Jazz emerged in a time that one might think that something new, such as the jazz movement, would not succeed. Jazz began to gain notoriety in the midst of The Great Depression. Kansas City's ability to sustain throughout such a horrible time can only be accredited to one thing; the administration of Thomas J. Pendergast, The Boss of Kansas City from 1911 until his arrest for tax evasion in 1938. His methods, however, where not one of the most reputable morals. Pendergast openly tolerated a "wide-open town" in Kansas City in exchange for political and financial benefits. Pendergast's tolerance of such laws as prohibition were so extreme that from the year 1920 to 1933, there was not a single felony conviction for violation of that law. This is seen as more unusual when one realizes that there were over 300 bars in the city that employed live musical entertainment (Pearson, Political 181).
Pendergast and his followers were not avid supporters of black music, in fact, "he scarcely listened to music at all. Throughout his life he made it a rule to be in bed no later than nine o'clock, an hour at which musical happenings in the nightclubs of Kansas City were barely getting started (Russel 6)." He did however ally himself with figures of organized crime that controlled the nightlife of Kansas City and, by proxy, allowed the jazzmen and bluesmen of Kansas City to be able to find employment in the hundreds of clubs and bars that Kansas City was known for having (Pearson, Political 182). For the most part gangs and mobsters and musicians minded their own business and had a silent respect for each other. The gangsters did however tend to look out for the musicians, or dancer's, or prostitute's well being.
Kansas City was a center of commerce that brought in many starry-eyed American men to the "heavenly place." "When a cattleman sold his beef, he did so at the Kansas City fattening pens and slaughterhouses lying between the older and poorer sections of the city and the Missouri River". In the same sense, raisers of hogs and sheep, growers of wheat and barley, and many other items made their way to the alluring Kansas City market and night life. The lure of the good food, good beer and liquor, dancing, exciting women, and dice rolling, all accompanied by the sauce of lively music was irresistible to many men (Russel 4).
Since jazz emerged during the "Roaring Twenties" and it was not out of the ordinary for it to be associated with gangsters and their kind. "There was no Depression for the gangsters," says pianist Sammy Price, who was there during the heart of the era. Due to the wide-open town the gangsters did well and therefore, because of their lavish lifestyles and the lurid nightlife that they indulged in, the jazz bands of the day didn't lack for employment. This influence spread as far as Texas Negro dance bands (Stearns 187).
There were a few influential people in Kansas City that stood out above the rest of the...