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Leaving Kansas City For Los Angeles: A Jazz Drummer’s Tale

Zack Albetta

“Leaving Kansas City” is a series that shares the personal stories of why people decided to live somewhere else. It follows our series “Going to Kansas City.”

Zack Albetta is originally from Santa Fe, N.M., but he came to Kansas City to get his master’s  at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance. He worked closely with Bobby Watson exploring Kansas City’s deep jazz history, and he really loved Kansas City's music scene. 

“I was thinking, I have gigs, I do a lot of playing, I do a lot of teaching, the cost of living is low. So for a while, there wasn’t anything really calling me anywhere else,” says Albetta.

But after seven years, and getting out of a relationship, Albetta started to take stock on his life. He was in his late 20s and realized it was time to make a move, to Los Angeles. He now works as a professional drummer at Disneyland, at various gigs around town, and for the Jennifer Keith Sextet.

Name: Zack Albetta

Age: 34

Where you live now: Los Angeles, California

When did you leave Kansas City: 2010

What neighborhood (s) did you live in Kansas City? Brookside, Midtown, UMKC area

Why did you leave? To pursue the next stage of my music career in Los Angeles. Christina, my best friend since high school, had lived in LA for a few years already. I began visiting her there and eventually decided I wanted the next chapter of my music career to happen there. We started dating and got married last summer.

What do you miss about Kansas City? The close-knit music and arts community, free parking, the city pride, the more relaxed pace of life, sitting out on a covered porch during a thunderstorm. (There are no porches or thunderstorms in LA.) And of course, BBQ, Boulevard and Broadway Coffee.

What do you not miss about Kansas City? Winters below zero degrees, summers over one-hundred degrees, allergies, bugs, humidity, and flat land.

What are the biggest differences between Kansas City and where you are now:    LA puts more demands on my time and attention than KC did. In KC, I rarely second-guessed where I was putting my time and energy, socially or professionally. When I first got to LA, I felt like I was playing whack-a-mole. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, there always seemed to be other things happening in other places with other people, and I wondered if I had made the right choice that night. That still happens sometimes. It's a town full of distractions, which makes sense because it's a town built on entertainment which, itself, is designed to be a distraction. 

Do you still show your Kansas City pride? If so – how: One of the reasons I got the gig with the Jennifer Keith Sextet was because the band leader really liked my shuffle. He heard me play a shuffle and he was like, ‘Yah man, you got that Kansas City thing I dig that.’ So I don’t have any of the paraphernalia, the hats of the shirts or whatever and I should. But the way that I fly the Kansas City flag, I think, is musically.

Is there a reason you might ever or never come back? We don't plan on staying in LA forever. If and when we move, Kansas City would be a candidate. Christina has visited there with me a lot and loves it, we have amazing friends there. It's harder to feel like part of a community of friends in LA. There are many more forces (some real, some artificial) making demands on everyone's time and attention. It seems like it would be very easy to fall back into the fold of our chosen family in KC. The cost of living and the pace of life  there seem really appealing, especially on those days when just going about your daily life in LA (getting to and from work, shopping, going out to eat, going to see friends,) has drained your wallet and your soul.

Every part of the present has been shaped by actions that took place in the past, but too often that context is left out. As a podcast producer for KCUR Studios and host of the podcast A People’s History of Kansas City, I aim to provide context, clarity, empathy and deeper, nuanced perspectives on how the events and people in the past have shaped our community today. In that role, and as an occasional announcer and reporter, I want to entertain, inform, make you think, expose something new and cultivate a deeper shared human connection about how the passage of time affects us all. Reach me at hogansm@kcur.org.