James Ward Band photo

James Ward playing the bass guitar at a past fête of the MoJazz Music Festival in Jefferson City.

Rose Park will be humming with “neck factor” on Sunday.

What is ‘neck factor', you ask? According to Jazz Forward Initiative Inc. board president Jeff Bassinson, “if you find your head bobbing back and forth, that means a band has good ‘neck factor.’” Five bands will induce the head-bobbing on Sunday as part of the MoJazz Music Festival, a free fest entering its first year in Columbia after 26 years in Jefferson City.

But why Columbia? Bassinson says switching cities was a pretty logical move. CoMo has a larger population than the capital and an established jazz community, aided by the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series. Jazz Forward Initiative Inc. reached out to Jon Poses and Josh Chittum of the Jazz Series to get their thoughts on MoJazz moving to Columbia, and Bassinson says that they welcomed the fest with open arms. “Our core mission is to present, promote and preserve jazz,” Chittum says. “So, him bringing it to town helps augment that mission.” The Jazz Series backed up their excitement by helping Bassinson with logistics and promoting the fest. 

That's all well and good, but to the casual jazz listener Columbia might seem like an odd place for a swingin’ scene. Missouri? Really? But the state as a whole has a rich jazz tradition that few states can match. Saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker was raised in Kansas City, and the genre is imbued deeply into the culture there. And to the East, the one and only Miles Davis grew up in East St. Louis and was massively popular in The Lou. Both figures stoked the flames of jazz in their respective cities to create a rich culture that has trickled throughout the state.

Although the festival honors the state’s jazz heritage, MoJazz also gathers acts from across the country. Both Missouri acts, The James Ward Band from Kansas City and the Tom Andes Quintet from Columbia, have played the festival before. The three groups new to the festival are spread across the country. Henna Roso hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra is based in Asheville, North Carolina, and The Funky Knuckles call Dallas home. And each band brings a different sound and style that will blend together over the course of the afternoon and make Rose Park the spot to swing. 

Henna Roso

The seven-piece from Tulsa is still early on in its career but plays with an exciting fusion of jazz, funk and soul. Bassinson saw the group on a recent tour in Jefferson City, and he says he had to invite them to play after watching how much fun they had on stage. The band is also committed to charity and activism, donating 10 percent of all revenue to organizations that fight food insecurity. Henna Roso will kick things off at noon on Sunday. 

Tom Andes Quintet

Andes has played locally in Columbia for decades but makes his performance a surprise every time. Bassinson himself isn’t 100-percent sure what styles Andes will break out on Sunday, but the artist's admittance that he'd be hauling along an electric keyboard and a Hammond B-3 organ tipped Bassinson off. “I’ve got a feeling he’ll have some good funky groove stuff,” Bassinson says. “He’s always done something different each and every time I’ve seen him.” Whatever Andes decides to play, he'll play it at 1:20 p.m. 

The James Ward Band

Also known as simply “The JWB,” this Kansas City group specializes in smooth jazz but often pulls from a grab bag of other styles, including R&B, Latin, gospel and funk. Bassinson says that the band has played the fest a few times in the past 10 years, and they're eager to find new fans in Columbia. The JWB plays at 2:40 p.m. 

Jonathan Scales Fourchestra

This group’s name might puzzle you once you realize there are only three band members, but you’ll forget that conundrum once Scales starts hammering on his steel pans. The North Carolina musician made his way into the scene with music greatly inspired by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, and he’s crafted a uniquely progressive sound. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like it before,” Bassinson says. The band, which is currently the opening act on tour with The Funky Knuckles, goes on at 4 p.m. 

The Funky Knuckles

This Dallas outfit has only been playing together for six years, but the group's talent has taken them all across America. Both Bassinson and Chittum likened The Funky Knuckles' sound to the popular jazz fusion group Snarky Puppy. Band members are musicians or producers with no shortage of experience in the music world, some of them having worked with names including Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu and the Queen Bey herself, Beyoncé. The group closes out the show at around 5:10 p.m. 

Occasional writer. Mostly culture editor. Office snark provider. If you like something I wrote, tell me: lagoreconnor@gmail.com. If you don't, you can tell me that, too.

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