RIP Jay McShann

Posted on: Friday, Dec 8, 2006

Kansas City pianist, bandleader and songwriter Jay McShann has died in hospital yesterday (07 Dec) after a brief illness. He was 90 years old.He was the last of the great Kansas City players, and the creator of a style that combined swing and blues and changed the course of popular music. A piano player with a unique and subtle touch, he was a bluesman at heart. His best known composition “Confessin’ The Blues” has been recorded by artists like The Rolling Stones, B.B. King, Little Walter, Esther Phillips, and Jimmy Witherspoon among many others.

A self-taught musician, McShann was born in Muskogee, Oklahama in 1916 – although some sources list his birth year as 1909. Settling in Kansas City in the mid-’30s, he soon formed a small group, but by 1940 had a large band which included a young alto sax player called Charlie Parker.

His links to Parker are widely known, but McShann’s later role in building the career of singers Walter Brown (who co-wrote Confessin’ the Blues”) and Jimmy Witherspoon has been largely overlooked. Typecast as a blues band, McShann’s group recorded few of his more complex jazz arrangements, but they helped build his reputation and he was able to move to New York in 1942 – however, the second World War intervened, McShann was drafted, and moved to Los Angeles after his discharge two years later.

For many years, he languished in relative obscurity, but emerged again in 1969, taking up a heavy touring schedule that brought him international fame. Along the way he recorded for numerous labels, including Decca, Mercury, Vee Jay, EmArcy and Atlantic.

Jay McShann leaves his companion of more than 30 years, Thelma Adams (known as Marianne McShann), and three daughters – Linda McShann Gerber, Jayme McShann Lewis, and Pam McShann. Funeral services will be announced shortly; plans are pending for a musical celebration of his life to be held in Kansas City early next year.

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