Hidden Treasures In The Blue Room
By Marissa Baum
We all know the familiar feeling of stepping inside the Blue Room, sweet notes filling the air, while a packed house delights in revelry, whether it be a national artist, local favorite, or Monday night jam session when players of all skill levels are encouraged to take the stage. The Blue Room is a working jazz club, named for the Street Hotel’s famous nightclub of the 1930s and 1940s.
However, of the most incredible features of the Blue Room is not what can be heard, but instead all that can be seen. Believe it or not, there are more than 130 artifacts in the Blue Room, which also serves as a part of the permanent museum exhibitions. I challenge you to take some time when you are next in the Blue Room, to walk around and truly explore the multitude of art and artifacts hung in the cases along the walls, and the carefully crafted displays inside the round cocktail tables.
Most of us recognize the familiar Holly Hughes piece, God Bless the Child who has His Own (1990), which pays tribute to “African American Women that have given us soul filled music.” The subject, a female jazz singer sculpted entirely from found objects, is always a fun and familiar face. It’s as if she is welcoming us back to the club each night for another great show.
But have you ever noticed that the cocktail tables on the lower level also contain artifacts? Next time you sit at the “George and Julia Lee” table, take a look down at the treasures housed beyond the glass. There, you will find memorabilia and ephemera from brother-sister duo George and Julia Lee, whose band was a favorite amongst dancers because of their impressive showmanship, including the regular incorporation of a musical saw. Inside the table, you will discover an album cover for Julia’s “Party Time,” alongside “Snatch and Grab It” an LP from Julia Lee and Her Boy Friends (featuring Dave Cavanaugh, Ernie Royal, Jack Marshall, Harry Babasin, and drummer Samuel “Baby” Lovett) from 1946.
Within that same table, take notice of Baby Lovett’s union card from Musician’s local 627, now better known as “The Foundation.” You will also find a stage bill for George E. Lee and his greater Brunswick Orchestra, alongside a pair of Lovett’s drumsticks. The rust colored perimeter of the table boasts the names of clubs where George and Julia ruled during the 1920’s and 30’s including the Jockey Club, Penrod, Yellow Front, and the Zelmaroda.
Got a passion for fashion? One of my favorite objects housed in these tables is a gorgeous pair of “Chandler’s Exquisite Shoes” adorned with a bejeweled circle with gold center detail. Displayed next the shoes, is a Kansas City Department of Welfare, Division of Recreation permit for dancing on November 19th of an unknown year during the 1930’s. Keep exploring and you’ll soon come across a ticket to the Kansas City Playboys Social Club’s Hallowe’en Masquerade Ball at Lincoln Hall on October 30th, 1937.
If you know the name Bennie Moten, you probably also know the name Leroy “Buster” Berry. But what you may not know is that located within the large cases along the South wall of the Blue Room, is Leroy “Buster” Berry’s actual guitar, played while he was a member of Bennie Moten’s band. Each of the large vertical cases features objects related to a Kansas City jazz great, from Mary Lou Williams, to Maestro Jay McShann, to Walter Page’s Blue Devils.
In a separate vertical case, is a small tribute to Gilmore’s Chez Paree (once located at 1822 Vine, and preceded by the Eblon Theater). Chez Paree was similar to other clubs in that attendees could purchase a souvenir from their evening in the form of a bar folder, complete with a group picture, capturing a brief moment and preserving the memory for years to come. This particular Chez Paree bar folder is from the 1940s and advertises Victory Bonds, for the war effort, along the perimeter.
You can also find an issue of Down Beat Magazine from December, 1943 in the Blue Room exhibits. Down Beat, a jazz and blues magazine that has been in circulation since 1939, features many Kansas City greats in their Hall of Fame including Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Lester Young, and Pat Matheny. Not surprisingly, Down Beat has also named the Blue Room in the top 150 Jazz Clubs several times since it’s opening in 1997.
So the next time you take in a show on that famous stage, take a look around too. You might be surprised at a certain piece of Kansas City jazz history that catches your eye and imagination.