A Jazzy Gem in Kansas City

June 1, 2008

FF JazzMuseum


By Jamie Vollmer

Some say that jazz is one of the only true American art forms. With so few art forms to call our own, Americans must hold dearly to that which we are given, preserving its heritage for future generations. For the last 10 years, Kansas City has been home to an institution doing just that. The American Jazz Museum holds one of the largest collections of jazz memorabilia in our nation and is diligently working to preserve the heritage of jazz.

The concept for the American Jazz Museum and revitalization of the surrounding 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District of Kansas City was born more than two decades ago. After years of planning, feasibility studies, political difficulties, fundraising and struggle, the museum and the entire Jazz District have come to life. Today the area boasts not only the American Jazz Museum, but also the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Mutual Musicians Foundation, Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center and the annual Rhythm and Ribs Jazz and Blues Festival.

What is exciting for event planners is that the American Jazz Museum is ready to meet the needs of almost any type or size of event. Need a space for a large sit-down gala? The American Jazz Museum is ready. Looking for a theater to host a nationally acclaimed speaker? The American Jazz Museum has it. Did the location for your next board meeting fall through? The American Jazz Museum can help. How about an intimate club setting for a cocktail party? You probably guessed it – the American Jazz Museum has you covered.

“All the spaces at The American Jazz Museum are totally unique. There is no other jazz museum like it,” says Susan Hilt, the museum’s special event coordinator.

The versatility of the space allows for everything from chamber orchestras to marketing meetings. So even if a Jazz theme is not part of the plan, the American Jazz Museum and its six unique event spaces can help event planners meet the goals of their individual events.

Gem Theatre Auditorium and Stage

The Gem Theatre, built in 1912, was a mainstay of the 18th & Vine Jazz District. Through the years, it was home to many performances from silent movies to remarkable jazz sets. When the region underwent revitalization, the Gem Theatre was a major component. The historic structure was restored as a 500-seat performance space with state-of-the art audio-visual capabilities. Today the trademark neon marquee and fully restored facade are again a landmark for the district.

The Gem Theatre can be rented for private events and includes a top-of-the-line technical staff to help with stage productions. The flexibility of the space lends itself to stockholder meetings, full-scale productions, training session, live panel discussions, film screenings, presentation ceremonies, concerts and plays. To help accommodate this variety, the theater includes a 20’ x 20’ retractable projection screen and electronic communications features such as video and audio downlinks and data presentation capabilities.

Gem Theatre Lobby

When renting the theater, you receive a little gem of a space right outside the doors to the auditorium – the Gem Theatre Lobby. This pre-event space includes a concession stand and mezzanine decorated with classic photos of legendary jazz performers.

The lobby is also available for rental on its own. It has a seating capacity of 100 people and is great for small events such as dinners or receptions.

Gem Theatre Boardroom and Meeting Room

For planners in search of a modern meeting space in the Kansas City area, the Gem Theatre has some strong options to consider. The Gem Theatre Boardroom located in the upper lobby/mezzanine level area of the theater can seat up to 20. If more space is needed, consider the Gem Theatre Meeting Room. This space comfortably seats 75 and is outfitted with all the basic meeting needs – modern sound and lighting, up-to-date audio-visual systems, a retractable projection screen and wireless Internet access.

American Jazz Museum Atrium

This 6,000-square-foot space is one of the largest event spaces the museum has to offer. Designed with events in mind, the Atrium features grand spaces and remarkable views. With soaring ceilings, an infrastructure designed to support live music, focused lighting, a two-story picture window with views of the neon Gem Theatre marquee and access to the exhibits in the American Jazz Museum, the Changing Gallery and Horace M. Peterson Visitors Center, the Atrium is ready to keep guest entertained.

Patsy Shawver, executive director of the Front Porch Alliance, has hosted two fundraising events in the Atrium. “The space is so bright, open and inviting. Another great thing about it – besides the fact that it is beautiful – is that if guests don’t know many of the other guests, there is always something for them to do such as walk through the gallery or tour the Jazz and Negro Leagues Baseball Museums which we also contracted to have open,” she says.

The Atrium space can seat 250 and handle 500 for a cocktail reception. However, planners can double the size of the space by tenting the attached back patio.

“Events in the Atrium range from corporate convention ‘night out’ events and non-profit fundraising events to wedding receptions,” comments Hilt.

Blue Room

Combining the ambiance of a 1930s jazz club with all the attributes of a modern day venue, The Blue Room is one of the most unique spaces the American Jazz Museum and Kansas City have to offer. Four days a week, the club fulfills its purpose as a living and breathing jazz club, bringing in some of the most well-known jazz acts the region, nation and world have to offer.

The room includes unique exhibit attributes such as rare Kansas City jazz artifacts and “soundies” from a video jukebox that features performances of jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and John Coltrane. It is a smoke-free space, but is set with a full-service bar, café tables and chairs, warm lighting, projection screen and a small, well-lit stage with a baby grand piano. With space for 125 seated, it is the ideal location for intimate receptions, sales meetings, employee gatherings, training sessions and press conferences.

Combining Spaces

The diversity of content and space offered by the American Jazz Museum lends itself to mixed use. Many event planners choose to hold a sit-down reception or elegant cocktail party in the museum Atrium and then move the party across the street to the Gem Theatre for a live performance.

Things to Remember

The American Jazz Museum is committed to the success of each event. The museum’s special event coordinator recommends booking a space at least three months in advance, but can accommodate a shorter timeline during slower seasons.

When it comes to vendors, the museum is quite flexible. While the museum has a list of preferred caterers, to get an additional caterer on the list. The museum does have tables and chairs available for rent, but also allows clients to use outside rental companies.

If a public performance is part of your event, the museum is ready to help. As a member of Ticket Master, the museum can help coordinate ticket sales. Because the venue is a working museum, it comes with a couple challenges. Set-up for evening events cannot begin until 3:00 p.m. on the day of the event and everything must be torn down immediately after an event to allow for the museum to open the next morning.

However, those who hold events at the American Jazz Museum have nothing but positive comments about the experience.

Kelly Cebold, a client development specialist for Quilogy, held a client appreciation event in the museum Atrium during the holiday season last year. “Everyone enjoyed the experience tremendously,” she says. “I have even had attendees request information about having their events at the American Jazz Museum in the future.”

Versatility, live music, historic ambiance, cultural awareness, state-of-the-art technology – if any of these are on the must-have list, consider the American Jazz Museum for your next event. MM&E

(Jamie Vollmer is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.)

Contact Information:

American Jazz Museum

1616 East 18th Street

Kansas City, MO 64108


Susan Hilt, Special Events Coordinator

[email protected] • (816) 474-8463

At a Glance

Type of Facility:


Group size this facility is willing/able to accommodate:


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Special Features/Amenities:

The versatility of the venue spaces allow for many unique events from live musical and theatrical performances to intimate cocktail parties and meetings.

Is the facility disabled accessible?


Price Range:


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