One of Kansas City’s most truly colorful jazz and entertainment characters ever has passed away…
Greg Halstead, the founder and former owner of Jardine’s jazz club died Sunday. The 70-something Halstead may not have set out to lord over the local jazz live music scene, but that’s exactly what he did after taking over the former George’s Cheese and Sausage Shop space in the early 1990s at 4536 Main Street.
“You know, he never liked jazz, he just did it to survive,” says former Jardine’s co-owner Pat Hanrahan. “When he first opened Greg started out with a player piano. Then he talked to the original owner of The Phoenix downtown and he helped Greg start the jazz thing, and Jardine’s became the premier jazz club in town. You know, he had Angela Hagenbach on Friday nights and Ida McBeth on Saturdays.”
In August of 2000 Halstead nearly gave up on jazz.
“Jardine’s owner decides he can’t play on jazz alone,” was the headline atop my column in the Star.
“So much for KC’s vaunted jazz legacy,” I wrote. “Jardine’s will depart from its all-jazz format of the last eight years and widen its musical horizons starting in September. The new mix will include swing, Irish folk and Dixieland.”
The reason for Halstead’s change of heart:
“I want people in my club, ” he told me. “I enjoy seeing people having fun and then going to the bank the next day as a result of it.”
It’s no secret that while jazz and barbecue get most of the lip service where Kansas City is concerned, with rare exception, only the latter is bankable.
“It used to be once a week one of the TV film crews was in our club or the Phoenix or the various jazz clubs around town, just coming in and taking pictures,” Halstead said. “Now nobody comes around anymore, and you never see what’s going on around town. I think ennui’s a good word to attach to it. It’s just sort of like, Wughhh!”
Halstead vowed to retain jazz on weekends and in time it was back on Jardine’s music menu full time.
Did I mention Halstead was a very colorful, outspoken individual?
“He was just a character – just all his crazy stories and stuff about back when he was running around before Jardine’s,” Hanrahan reminisces. “He always had some hilarious stories. You could sit there and listen to him bullshit for hours. You know, different things that happened over the weekend, how they’d all sit there after they first opened up, drinking after hours until the sun came up and playing crazy games and (stuff). He tried to call the Queen of England one night.”
Hanrahan’s wildest Halstead story?
“One night I pulled up there and was walking across the street and Greg was coming out from behind the bushes with a flashlight, and he had knocked out some musician and dragged him into the bushes. And he looked at me and said, ‘You didn’t see anything.’ and I said, ‘You’re right.’ There were a lot of flashlight stories. He kept a big flashlight behind the bar and he wacked a few people. One time he hauled somebody out of there and tied them to a tree until the police came.”
In 2004 Halstead told me about the night jazz crooner Karrin Allyson threw a drink in his face inside the club.
“Actually, it was funny,” he said. “She threw a glass of beer at her boyfriend (Kansas City Symphony music director William McGlaughlin). Then I laughed and made a joke, and she let me have it with a glass of water because she was out of ammunition.”
“You know what the line was that caused her to throw the drink in his face?” Hanrahan asks. “‘Nice rack.'”
For Halstead’s 60th in 2000 the staff at Jardine’s gave him a gift certificate for a tattoo.
“It was a saxaphone from the original Jardine’s logo,” Hanrahan says.
Which brings us to how Halstead came up with the name Jardine’s.
“I named the restaurant after my best friend, John Jardine,” Halstead told me in 2003. “He was head football coach at the University of Wisconsin and before that he coached Carl Peterson when Carl was in college at UCLA. John died in 1989.”
“There were two Jardine brothers, John and Jerry” Hanrahan says. “And their football jersey numbers were 64 and 80. And that’s where the Jardine’s phone number came from. And he had a picture of the brothers behind the bar that nobody ever saw and they were Greg’s best friends.”
Not that Halstead was what you’d call a football or Chiefs groupie.
“Maybe I’m just jealous because I’m not an athlete or something,” he old me once. “But they’re just snobs. They come in and expect to drink for free. It kind of was a close call on one night with Derrick Thomas when one of his posse members came over to thank me for the drinks. And I said ‘I don’t care who you’re with. Pay the bill.’ ”
Services for Halstead go down at 2 p.m. Thursday at Valley View United Methodist Church, 8412 West 95th Street in Overland Park.