October 20th: Jazz Update

We have recently arrived back in Naples, FL, and before I could even get comfortable, I received a call from my editor at the Naples Daily News asking if I would review the upcoming Charlie Daniels Band concert at The Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts. I’m pretty much open to any kind of music these days–as long as it’s played well–and though I wasn’t overly familiar with Daniels, I figured, what the heck. While I could have done without his redneck rhetoric about Jesus, the flag, hanging criminals from a tall tree with a short rope–and a bit of gay-bashing thrown in for good measure–there was no getting around the fact that this group is superb. Sure, the 72-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist/violinist did his few country hits, and a tribute to Johnny Cash as well, but a good amount of what was played was a Latin/Southern rock/western swing/jazz/fusion hybrid that swung, was expertly executed and darned impressive. Those who thought they were in for a night of good ol’ country fiddlin’ may have been disappointed. I was impressed and surprised. Most of you know that fusion, of any kind, isn’t easy to play. Daniels and his five talented sidemen made it look easy. As he said during a recent interview about his plans for the future, Daniels said, “Heck, I might even make a jazz album.” He should. If Willie Nelson can do it, so can Charlie Daniels.

You may have noticed that we have lowered the price of everything to $10. Given the terrible economic climate, it’s the least we could do. So please order early and often–and try to order more than one item, please– and be patient with delivery. It will get there, and if anything is wrong, we will make it right. In our complaint department, we receive, from time to time as you all know, complaints about DVDs freezing or sometimes not playing at all. More than a few of our “in the know” customers have said that the stick-on disc labels we use might be the source of the problem. For that reason, we’re suspending their use and we are simply using a black marker to indicate the title. Let’s see how this works.

Word has come that pianist Dave McKenna has passed away at the age of 78. McKenna was one of the giants of the keyboard and one of the real individuals. He had an instantly identifiable sound and touch and was possibly one of the last, two-handed players. Indeed, he was an orchestra unto himself and was stylistically beyond categorization. JazzLegends.com visitors may be familiar with his stellar work with Krupa on “Hey Here’s Gene Krupa” and on the live set recorded at “The Inn Club.” He spent some time with Charlie Ventura as well. We are taking the liberty of reprinting Dave McKenna’s bio from his web site. Rest in peace, Dave, and keep swingin’.

DAVE McKENNA: 1930-2008

Dave McKenna was simply one of the legends of the jazz piano. He, of course, would probably have disagreed. “I don’t know if I qualify as a bona-fide jazz guy,” he said. “I play saloon piano. I like to stay close to the melody.” His humility and laid-back personal style seemed a contrast to the vibrant vitality of his masterful piano style. His range is truly extraordinary. One minute he is caressing a lovely ballad, the next he is thundering and rumbling through a high-powered rendition of “I Found a New Baby.”

Dave was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, into a musical family. His father William McKenna, a postman, played the drums part-time, and two sisters are singers. His mother, Catherine Reilly McKenna, was Dave’s first piano teacher. In additions to being a good piano player, she was a fine violinist as a young woman. He also took lessons from Preston “Sandy” Sandiford in Boston, a fine piano teacher Dave liked very much. He explains that he developed his trademark left-handed bass style because “I wanted to hear something like what I heard on the records.”

Dave began his career with Boots Mussulli Band, then left home to play with the Charlie Ventura band, followed by a stint with Woody Herman. After two years in the army, he returned to Charlie Ventura’s band, then worked with Gene Krupa, Stan Getz, and Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. He often worked with Bobby Hackett, including some gigs at Eddie Condon’s in Manhattan, playing what Hackett called “Whiskeyland Jazz.” Among Dave’s biggest influences was Nat King Cole, who remains one of his favorites to this day.
While working with Bobby Hackett, Dave discovered the pleasures of Cape Cod. He and his wife Frankie moved to the Cape in 1966 with their sons Stephen and Douglas. The move changed his career as well as his address – he worked less frequently with bands and more often as a solo pianist, but he still spent a great deal of time on the road.

Dave’s musical magic found a wider audience through recordings, from his first solo recording on ABC records in 1955 to his wonderful work in the 70s for Chiaroscuro Records and then for Concord Jazz. In the 1980s, Dave’s many fans could enjoy his magnificent medleys six nights a week at the Plaza Bar at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, where he was pianist-in-residence.

Dave has traveled all over the world to play festivals, cruises and concerts, and Boston-area fans always considered it a rare treat when he did perform close to home, either solo or with noted jazz artists including Dick Johnson, Gray Sargent, Marshall Wood, and Donna Byrne. Although he was no longer performing the last few years, he always appreciated the support and kind words he has received over the years from his many fans all over the world. Those of us who had the privilege to know him, whether personally or through his music, will miss him terribly.

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