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Jay McShann

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James Columbus; Hootie (1916- ) Pianist

Jay McShann is largely self-taught as a pianist. He worked with Don Byas in 1931, attended the Tuskegee Institute, and played in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1934), and in Arkansas; from December 1936 he belonged to a trio in Kansas City with Oliver Todd and the drummer Elmer Hopkins. After working in a group with Buster Smith and the trumpeter Dee Stewart he formed his own sextet in 1937, which became popular in the Country Club district. In late 1939 he formed a big band, which in the following year performed at the Century Room and Fairyland Park, and from 1941 he made recordings for Decca that featured the blues singing of Walter Brown. His band, which now included Charlie Parker, Gene Ramey, Gus Johnson, and the trumpeters Buddy Anderson and Orville Minor, made its first appearance in New York at the Savoy Ballroom in February 1942; in 1942-3 Jimmy Forrest and Paul Quinichette were members.

After serving in the army (1943-4) he re-formed his big band, which he led at the Savoy, at other clubs on 52nd Street in New York, and in California, where in the late 1940s he led a small group that included Jimmy Witherspoon. Later he moved again to Kansas City (after 1950), performed in the Midwest, and from 1969 into the 1980s appeared at festivals in the USA and abroad; he often toured as the leader of a trio, which included as his sidemen Claude Williams and the drummer Paul Gunther. McShann is noted for his percussive piano playing, which draws on elements of the blues and boogie-woogie; he also sings the blues in a nasal style reminiscent of that of Brown. He is the subject of Bart Becker's and Michael Farrell's film Hooties Blues (1978), and his performances figure prominently in the film The Last of the Blue Devils (1979).

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For personal, non-commercial use only. Copying or other reproduction is prohibited.
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