That a piano player with first hand-experience of the pre-war jazz scene lived into the 21st century is cause for celebration, but that he retained sufficient lucidity and good health to play and recount tales of Albert Ammons and others (including Charlie Parker) was a minor miracle. Jay McShann was that storyteller and he lived to celebrate his 90th birthday.
Blues singer/pianist James Columbus McShann aka Jay McShann died at the age of 90. Making his way to Kansas City during the 1930s, McShann became a leading figure in the music scene there alongside the likes of boogie woogie pianist Pete Johnson and blues shouter “Big” Joe Turner.
Nicknamed “Hootie”, McShann encountered a saxophone player named Charlie Parker in 1937 and “Bird” would figure in various bands that McShann formed for live dates and recording work. Recruiting vocalist Walter Brown, the group moved to New York City in 1942, enjoying success with tracks such as “Confessin’ The Blues” and a residency at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom.
However, McShann’s drafting into the army in 1944 though saw the group split and upon his return to civilian life a year later, McShann reacted to a downturn in demand for big bands by forming a smaller ensemble. Teaming up with singer Jimmy Witherspoon and basing themselves in Los Angeles, 1949 saw them score an R ‘n’ B hit with “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” – a tune later adopted by BB King.
Returning to Kansas City in the early 1950s to study music at college, a revival in commercial fortunes for McShann in the late 1960s saw him appear in Europe. In later life he collaborated on two career overview albums with guitarist Duke Robillard: 1998s “Still Jumpin’ The Blues” and “Goin’ To Kansas City”, which received a Grammy nomination in 2003.
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And here’s some footage of Jay in action: