Logan Richardson left Kansas City to become a star.
Now, twenty years later, having lived in New York City and Italy and toured internationally, the ascendant saxophonist has made a move toward re-establishing himself in a city whose jazz scene has not always been comfortable for him. His re-entry could not be packed with more portent.
Richardson has set up a home — and a studio — in the apartment where Charlie Parker, the city's first iconic jazz saxophonist, once lived.
"I suppose I could look at it as just say a coincidence," says Richardson. "But I don't think it is, you know? It feels like something more than that. So, a lot of responsibility. I don't want to say metaphysical, but there's kind of like this other meaning."
Richardson heard about the apartment from a childhood friend's mother who has connections in real estate. It's on the second floor of a brick building that dates back to sometime around the early 1900s, on a block like so many others in Midtown whose glory days were a century ago.
"I don't want to say dingy," Richardson says of the place's condition when he first saw it. "I think college students were here."
Workers ripped out worn, gray carpet and painted the walls a soothing deep blue. Richardson has decorated it sparsely, with a few posters championing black history and culture and some classic vinyl album covers, for a sort of Paris-in-Kansas City vibe. He spends so much time on the road that he still has boxes to unpack.
"Even before there was a bed or anything," Richardson says, he set up a studio in the front room. "I think the place has a very particular kind of thing — I don't really know what it is, but definitely, you know, we write and create a lot here in the studio."
Parker didn’t live anywhere in Kansas City for long – he left for New York when he was 21. He and his mother lived in a house at 15th and Olive that’s now a vacant lot; they also lived in another apartment around the corner from Richardson's place (the owner advertises it on Airbnb as Parker’s childhood home). Parker lived in this apartment from 1930 to 1932, around the ages of 10 to 12.
“So we're talking about just a little boy, living in a place, transitioning," Richardson notes. "And certainly at that age ... that's a very, super supple age for everything.”
Writing and creating in the studio, Richardson isn't thinking about Charlie Parker as much as he's reminded of when he was a kid, not that much older than when Parker lived here.
"Practicing and just finding this place and getting back to being that 14-year-old kid in Kansas City," he says.
As a teen, Richardson was able to learn from the musicians of Parker’s generation.“It was a really interesting time in Kansas City. This would have been 1994 and '95, you know, there were a lot of people still alive in terms of the master musicians, like Ahmad Alaadeen or Jay McShann or Claude "Fiddler" Williams and people like this.”
Richardson took off for the East Coast not long after he graduated from the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts. He ended up in New York City, earning his keep with big jazz names and eventually putting out his own album as a bandleader (2007's "Cerebral Flow"). His second record, "Shift," made NPR's best 50 records of 2016 (a list that included Beyonce and David Bowie). The New York Times listed his third album, "Blues People," as one of the top three jazz records of 2018.
Richardson's relationship with Kansas City seemed complicated. During his set at the city's first, only, and ill-fated Jazz and Heritage Festival at 18th and Vine in 2017, Richardson criticized the American Jazz Museum and doubted the city's appreciation for its jazz musicians in general.
But he's been making peace. His last album, "Blues People," signified, he says, "a circular kind of thing, getting back to Kansas City and finding a way to mediate the totality of everything I've learned and see what it is now as an architect what I'm able to create."
Another esteemed Kansas City saxophone player, Bobby Watson, who has known Richardson since high school, says Richardson's travels have likely taught him that Kansas City is the best place to make a home base.
"I think he’s discovering that who he is, and where his strengths lie and where his base of power lies," Watson says. "And I think it lies in Kansas City."
Watson says it's "pretty cool" that Richardson landed in Parker's old apartment.
"I don’t believe in coincidences," Watson says. "And you know, Logan is a part of the number-one Kansas City tradition of saxophonists. What we all try to do is take what came before us and add our own spin and our own imagination and our own voice to it. It’s not about old and new, it’s about extending the continuum of the story of the music that we call jazz."
Richardson's calling his project for this year "Searching for Charlie Parker," which seems to be a catch-all term for recordings, performances, gatherings, collaborations — a journey home, really.
"'Searching for Charlie Parker' is essentially the pilgrimage back to the basis of where we all are coming from," Richardson says. "Like, the reason that we play.”
He's already part of the way there.
C.J. Janovy is the digital managing editor at KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.