The Musical Odyssey of SONNY KENNER

Kansas City's historic 18th and Vine district may be known to jazz buffs as a major factor in the development of an enduring and uniquely American art form. But it's also the birthplace of Sonny Kenner, one of the most enduring jazz musicians to ever call Kansas City home. Sonny Kenner has spent a lifetime entertaining audiences, both in Kansas City and around the globe. Born into a family of entertainers in 1933, it was only natural that Sonny become a musician. And it didn't hurt that he grew up only a block from what is now the Mutual Musicians Foundation, where, as a child, he was able to hear some of the city's finest jazz musicians. Sonny Kenner At the age of 15, Sonny (along with childhood friend and pianist Larry Cummings) formed a first band called The Five Aces. Popularity across the Midwest came quickly for the group, the result of a weekly radio show on station KIMO as well as a guest spot on a variety show hosted by Bob Hope. Eventually, the Aces went their separate ways, with Kenner spending the next two years leading his own trio. In 1951, the "Red Hot Scamps" -- a forerunner of today's Scamps, led then and now by another Kansas City jazz great, pianist Rudy Massingale -- recruited Sonny. It was with this group that he had the memorable opportunity to play alongside jazz giants Charlie Parker, Quincy Jones and Scatman Carrothers. "I could hardly play when I was on stage with 'Bird," remembers Sonny with a smile. "I was too busy just trying to listen to him! He was a real idol of mine." In 1953 Sonny Kenner found himself on the road for the first time. As the guitarist with piano player and bandleader Sonny Thompson (whose "Long Gone" was a blues hit in the late '40s and early '50s), he performed at the Apollo Theater in New York, the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. and numerous venues "in all but about two states." "We were constantly on the road," says Sonny. "And I have fond memories of all that; but the constant travel finally started to wear me down." In 1955, Kenner returned to Kansas City, formed a new trio, and began headlining at 18th & Vine's famed Streets Hotel, a short-lived arrangement as the Army came along in October of that year to draft each of Sonny's bandmates. Left without a working group, Kenner was lured to Los Angeles by a booking agent who had heard the trio perform earlier in Kansas City. California kept Sonny busy as a musician as well as keeping him in contact with "some interesting people."