When you think of Smithville, Missouri, you're likely to picture its grand lake, the quaint downtown in the historic Heritage District, and exquisite restaurants such as Justus Drugstore. On Sunday, September 28, the inaugural Bridge Street Jazz and Food Fair will also be part of that vision. The fair takes over Smithville's downtown square, and the lineup is the stuff of a jazz aficionado's greatest dreams.
Opening the festival is Sons of Brasil, the all-too-rarely heard full-size version of trumpeter Stan Kessler's Brazilian jazz and salsa ensemble that has entertained Kansas City for more than two decades. Also on deck: Singer Kelley Gant, one of the KC jazz scene's rising stars, and jazz icon and alto saxophonist Bobby Watson with his UMKC Jazz Combo (delivering a Charlie Parker tribute). Drummer Todd Strait returns to town from Portland, Oregon, for a set with pianist Roger Wilder and bassist Bob Bowman. Concluding the festival is the reunited KC favorite Interstring, with guitarists Rod Fleeman and Danny Embrey, bassist Bowman and drummer Strait. (You can expect Watson to sit in for part of the set.)
Each set is scheduled for an hour with satellite jazz ensembles - students and small groups - performing in front of the downtown galleries between sets. The square will also be filled with food and drinks for sale. (Smithville's new open-container law permits events where you can walk all kinds of beverages throughout the Heritage District.) Food vendors signed up so far include Jonathan Justus from Justus Drugstore, Michael Foust from the Farmhouse, Paradise Meats, the Wiener Wagon and Stick It food truck.
Profits from the day and donations will benefit the Sandra Bowman Music Scholarship Fund. Sandra Bowman was the wife of Bob Bowman and worked for Jonathan Justus. She died unexpectedly last November.
"The proceeds for the food and beverage sales goes to this scholarship fund for music students in my wife's name," Bowman says. "She was on the scene all the time. All the musicians knew her, and she's worked in a lot of restaurants and clubs around town."
Bowman explains that the details of the scholarship fund are still being finalized, but says that it won't be available exclusively to college students.
"I just want to find someone in need who has desire and talent, and maybe they don't want to go to school - maybe the fund can be used to study with someone of their choice. That hasn't been nailed down," he says. "We'll see what we come up with, but we'd like it to be an ongoing thing. I was the recipient of one in Topeka in 1968 when I was 15, and it was a real eye-opener for me. They had this organization - the Topeka Jazz Workshop, which still exists today - and that had a scholarship, and I received it and went to a music camp in Redlands, California, for a week, and that opened up my eyes. It turned me on to some really classic jazz bases and guided me along my career."
After Sandra's death, Bowman discussed with Justus the idea of a festival to remember her and bring attention to the area's jazz community.
"My wife, Sandra, worked there [at Justus Drugstore], and that was how I met him," Bowman says. "Jonathan and I are kind of like-minded in a way - we have high standards. And we just thought, 'We should do something.' He takes the food thing seriously, and I take the music thing seriously, and we just decided to do something in Smithville. I was just saying to him, 'I want to do something to raise the bar and get the best possible people together in the food and jazz community,' so that's pretty much how it happened."
Bowman is right. You won't find a better jazz lineup than this Sunday at the Bridge Street Jazz and Food Fair. Sandra would be honored.
Bridge Street Jazz and Food Fair, Sunday, September 28. Free admission. Gates open at 1 p.m. Festival ends at 9 p.m.