The Blue Room: one venue’s place in Kansas City jazz history

The sign for the Blue Room

The Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum | Photo by KCtoday

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A few weeks ago, we talked about the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and its place in KC history. Now, we’re bringing the other half of the story. Specifically, the other half of the Museums at 18th & Vine: the American Jazz Museum.

Kansas City was like an incubator for jazz after its birth in New Orleans, and “Kansas City jazz” is a style still recognized today. You could fill a book with all the venues, artists + standards from KC’s jazz scene (and people have), but for now, let’s explore this history through one club: The Blue Room.

(We recommend a soundtrack for this story.)

Why so blue?

The name “Blue Room” comes from a song in the 1926 Broadway musical, “The Girl Friend,” with music by Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein). That song is about a literal blue room.

The Broadway number became a jazz standard — a well-known song frequently used in arrangements + improvisation. “Blue Room” has been performed by local jazz heroes like Charlie Parker and Bennie Moten, and national celebs like Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Goodman.

Get a room

In the 1930s, the Street Hotel at 18th + the Paseo was known as a safe place for African American travelers — it’s where Jackie Robinson lived when he was in town. The hotel’s famous night club was called The Blue Room.

The Street Hotel was sold in 1954, and when the new owner defaulted, it went to a white lawyer — the first time the hotel was not under Black ownership. It was later demolished.

That belongs in a museum

The American Jazz Museum turned a light back on KC’s rich jazz history in 1997, which included the revival of The Blue Room at the corner of 18th and Vine. The venue features everything from new artists to international jazz vets.

If you haven’t spent an evening in a Kansas City jazz lounge, you’re in for an unforgettable time. See what’s going on this weekend.

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