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In K.C., the Vine's 2nd Act

When jazz neophytes grow up, they'd like to be Lisa Henry, whom I later meet at the nearby Peach Tree Restaurant. The 36-year-old vocalist, who calls her roots "a classic Baptist church story," has performed with Herbie Hancock and records on her own label.

As she sips sweet iced tea, Henry plays down her glitzy bio. Though she has toured as far away as South Africa, she happily returns home to perform on her own terms. "Some people romanticize this scene," she says. But Henry's a pragmatist. With a toddler son, she combines her career with tutoring athletes at local high schools.


Jazz notes fill the 18th and Vine area, with the Blue Room and Gem Theater. (Christine H. O'toole)

Her husband baby-sits while she fits in night rehearsals across the street at the Gem Theater. The 1912 silent-movie house is a restored art nouveau performance venue; Hancock and Wynton Marsalis are among the big names who'll perform there this winter.

I chat with another jazz entrepreneur the following night. Sebrina McCrainey, 37, is tucking into a steak and a second career as owner of the Red Vine, cater-corner from the Gem.

McCrainey's vision for her upscale club was the Funky Buddha, her Chicago favorite. Eight months ago, the former telecommunications executive opened this club on The Vine with Creole recipes from her husband's family and lots of personality from hers.

The Red Vine is young and relaxed, like its owner, and the handsome crowd feels like family -- for a reason. On hand are McCrainey's husband, Emanuel; mom Louise Johnson; and sisters Sheila and Roxanne, each of whom gives me a hug and a suggestion on dessert. Between sets I meet Turrell, who circumnavigated the room during his Grover Washington tribute.

As he pauses by the bar, a grandmotherly fan pulls a five-dollar bill from a well-built purse. "You were real good," she says heartily.

In a black Kangol cap, gold tooth glittering, Turrell accepts the tip with nonchalance. Women like to tuck bills under his cap, he tells me; he made $100 that way the other night. But the gigs are paying pretty well, too. Like Henry and McCrainey, the 34-year-old is making a jazz living -- with tonight's band, Finesse, and another dubbed Jabon (shorthand for just a bunch of noise). And the Mutual Musicians Foundation wants him to host a Friday jam session.

With that invitation, Turrell will revisit history. The Foundation was immortalized in the "627 Stomp," Joe Turner's boogie-woogie salute to the black musicians' union local.

The 627, around the corner on Highland Avenue, was a combination rehearsal hall, booking office and training ground for jazz musicians. When canceled gigs stranded Count Basie in Kansas City, the union kept his band afloat. Eighty years after its founding, its late-night celebrations still attract a crowd.


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