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  • Writer's pictureNina Cherry

Carol Comer (b. 1937)


Pianist and vocalist Carol Comer is a luminary to not only the Kansas City jazz scene, but women in jazz at large. Comer, along with Dianne Gregg founded the Kansas City Women's Jazz Festival (1979–1985), the first jazz festival to feature women musicians. This festival attracted a prestigious line-up, including Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, and Melba Liston.

Comer performs with Lynn Riley and Joan Griffith at the KCWJF

Comer’s efforts on behalf of jazz and women in jazz have been acknowledged in the following books:

American Women in Jazz by Sally Plackson (Seaview/Wideview Publishing)

Stormy Weather: The Untold Story of Women in Jazz by Linda Dahl

Jazzwomen at the Keyboard by Mary Unterbrink (McFarland & Company)

Women in Jazz by Frank Driggs (Stash Publishing)

The Jazz Years – Earwitness to an Era by Leonard Feather (DeCapo Books)

Changing the Tune by Carolyn Glenn Brewer (University of North Texas)

For her creative and administrative contributions as Executive Director and co-founder of the Women’s Jazz Festival, Inc. she was named (along with co-founder Dianne Gregg) JAZZWOMAN OF THE YEAR by the late Leonard Feather, author of the “International Encyclopedia of Jazz” series and former syndicated jazz columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

Comer performs with Milt Abel, courtesy of LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries

Her journalistic career has been vast and varied; she has written liner notes for several jazz recordings; she served as Kansas City’s correspondent for Downbeat magazine; she was a contributing editor for City Magazine and was a stringer for JAM (Jazz Ambassadors Magazine).

Comer and Gregg dedicated the first WJF to the late Bettye Miller, beloved pianist and vocalist. Courtesy of LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries

She is an ASCAP composer and her compositions have been recorded by numerous artists

including Kansas City’s own, vocalist Marilyn Maye.

As a teacher, she has taught and/or given clinics and workshops at the University of Northern Illinois, the University of Arkansas, Emporia State University, Southeast Missouri State University and Missouri State University as well as conducting classes for the International Association of Jazz Educators and the Saskatchewan Arts Council (at summer jazz camps in Canada). She has been a vocal coach for several local/national artists including Kevin Mahogany, Wendy Fopeano, Kim Liggett, Angela Hagenbach, Laura Chalk, Geneva Price, Candace Evans, D. J. Sweeney, and Christy Meinhardt. She is a Master Teaching Artist for Kansas City Young Audiences and was awarded the Lighton Prize, an honor given to the Teaching Artist of the Year.

Comer was also featured in Judy Chaikin's 2011 documentary, The Girls in the Band.

A longstanding member of the Kansas City scene, Comer has performed in a wide variety of ensembles, maintaining engagements at some of the most prestigious venues in the city. For a time, she led Calico, an all-woman jazz band (based in Kansas City) with Lynn Riley on saxophone and flute, Joan Griffith on bass, and Carol Williamson on drums.

Promotional material for Calico, courtesy of Lynn Riley
Courtesy of LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries

Former editor Mike Metheny wrote, in a cover story for JAM, “…for a jazz musician to reach a listener, or better yet a respected colleague on that most personal and visceral of levels can be the ultimate reward. And for singer/pianist/composer/journalist/jazz festival organizer/educator Carol Comer such rewards have been the rule rather than the exception for the bulk of a distinguished career.”

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