Kansas City trumpeter and tap dancer Lonnie McFadden has been performing since he was in grade school.
He's known as half of the act called The McFadden Brothers; Lonnie and his brother Ronald play music, sing and tap dance — carrying on a family tradition started by their father, dancer and performer Smilin' Jimmy McFadden.
Lonnie's latest CD is called Live at the Green Lady Lounge. He recently spoke with Chuck Haddix, host of KCUR's Fish Fry, about his father's musical influence and the new recording.
CHUCK HADDIX: Your new CD is an interesting blend of styles — a lot of soul jazz, and a lot of traditional jazz and ballads. This fairly well represents your stage show, I take it?
LONNIE MCFADDEN: Yeah, this is basically just who I am, I mean, me and the guys. I just wanted to do something that depicts who I really am. And I think that they held me up real good (laughs).
HADDIX: You know, you are "unapologetically Kansas City."
MCFADDEN: No doubt, no doubt. No matter where I go. Even the bigger places, the great jazz festivals that Ronald and I have done. We are always been very, very proud of the fact that we're from Kansas City. And I love it, yes.
HADDIX: Of course, there is that family connection there with your father Jimmy McFadden, longtime dancer, entertainer and emcee. You learned your craft from him. Tell us a little bit about your Dad.
MCFADDEN: He never met a stranger. He was just very outgoing. As an entertainer he was obviously one of the best of his time and he was all about Kansas City, one of the Three Chocolate Drops. He was a tap dancer.
Everybody around that time played piano. That was more interesting to me the older I got, the more I realized. My father, even though he was a tap dancer, and his friend, Willie Williams, and everybody that came over to the house — it seems like all of them could play the piano. I guess that was like video games are for kids now, everyone had a piano in their parlor. That's something that stands out about my Dad's generation to me.
HADDIX: Well, coming up you had a string of jazz luminaries coming through your house, too.
MCFADDEN: I know, I know, that was so cool. I mean, I didn't think of it when it was happening.
But it's like, we lived next door to this bass player named Ike Witt. And I remember at an early age meeting Betty and Milt (Abel). They were just friends of my father's and friend's of Ike Witt's and we just got to be like family.
Count Basie, I remember when I first met Count Basie, my father went up to him, and he just grabbed him by the head and said, "Hey, Lee." And then both of them looked at each other and said, "Ugly." And it cracked me up. You know, I was kid, and I was like, wow, these old dudes. They just had such a cool way of relating to each other, it was just awesome, it's awesome.
HADDIX: This is a live recording (recorded at the Green Lady Lounge). What made you decide to do it live, rather than go in the studio?
MCFADDEN: This was (Green Lady owner) John Scott's idea. I wasn't a major part, or even a small part, of what was going on at Green Lady Lounge. And John and I had gotten to know each other through the years. He approached me and asked me if I'd like to play at the Lounge, and I was like, "Yeah, of course I want to play there."
He said, "What I'm interested in is you doing things that you want to do. I want you to play original songs." He made it perfectly clear: "I'm not interested in you coming in and trying your best to pack the place. If nobody's there, or if it's a packed room, what I'm interested in is the integrity of the music and you guys doing you." I've never had anybody say that to me, so I was all in. I'm like, "Yeah, where do we sign up?" (laughs). That was the most unique situation that I've ever been in. And that's how the recording came out.
For more information about upcoming performances, check Lonnie McFadden's website.
Hear more about Lonnie McFadden and his brother and tap-dancing partner Ronnie – on a new episode of the podcast Midwesternish. You can find KCUR’s Midwesternish on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.