Jay McShann

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Jay McShann
Jay McShann Billboard.jpg
McShann in a 1944 advertisement
Background information
Birth nameJames Columbus McShann
Born(1916-01-12)January 12, 1916
Muskogee, Oklahoma, U.S.
DiedDecember 7, 2006(2006-12-07) (aged 90)
Kansas City, Missouri
Genres Blues, swing, jazz, jump blues
Occupation(s)Musician, bandleader, composer
InstrumentsVocals, piano
Years active1931–2006
Labels Vee-Jay
Associated acts Charlie Parker, Bernard Anderson, Ben Webster, Walter Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon, Claude Williams
McShann at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, c. 1995 Jay McShann in Edinburgh.jpg
McShann at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, c. 1995

James Columbus "Jay" McShann (January 12, 1916 – December 7, 2006) was a jazz pianist, vocalist, composer, and bandleader. He led bands in Kansas City, Missouri, that included Charlie Parker, Bernard Anderson, Walter Brown, and Ben Webster.


Early life and education

McShann was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and was nicknamed Hootie. [1] During his youth he taught himself how to play the piano through observing his sister's piano lessons and trying to practicing tunes he heard off the radio. [2] He was also heavily influenced by late-night broadcasts of pianist Earl Hines from Chicago's Grand Terrace Cafe: "When 'Fatha' (Hines) went off the air, I went to bed". [3] He began working as a professional musician in 1931 at the age of 15, performing around Tulsa, Oklahoma, and neighboring Arkansas.



McShann moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1936, and set up his own big band which variously featured Charlie Parker (1937–42), Al Hibbler, Ben Webster, Paul Quinichette, Bernard Anderson, Gene Ramey, Jimmy Coe, Gus Johnson (1938–43), [4] Harold "Doc" West, Earl Coleman, [5] Walter Brown, and Jimmy Witherspoon, among others. His first recordings were all with Charlie Parker, the first as the Jay McShann Orchestra on August 9, 1940.

The band played both swing and blues numbers, but played blues on most of its records; its most popular recording was "Confessin' the Blues" with Walter Brown on vocals. The group disbanded when McShann was drafted into the Army in 1944. [6] After his return two years later, he found that small groups were now taking the place of big-bands in the jazz scene. [7]

McShann told the Associated Press in 2003: "You'd hear some cat play, and somebody would say, 'This cat, he sounds like he's from Kansas City.' It was Kansas City Style. They knew it on the East Coast. They knew it on the West Coast. They knew it up North, and they knew it down South." [8]


After World War II McShann began to lead small groups featuring the blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon. Witherspoon began to record with McShann in 1945 and, fronting McShann's band, he had a hit in 1949 with "Ain't Nobody's Business". As well as writing much material, Witherspoon continued recording with McShann's band, which also featured Ben Webster. McShann had a modern rhythm and blues hit with "Hands Off", featuring a vocal by Priscilla Bowman, in 1955. [9]

In the late 1960s, McShann often performed as a singer as well as a pianist, often with violinist Claude Williams. He continued recording and touring through the 1990s. Well into his 80s, McShann still performed occasionally, particularly in the Kansas City area and Toronto, Ontario, where he made his last recording, "Hootie Blues", in February 2001, after a recording career of 61 years. In 1979, he appeared prominently in The Last of the Blue Devils , a documentary film about Kansas City jazz. [10]

One of McShann's favorite stories to tell was how band member and friend Charlie Parker got his nickname "Bird". During their drive to a gig in Nebraska with a car full of musicians, the driver of the car accidentally hit a chicken. According to McShann, Parker requested the driver turn around so he could get the bird, and sat with it in the backseat of the car all the way to Lincoln. Once they arrived he asked the keeper of the home they were staying in to cook it up for him. [11]

McShann died on December 7, 2006, in Kansas City, Missouri at the age of 90. [12]

Awards and honors


As leader

As sideman

With Clarence Gatemouth Brown

With others

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  2. "Jay "Hootie" McShann on Piano Jazz". NPR.org. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  3. "Jay McShann Blog". Jaymcshann.com. September 23, 2012. Archived from the original on February 8, 2014. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  4. "Gus Johnson: 1913–2000". Jazzhouse.org. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  5. Gitler, Ira (November 18, 1999). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. ISBN   9780199729074 . Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  6. "Biography of Jay McShann (1916-2006), Pianist and Bandleader | KC History". kchistory.org. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  7. "Jay "Hootie" McShann on Piano Jazz". NPR.org. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  8. Keepnews, Peter (December 9, 2006). "Jay McShann, 90, Jazz Pianist, Bandleader and Vocalist, Dies". The New York Times . Retrieved August 11, 2019.
  9. "UMKC Libraries | Priscilla Bowman Collection". library.umkc.edu. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  10. "THE LAST OF THE BLUE DEVILS". Library of Congress. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  11. "Jay McShann". NAMM.org. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  12. "Jay McShann: Kansas City Blues Pianist". The Independent. December 9, 2006. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014.
  13. Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: M". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies . Ticknor & Fields. ISBN   089919026X . Retrieved March 7, 2019 via robertchristgau.com.
  14. "Jay McShann: Discography". AllMusic.com. Retrieved June 14, 2014.