Kansas City Jazz Legend Jay McShann Passes at 90


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Kansas City, MO. (December 8, 2006) - Jay McShann, the veteran pianist closely identified with the Kansas City tradition of jazz and blues, passed away yesterday at the age of 90 at St. Luke's Hospital. A master of many styles, McShann established an evolutionary bridge between traditional Kansas City jazz, renowned for a swinging, rhythmic sensibility, and the more intuitive, improvisational bebop form of jazz.

McShann, who became known as “Hootie" among his contemporaries, was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1916 and taught himself piano as a child. In 1936, he relocated to Kansas City and had organized his first big band by 1939, the Jay McShann Orchestra.

This musically progressive ensemble performed many modern compositions which bridged traditional Kansas City jazz and bebop, including the popular blues “Confessin' the Blues" The ensemble's 1941 Decca recording “Hootie Blues" was the first recording to document the emerging genius of Charlie Parker, who would become a pioneer of bebop alongside Dizzy Gillespie.

“Performing with Jay McShann was one of the biggest thrills of my musical career. He was always very enthusiastic, and had a way of bringing out the best in everybody he played with," says Kansas City bassist Lucky Wesley.

“Jay McShann introduced me to the Kansas City sound, even before I knew him. To me, he was my musical father," says local jazz pianist and vocalist Luqman Hamza.

Following a stint in the United States army during World War II, McShann led a combo that produced the classic song “Ain't Nobody's Business," which introduced a young blues singer named Jimmy Witherspoon who became one of the great post-World War II blues singers.

During the 1950s, Jay McShann studied arrangement and composition at the University of Kansas City-Missouri's Conservatory of Music and performed at several venues in Kansas City. He was rediscovered in 1969 began touring regionally and nationally, recording frequently and appearing at jazz festivals, sometimes performing with legendary violinist Claude “Fiddler" Williams.

Among his many awards are the Jazz Oral History Award from the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies; the Jazz Master Award from the Afro-American Museum in Philadelphia; the Kansas City Jazz Heritage Award; the Jazz Pioneer Award from the National Association of Jazz Educators; and the esteemed Jazz Master Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Jay had a very unique way of connecting with people. He was Kansas City at its best," says American Jazz Museum Entertainment Coordinator and local jazz saxophonist Gerald Dunn.

As an elder statesman of jazz, Jay McShann maintained a vibrant career for over 70 years, including a performance at the second annual CODA Jazz fund concert. He also appeared in several documentary films, including “Hootie Blues," “Last of the Blue Devils," and the 2001 Ken Burns documentary miniseries, “Jazz."

“While we're saddened at the loss of our friend Jay McShann, we're also looking forward to celebrating the life of such an important figure in jazz and building on the wonderful musical tradition he established in Kansas City," says Carol Rhodes Dyson, Interim Executive Director of the American Jazz Museum.

Members of the community are invited to pay their respects to Jay “Hootie" McShann in the American Jazz Museum Atrium, located at 1616 E. 18th Street in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz Disrict in Kansas City, MO. A memorial service is planned, and will be announced at a later date.

This story appears courtesy of All About Jazz Publicity.
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