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Originally Posted: December 29, 2009
The Young Jazzers: Diverse
Diverse is a band with winning ways. In 2008, this five-piece jazz band of young musicians won the Gene Harris Jazz Competition. In doing so, trumpeter Hermon Mehari, tenor saxophonist William Sanders, keyboardist John Brewer, bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Ryan Lee not only got to open for the festival’s headliner, DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame drummer Roy Haynes, but also won a deal to record an album of original music on the Origin label. The CD is called Diverse and was produced by Bobby Watson, who plays sax on a track.
Mehari, 22, says Diverse, whose sound blends modern-day influences with deeply rooted traditional jazz, did not expect the 2009 it has had: “At our CD-release party at the Blue Room in August, people had to wait an hour to get in. Our CD hit 49th on the JazzWeekchart, and it’s gotten international airplay in France, Australia, New Zealand,” he says.
One reason for the group’s success: “We like to provide a gateway to jazz,” Mehari says. “One of our goals is to bring in young people and expand our demographic by making the audience happy and feel good.”
Proof of that good feeling came in November when Diverse played the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series at Murry’s in Columbia. “That was our best gig of the year,” Mehari says. “We sold a lot of CDs, and a lot of people came up to us and said, ‘I don’t listen to jazz but I really like what you guys are doing.’”
As for 2010, the band will continue its Diverse Features Series, such as its recent RecordBar gig with guest Logan Richardson on alto sax, plus touring. “It’s good to have Kansas City as a base,” Mehari says. “There’s a lot of support here with other musicians and fans. And the city has a small-town feeling, so it’s easy to get the word out.”
- By Robert Folsom