[JPL] With respect to the memory Dave McKenna

George Thomas jazz at vpr.net
Sun Oct 19 22:19:21 EDT 2008

Beautifully put Tom. (see below)

When I was in college in the early 1970's I was
already a fan of Willie The Lion Smith, Lucky Roberts,
Duke Ellington and other stride pianists when a friend
turned me on to Dave McKenna and I was hooked on his
powerful left hand and his innovative thematic medleys of tunes.

I later caught him whenever I could at The Copley Plaza
in Boston where he alternated every six months or so
with Teddy Wilson. What an education in solo piano from
both of them, Teddy with the swinging, accurate but very light touch,
Dave able to go from a whisper to a roar in a rollicking
chorus or less. A side benefit was that there was no cover.

I've got to say Boston at that time had some greats including
another giant of stride Jaki Byard.

I'll be fitting McKenna's fabulous "Change" & "Education" medleys
into my fund drive music this week. We'll miss you Dave, thanks for
all the great music.


Jazz In The Evening with George Thomas
Vermont Public Radio
365 Troy Ave
Colchester, VT 05446

jazz at vpr.net
Mon-Thu 8-10pm,Fri 9pm-mid

> ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
> Here's a note I sent to a Dave McKenna memorial page tonight.  The great
pianist died earlier today at age 78.  His sister Jean noted that he'd
enjoyed the Red Sox Game 5 victory on Thursday night.  Dave composed two
tunes in tribute to Ted Williams, "Theodore the Thumper" and "Splendid
Splinter," and was notorious for his habit of listening to Sox games
> a concealed transistor radio while he played piano at the Copley Plaza
> other Southern New England saloons.
> I used to see Whitney Balliett at Dave's gigs on the Cape and at
Bradley's.  One of Balliett's most affectionate New Yorker profiles was
his piece on McKenna entitled "Super Chops," which appeared around 1979.

> It begins, "Dave McKenna's life pivots on paradox."  Here's one that
> to mind for me: When I began seeing McKenna as a teenager, I was amazed
> how little attention nightclub patrons paid to his playing, and dismayed
at how difficult it often was to hear his thunderous attack over the din
of conversation in these rooms.  (Note: This was well before Mr.
Cunningham began insisting on silence for the performers at Bradley's.) 
But when Terri Gross interviewed Dave on Fresh Air years ago, she
mentioned this same annoying phenomenon, and asked if it bothered him. 
"Not at all," he replied.  "When they're quiet, I get nervous."
> I'll feature a good deal of McKenna's music on Monday night.
> Tom
> Sent: Saturday, October 18, 2008 8:36 PM
> Subject: With respect to the memory Dave McKenna
> Please accept my condolences for your loss of Dave McKenna.
> I used to see Dave on a regular basis on the Cape, at the Copley Plaza
> Boston, with Ruby Braff at the Regattabar, and at Bradley's, where I'd
hang till the last note was struck and often get a lift down to Spring
Street from Dave and whoever was driving him, sometimes Frank Tate. 
Especially memorable were the times when Zoot Sims would arrive at
Bradley's around 2 a.m., mount a barstool, and play duets with Dave.
> was around the time they recorded together for Chiaroscuro.  I also ran
into him several times at Fenway Park.  And most memorably, when I was
visiting Paris in January 1991, I ran into Dave and his wife Frankie on
the street where I was staying; he'd played some holiday gigs in Germany
and then come to Paris for sightseeing.
> The last time I saw Dave was on his 70th birthday, May 30, 2000, at a
church in Belchertown, Mass. where he played a Sunday afternoon concert.

> His playing was as brilliant as ever, but he was in no mood for
> celebration.  When the emcee proposed that we sing "Happy Birthday" to
welcome Dave back for his second set, he shot a ray that said, "Don't
dare!"  And no one did.  Afterwards he attended a reception at the
producer's home, and was surprisingly garrulous.  That was the last I
> of him, and I believe it was one of his last performances anywhere.
> I first heard McKenna at The Columns on Rt. 28 in West Dennis around
>  I was a 17-year-old passing for 21, already fanatical for Duke
> Lester Young, Chicago Blues, and the jam sessions I'd catch every week
> the Kitty Kat Lounge in my hometown of Worcester.  But seeing Dave, Dick
Johnson, Lou Colombo, even Bobby Hackett on occasion, at these Cape Cod
roadhouses was a revelation.  To discover music of this calaber played
with such beauty and passion by master musicians who had such low
> profiles at the time, and whom no one seemed to pay attention to, gave
> a whole new insight on the jazz life.  In many ways, their relative
obscurity was one of the things that fueled my desire to pursue a career
where I might bring a little exposure to their great work. Now, with all
due respect, I can tell you that it's been an honor to play Dave's music
on the radio for the past 30 years.
> Kindly keep me posted on plans for his funeral or memorial service.
> Regards,
> Tom Reney
> "Jazz à la Mode"
> Monday-Friday, 8-11 p.m.
> WFCR 88.5 FM
> NPR News and Music for Western New England
> Hampshire House
> 131 County Circle
> Amherst, MA 01003-9257
> tr at wfcr.org
> www.wfcr.org

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