The challenges facing the American Jazz Museum will fall to new leadership.
Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner takes the reins of the 20-year-old organization after spending the past 25 years with the Kansas City Public Library.
She faces some big tasks, like infusing energy into an institution that has lost some of its spark to the public.
Also on her to-do list are: working with the city to refurbish the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District and create cooperation across other organizations in the area.
Kositany-Buckner sat down with KCUR’s Steve Kraske Friday — the day after she was named director — to talk about her life, her experience and her aspirations for the museum.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
On why she decided to leave the Kansas City Public Library to pursue a position at the American Jazz Museum
"I think what is important is the experience of running a not-for-profit organization. I’m very passionate about 18th and Vine, I actually lived in Parade Park in 1988 ... So I have a very warm affection for 18th and Vine. I think it was time for me to make a career move, and the opportunity to use my skill, my passion and my strength to really enhance the jazz museum, but really the 18th & Vine District as a whole.
[The Jazz District] is the cradle of African-American history in Kansas City. And not just the African-American history but Kansas City history and national history. It’s about jazz, it’s about baseball, when you look at the geographical area within 18th and Vine, you have these wonderful institutions that are preserving and celebrating African-American history from the jazz museum, the Negro Baseball League, the Mutual Musicians Foundation, friends of Alvin Ailey, the Black Archives, the Call, Lincoln [Preparatory Academy] up the hill, just think about that. Even Parade Park itself is very historical. So that to me, I see as the hub of where African-American culture and history is being preserved. It’s a wonderful asset for this city and the community as well."
On when she started listening to jazz
"I actually began listening in Kenya. I grew up in Kenya and as we're talking about jazz — jazz is African oriented. So there are people like Hugh Masekela who really played African jazz. So I started listening with that. But my husband was actually a DJ … so I’ve been listening to jazz every day for a very long time."
The three jazz albums she would take with her if she were stranded on a desert island
Bobby Watson – "The Gates BBQ Suite," John Coltrane – "Love Supreme" and Miles Davis – "Kind of Blue."
On how to breathe new life into an institution that’s lost some of its sparkle to the public
"There is a lot going on at the museum right now and I think one of the things that we’ve got to do right away is begin to promote and make the community aware of the wonderful, good things that are going on right now.
But in addition to that, we have a lot of opportunities with the Jazz Museum. For example, a partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts to connect with the jazz masters, partnering with the Lincoln center, partnering with the performing community that is in Kansas City, looking at temporary exhibits, fresh exhibits that are changeable more often and that kind of thing.
Partnership is going to be important, collaboration with the entire district is going to be important. I see an opportunity for us actually putting out a district calendar of activities going on … joint programming between us. I’ll give you an example: Alvin Ailey produced a lot of his pieces that had jazz musicians Jay McShann and Charlie Parker. Well, the [Kansas City] Friends of Alvin Ailey is up the street, the [American] Jazz Museum, and then the [Black Archives of Mid-America Kansas City] has the only collection of personal papers of Alvin Ailey. We could get together and do joint programming in a major way.
We need to look at each other as holistic, as opposed to siloed institutions."