Kansas City 1920s and '30s musicians captured in photos

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Included in The Fine Art of Jazz exhibit at the Washington County Museum is this photo of Queen Bey was the first jazz artist to receive the Governors Arts Award recognizing her efforts in promoting the heritage of jazz and the blues.“The Fine Art of Jazz,” a traveling exhibit of 50 black-and-white photographs celebrating the music and musicians of early 20th Century Kansas City, Mo., has opened at the Washington County Museum in downtown Hillsboro.

And, while Kansas City is about 1,800 miles from Washington County, Oregon, the city’s rich jazz heritage has influenced musicians from coast to coast.

The exhibit features photos taken throughout 20 years by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Dan White.

“I began photographing jazz musicians in 1987, hoping to create a visual record of these talented artists and to help preserve Kansas City’s tradition as a birthplace of jazz,” White said in promotional material for the exhibit. “I’d been listening, watching and talking to those in the local jazz scene for quite some time. They were very open to passing along their knowledge and traditions with anyone who shared their love of the music; I wanted to capture some of this feeling before it slipped away.

“Players like Rusty Tucker, Speedy Huggins, Milt Abel and Pearl Thuston. They had a certain sound. When they were on, there was nothing like it.”

The large-print images range from emotional closeups of the musicians to mood-driven environmental portraits of jazz players Orville “Piggie” Minor, Eddie Saunders, Rusty Tucker and Jay McShann.

Sounds generated in Prohibition-era Kansas City still influence today’s jazz musicians, according to Chuck Haddix, the exhibit’s curator. Haddix is director of the Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri Kansas City and author of several works on jazz history and personalities, including the legendary Charlie COURTESY PHOTO - Dan White, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, photographed many jazz artists, including Elmer Price.

Washington County Museum is one of more than two dozen facilities across the country to showcase “The Fine Art of Jazz” during its six-year tour. Other stops have included the Cab Calloway School for the Arts in Wilmington, Del.; the Ella Fitzgerald Theatre in Newport News, Va.; and the Center for Community and Cultural Arts in San Diego, Calif.

“Now that we’ve moved into our larger space, we have the opportunity to bring in touring exhibits we feel might be of interest to our members and guests,” said Marcia Hall, director of guest services and public programs for the museum.

The museum, which devotes most of its exhibit space to local history, is now showcasing a summer-long show of local quilts, “A Summer Wrapped in Quilts,” that changes every two weeks and includes weekly lectures through July.

“We now have the luxury of room to tell not just Washington County history and stories, but from time to time bring in other exhibits of interest,” Hale added. In 2013, the museum hosted an interactive exhibit on the Hubble Space Telescope “New Views of the Universe.”

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Oliver Todd was one of Kansas Citys most famous band leaders, fronting a band called the Hottentots. The Washington County Museum is located at 120 E. Main St. in the Hillsboro Civic Center Plaza Building. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for youth, students, seniors and active military.

For more information about current and upcoming exhibits and museum membership, go to or call 503-645-5353.

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