Dave McKenna was born on May 30, 1930 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Starting out at the age of 15, he played with Boots Mussulli in 1947, Charlie Ventura in 1949 and the Woody Herman Orchestra from 1050-1951. He then spent two years in the military brfore rejoining Ventura in 1953.
McKenna worked with a variety of top swing and Dixieland musicians including Gene Krupa, Joe Venuti, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Bob Wilbur, Eddie Condon and Bobby Hackett. By 1967 he was pursuing a solo career in the NE United States and played with Louis Armstrong at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival.
Known as a wonderful accompanist, Dave recorded with singers Rosemary Clooney, Teddi King and Donna Byrne in addition to recording a PBS special with Tony Bennett. Gaining recognition in his own right during the Seventies he chose to play locally rather than travel extensively. His preference was clubs and hotels over getting center stage in major venues. A decade-long run at Boston’s grand Copley Plaza Hotel ended his successful engagement in 1991 when the Plaza was sold.
He was fond of staying close to the melody, was a loyal Boston Red Sox fan, often listening to games on his transistor radio while performing, would walk to Fenway from the Plaza, and had a musical style relied on two key elements relating to his choices of tunes and set selection, and the method of playing that has come to be known as “three-handed swing”.
McKenna had clarity, taste, beauty, and swing in his playing and was dubbed “The Bell Ringer” for the clear, bell-like sound he evoked from the instrument. He had an extensive recording career from 1958 to 2002, recording for ABC-Paramount, Epic, Bethlehem, Realm, Chiaroscuro and Concord record labels.
Pianist Dave McKenna retired around the turn of the millennium due to increasing mobility problems brought on by his long battle with diabetes and passed away on October 18, 2008 from lung cancer.
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Wycliffe Gordon was born May 29, 1967 in Waynesboro, Georgia and was heavily influenced musically by the church music his organist father played at several churches in Burke County as well as being a classical pianist and teacher.
It wasn’t until 1980 that Gordon became particularly inspired in jazz at age thirteen, listening to jazz recordings inherited from his great aunt. The collection included a five-LP jazz anthology produced by Sony-Columbia and was drawn in particular to Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens.
Wycliffe attended, at that age, Sego High School in Augusta, Georgia and played in the band under direction from Don Milford. He graduated from Butler High in 1985, performed in New York City as part of the McDonald High School All-American Band, went on to study music at Florida A&M where he played in the marching band.
His early works as a professional were with Wynton Marsalis but in recent years he expanded beyond swing and experimented with new instruments, notably the indigenous Australian wind instrument, didgeridoo. In 1995, Gordon arranged and orchestrated the third version of the theme song for NPR’s All Things Considered, the widely recognized melody composed in 1971 by Donald Joseph Voegeli.
In 2006 he founded Blues Back Records, his was an independent jazz label and released his Rhythm On My Mind album, a collaboration with bassist Jay Leonhart. His desire for full artistic control was the impetus for creating Blues Back. Blues Back had produced other artists in Wycliffe’s universe who met Gordon’s criteria for originality, however, since 2011 has been inactive.
Jazz trombonist, arranger, composer, bandleader and music educator at the collegiate-conservatory level, Wycliffe Gordon also plays didgeridoo, trumpet, tuba, piano, and sings. To date he has a catalogue of 19 albums as a leader and another eight as a sideman performing with John Allred, Marcus Roberts, Randy Sandke, Maurice Hines, Ron Westray, and Chip White. He continues to perform, tour, record and educate.
Archie Shepp was born on May 24, 1937 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida but was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He studied piano, clarinet and alto saxophone before focusing on the tenor saxophone. He studied drama at Goddard College from 1955-59, eventually turning professional.
Shepp played in a Latin jazz band for a short time before joining the band of avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor. His debut recording as a leader was under his own name, Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet on the Savoy label. The 1962 session included an Ornette Coleman composition was the initial link to the formation of the New York Contemporary Five, which included Don Cherry. Two years later with the admiration of Coltrane he recorded Four For Trane on Impulse Records with trombonist Roswell Rudd, bassist Reggie Workman and alto John Tchicai.
Archie participated in the sessions for Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in late 1964, but none of the takes were included on the final release but has since been made available on a 2002 reissue. He would cut Ascension with Coltrane in 1965, and his place alongside Coltrane at the forefront of the avant-garde jazz scene was epitomized when the pair split the record New Thing At Newport, the first side a Coltrane set, the second a Shepp set.
During the decade he would develop his political consciousness and Afrocentric orientation, recording albums that reflected. His albums Fire Music and The Magic of Ju-Ju put him at the forefront of the free-form avant-garde movement along with Pharoah Sanders. He continued to experiment into the new decade, at various times with harmonica players and even spoken word poets. Never far from political and social commentary Archie released Attica Blues for the prison riots and The Cry Of My People that spoke to civil rights. He also wrote for theater including The Communist and Lady Day: A Musical Tragedy.
In 1971, Shepp was recruited to the University of Massachusetts Amherst that began a thirty-year career as a professor teaching Revolutionary Concepts in African-American Music and Black Musician in the Theater, also teaching African-American Studies at SUNY in Buffalo, New York.
In the late 1970s and beyond Archie would record blues, ballads, spirituals, tributes to traditional jazz musicians, as well as R&B. He would perform with Sun Ra’s Arkestra, French trumpeter Eric Le Lann, with Michel Herr creating the original score for the film Just Friends. He also appeared on the Red, Hot Organization’s tribute to Fela Kuti titled Red, Hot and Riot.
He has been featured in two documentary films, 1981’s Imagine The Sound, in which he discusses and performs his music and poetry, and Mystery Mr. Ra in which he discusses and performs his music and poetry. Shepp also appears in Mystery, Mr. Ra, a 1984 French documentary about Sun Ra.
In 2004 he founded his own record label, Archieball, together with Monette Berthomier in Paris. Tenor and soprano saxophonist, pianist, vocalist Archie Shepp continues to perform, collaborate and record.
Bob Florence was born on May 20, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. He began taking piano lessons at five and initially intended to be a concert pianist. His direction changed when he was exposed to jazz while attending Los Angeles City College.
At the beginning of his career Bob worked as a pianist and arranger with Dave Pell. He went on to found his first band in the late 1950s, working with, amongst others, Herb Geller, Bud Shank, Frank Capp and Enevoldsen.
Florence later participated in big band projects in the Los Angeles area, working mainly with session musicians and as an accompanist to various singers. Throughout his career he worked as an arranger for Harry James, Louis Bellson, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Count Basie and Doc Severinsen.
In 2000, Florence won a Grammy for Best Large Ensemble Performance. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California on May 15, 2008 at the age of 75.
Wu Fei was born on May 12, 1977 in Beijing, China. From the age of four she began her music studies first on the guzheng and then piano the following year, practicing two to four hours everyday. At fourteen she tested into the China Conservatory of Music and studied composition before and then at Mills College in the United States.
Wu Fei, who is also a composer, vocalist and improviser, combine East with West in her approach to her music. In 2007 she released her debut solo album A Distant Youth with accompanying guitar, violin and percussion. Her sophomore project titled Yuan followed the following year.
She has recorded with Abigail Washburn Carla Kihlstedt, Helge Andres Norbakkeh and two Fred Firth albums, as well as on his soundtrack for the PBS documentary film The Happy End Problem. Her performance was highlighted in the 2009 Shan Qi music DVD and she gave a live performance on guzheng and voice at the Hermes fashion show during Paris Fashion Week. Wu Fei, avant-garde and experimental jazz musician, continues to perform, compose and record.