Matt Jones is not only a Westwood city councilor. He’s an entrepreneur and owner of one of Kansas City’s best-known jazz venues, the Phoenix. “It’s tough around Kansas City to be a jazz guy,” he says.
Fewer jazz clubs grace the Kansas City scene, Jones says, in a city known for its jazz and jazz history. The Phoenix has a long tradition and still offers live jazz nightly. But jazz is a “dying breed,” he says. Kansas City has more musicians than venues for them to play. Finding talent to play at the Phoenix isn’t the problem – it’s paying for it because jazz draws an older crowd that doesn’t spend as much. “Jazz doesn’t pay the bills,” he says. He may be adding more blues to the mix in the future.
Jones, who also owns Sully’s Pub in Mission, spoke at the monthly Northeast Johnson County Chamber luncheon and walked the members through his 10 rules to live and work by. But many of the questions focused on the jazz scene. The musicians he hires all come from the KC area, although he gets regular requests from talent across the country. “I support local,” Jones says.
He looks back to 2008, the same year he took over the Phoenix, as the convergence of a perfect storm that hit Kansas City bars and hurt their fortunes. The downturn in the economy, the opening of the Power and Light District and the smoking ban all contributed to harder times, he says. He looked at Jardine’s when it closed, but decided to pass. “These days you have to go big or go home.”
Sully’s was an established neighborhood spot when he bought it in 2011, Jones says, and regulars are at the heart of its business. You have to “take care of them,” he says.
As for the rules he has assembled over his careers in the U.S. Air Force, corporate sales and the bar business, a sampling includes such adages as help others succeed; do what you say you are going to do; know your limits; know when it’s time to shut your mouth; and look for solutions, not problems.