stage together on Friday at the Midwest Trust Center for a battle of the bands. Ashlock said they’ve been assured they’ll all fit that stage, too.

The Hannover Big Band will perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 21 at the Midwest Trust Center at Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, Kansas 66210, and at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22 and Sunday, Oct. 23 at Village Presbyterian Church, 6641 Mission Rd., Prairie Village, Kansas 66208. 

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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