News

Tom's Town

Sep 25, 2017
Written by cmcguire
On Friday, Oct. 6 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., take a journey back to Kansas City’s 18th & Vine district, when the city flourished under Boss Tom Pendergast. Tom’s Town, a big band quintet, will perform during “Library After Hours,” a fundraiser to benefit library programs. Tickets are available at the library’s Main Desk for $20 each or two for $35. Admission includes refreshments and adult beverages. The library will close at 4 p.m. that day and reopen for the event at 7 p.m.

In the late 1920s through the 30s, Kansas City was ruled by powerful businessman Tom Pendergast. He owned the Ready-Mixed Concrete Company, and was the power behind the city’s construction and hotel industries, the Democratic Party, gambling, prostitution and other illegal activities. The Kansas City Star, the police department and labor unions all supported his political machine. He orchestrated economic projects to support local residents while the rest of the country experienced hunger and unemployment during the Depression. Pendergast was also instrumental in the success of Harry Truman’s political career.
 
A magazine article in American History called Kansas City, Here I Come by Vincent Abbate describes Kansas City during this time period: “The city's reputation for sin earned it the nickname "Paris of the Plains." At the Chocolate Bar or the Paseo Ballroom, at Dante's Inferno or Hell's Kitchen, you could name your poison. One thing you did was swing to the music of America's finest jazz players--Count Basie, Hot Lips Page, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Mary Lou Williams. At some point they all called Kansas City home and played in some of its more than 100 nightclubs. Pianist Williams
called the jazz mecca “a heavenly city.”…In "Tom's Town," gambling and prostitution boomed--but so did jazz.”1
 
During the Pendergast era, there were nearly 50 nightclubs in the 18th & Vine district, featuring local talent as well as famous musicians from jazz hot spots around the country. The article notes that “Kansas City's hard-swinging sound was as intoxicating as the city itself. Oran "Hot Lips" Page blew a mean trumpet with Walter Page's Blue Devils. Count Basie took over Bennie Moten's Band and set about defining a big band sound that would later sweep the nation. Lester Young, a Basie soloist, revolutionized the tenor sax at the Reno Club, while a young horn player named Charlie Parker took notes from the balcony.”1
 
After Pendergast went to prison for tax evasion in 1940, police eventually shut down many of the nightclubs due to corruption and illegal activities. Big band music became extremely popular during World War II. The nightclubs that remained were places where people could dance the jitter bug and help support the war effort with various fund drives.
We invite you to revisit Kansas City’s iconic music on Oct. 6 and contribute to our fund drive so we can continue to bring musicians, authors and speakers to the library.   
 
1Kansas City, Here I Come. By: Abbate, Vincent, American History, 10768866, Oct2002, Vol. 37, Issue 4