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Author chronicles Wichita's affairs with jazz, bootlegging

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, August 23, 2010, at 12:04 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, August 23, 2010, at 7:10 a.m.

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating history. The series' name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: "To the stars through difficulties."

Wichita’s secret, torrid love affair with jazz, bootlegging, drugs and prostitutes is out in the open.

The new book “Wichita Jazz and Vice Between the World Wars,” by Joshua Yearout examines that history. It will be featured at a reception honoring the author at 6 p.m. Friday at Wichita’s City Arts.

Yearout, who wrote the book for his master’s degree in public history at Wichita State University in 2005, had cancer and died last year. He was 33.

Yearout was an archivist in special collections at WSU and had access to many of the records in WSU collections. Profits from the book will go to his wife and daughter.

For local historians and history buffs, the 87-page book contains a comprehensive list of Wichita and Sedgwick County clubs and venues, and the performers who played in them through the years.

The book also explores some of the jazz greats who performed in Wichita such as Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong.

It was in Wichita that the electric guitar got its start. Wichita club and band leader Gage Brewer debuted the guitar.

And it was in Wichita that one of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th century, Charlie “Bird” Parker, produced his first recording.

It was 1940 and Parker, then 20, was playing in Jay McShann’s swing band. McShann’s orchestra played at Trocadero, a club at 3400 W. Douglas. Parker made the recording at local radio station KFBI and included the songs “I Found A New Baby,” “Body and Soul” and “Wichita Blues.”

The book explores the going rates for alcohol in 1917. Topeka bootleggers charged $2 to $4.50 for a gallon of whiskey but Wichita bootleggers were charging up to $35 a quart. Kansas was a dry state at the time.

“While not impossible to find a drink in Wichita, it was at least much more expensive,” Yearout wrote.

He wrote that the Sept. 9, 1926, arrest of two known bootleggers, Sam and Ed Offut, made by Wichita Detective Dan Carrier, was “as if scripted for a low-budget film noir.”

Yearout’s notes as taken from news accounts of the Wichita Eagle and Wichita Beacon read:

“We overtook them and shook them down at Hydraulic and Third. Sam had a 30-30 Winchester between his legs and when Sam got out he had a pint of whiskey in his shirt and let it slip down his trousers and it broke. He started to fight. Mr. Carrier knocked him down with his six shooter. We told them to get into Mr. Carrier’s car and Mr. Carrier told me to drive.”

The book was published, in part, by funding through Tom and Jill Docking, Caffe Moderne, Senseney Music and by WSU’s College of Fine Arts, Office of the Dean.

The books will be sold at Caffe Moderne, Senseney Music and the Kansas African American Museum. They also will be available the night of the reception.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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