Shake Keane

Last updated
Shake Keane
Ellsworth McGranahan Keane

(1927-05-30)30 May 1927
Died11 November 1997(1997-11-11) (aged 70)
Alma mater University of London
OccupationMusician and poet
The Angel Horn by Shake Keane, with an illustration of the poet's face on the book cover, published by House of Nehesi Publishers TheAngelHorn.jpg
The Angel Horn by Shake Keane, with an illustration of the poet's face on the book cover, published by House of Nehesi Publishers

Ellsworth McGranahan "Shake" Keane (30 May 1927 – 11 November 1997) was a jazz musician and poet. He is best known today for his role as a jazz trumpeter, principally his work as a member of the ground-breaking Joe Harriott Quintet (1959–65).


Early life in St Vincent

Born on the Caribbean island of St Vincent into "a humble family that loved books and music", [1] Keane attended Kingstown Methodist School and St Vincent Grammar School. He was taught to play the trumpet by his father, Charles (who died when Keane was 13), and gave his first public recital at the age of six. [1] When he was 14 years old, Keane led a musical band made up of his brothers. In the 1940s, with his mother Dorcas working to raise six children, the teenager joined one of the island's leading bands, Ted Lawrence and His Silvertone Orchestra. [1] During his early adulthood in St Vincent, his principal interest was literature, rather than the music for which he would become better known. He had been dubbed "Shakespeare" by his school friends, on account of this love of prose and poetry. This nickname was subsequently shortened to "Shake", which name he came to use throughout his adult life. He published two books of poetry, L'Oubili (1950) and Ixion (1952), while still in St Vincent.

Early career in Europe

Keane emigrated to Great Britain in 1952. [2] He worked on BBC Radio's Caribbean Voices , [3] reading poetry and interviewing fellow writers and musicians. He began reading literature at London University by day, while also playing the trumpet in London nightclubs, [2] working in a number of styles including cabaret, highlife, soca, mento, calypso and jazz. [4] From 1959 he committed more fully to jazz, spending six years as a member of pioneering alto saxophonist Joe Harriott's band. Harriott's group was the first in Europe, and one of the first worldwide, to play free jazz, and Keane contributed mightily to the band's artistic success, thanks to his fleet and powerful improvisatory skills on trumpet and flugelhorn. Both Harriott and Keane played with the Mike McKenzie Harlem All Stars. [5]

During this period he and Harriott also played extensively with English jazz pianist Michael Garrick, often in a "poetry and jazz" setting. He also made a small handful of records under his own name, but these were usually light jazz, a world away from his work with Harriott and Garrick. In 1966 Keane left Britain to settle in Germany. He became featured soloist with the Kurt Edelhagen Radio Orchestra, and also joined the pre-eminent European jazz ensemble of the 1960s, The Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band.

Family Life in London

During 1953 Keane met Christiane Ricard, from Lyon, France at one of his performances in London. They settled down together in Tufnell Park and had two sons in the early 1960s: Alan and Noel Julian. [6] They moved to Notting Hill to live with his friend and bandmate, Coleridge Goode. At some point Keane formed a relationship with Scots-born Elizabeth Uma Ramanan with whom he had a son, Roland Ramanan, in 1966 by which time Keane had left for Germany to join Edelhagen's orchestra. [7]

Later career

His musical career was set aside in the early 1970s, as he returned to St Vincent in 1972 to take up a government position as director of culture, [4] remaining in the post until 1975. Afterwards, he turned to teaching as his main profession, while continuing to write poetry. His collection One a Week with Water (1979) won the prestigious Cuban Casa de las Américas prize for poetry.

In 1981, Keane moved to New York City, settling the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. [7] He did not return full-time to music until 1989, when he rejoined Michael Garrick and his old band mates Coleridge Goode and Bobby Orr for a tour in honour of Joe Harriott. In 1991 Keane appeared in a BBC Arena documentary with the Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, filmed by Anthony Wall. [2]

Death and legacy

In the 1990s, Keane remained based in Brooklyn. He had reestablished contact with Margaret Bynoe, and academic who also hailed from St Vincent. They married and set up home together in 1991. [7] Thanks to an old friend and colleague from the BBC in the 1950s, Eric Bye, Keane established a regular pattern of work in Norway from 1991 to his death. [7] He contributed music to Norwegian television and stage productions for the next few years, also touring the country playing jazz. It was while preparing for one such tour that he became ill, subsequently dying from stomach cancer on 11 November 1997 in Oslo, at the age of 70.

In 2003, he was honoured by his country with the unveiling of a life-size bust at the Peace Memorial Hall in Kingstown.

The authoritative collection to date of Shake Keane's poetry is The Angel Horn – Shake Keane (1927–1997) Collected Poems, published by House of Nehesi Publishers in 2005 and launched that same year at the St. Martin Book Fair to an audience of more than 200 guests. [8] Keane himself had selected the poems for inclusion but died before publication. The book was seen through to publication by his widow, Margaret Bynoe. [7] According to Vincentian author Dr. Adrian Fraser, "The Angel Horn is vintage Shake Keane, … spanning a period of 40 years … the best of Keane." [7]

The biography Riff: The Shake Keane Story, by Philip Nanton, was published in January 2021 by Papillote Press. [6]


As bandleader

As sideman

Poetry collections

Related Research Articles

The music of Jamaica includes Jamaican folk music and many popular genres, such as mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub music, dancehall, reggae fusion and related styles.

Tricky Sam Nanton American musician

Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton was an American trombonist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Ian Carr was a Scottish jazz musician, composer, writer, and educator. Carr performed and recorded with the Rendell-Carr quintet and jazz-rock band Nucleus, and was an associate professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He also wrote biographies of musicians Keith Jarrett and Miles Davis.

Joseph Arthurlin Harriott was a Jamaican jazz musician and composer, whose principal instrument was the alto saxophone.

Alphonso Son "Dizzy" Reece is a Jamaican-born hard bop jazz trumpeter. Reece is among a group of jazz musicians born in Jamaica which includes Bertie King, Joe Harriott, Roland Alphonso, Wilton Gaynair, Sonny Bradshaw, saxophonists Winston Whyte and Tommy McCook, trombonist Don Drummond, pianists Wynton Kelly, Monty Alexander, bassist Coleridge Goode, guitarist Ernest Ranglin and percussionists Count Ossie and Lloyd Knibb.

Michael Garrick MBE was an English jazz pianist and composer, and a pioneer in mixing jazz with poetry recitations and in the use of jazz in large-scale choral works.

British jazz is a form of music derived from American jazz. It reached Britain through recordings and performers who visited the country while it was a relatively new genre, soon after the end of World War I. Jazz began to be played by British musicians from the 1930s and on a widespread basis in the 1940s, often within dance bands. From the late 1940s, British "modern jazz", highly influenced by American Dixieland jazz and bebop, began to emerge and was led by figures such as Kenny Ball, Chris Barber, John Keating, John Dankworth and Ronnie Scott, while Ken Colyer, George Webb and Humphrey Lyttelton emphasised New Orleans, Trad jazz. From the 1960s British jazz began to develop more individual characteristics and absorb a variety of influences, including British blues, as well as European and World music influences. A number of British musicians have gained international reputations, although this form of music has remained a minority interest within the UK itself.

Coleridge Goode

George Coleridge Emerson Goode was a British Jamaican-born jazz bassist best known for his long collaboration with alto saxophonist Joe Harriott. Goode was a member of Harriott's innovatory jazz quintet throughout its eight-year existence as a regular unit (1958–65). Goode was also involved with the saxophonist's later pioneering blend of jazz and Indian music in Indo-Jazz Fusions, the group Harriott co-led with composer/violinist John Mayer.

Patrick Mungo Smythe was a Scottish jazz pianist who rose to prominence as a member of the Joe Harriott Quintet during the 1960s.

Robert Orr was a Scottish jazz drummer and session musician.

Harry Percy South was an English jazz pianist, composer, and arranger, who moved into work for film and television.

Wilton "Bogey" Gaynair was a Jamaican-born jazz musician, whose primary instrument was the tenor saxophone. "Blue Bogey", "Kingston Bypass" "Debra", and "Wilton Mood" are among his better known songs.

<i>Southern Horizons</i> 1960 studio album by Joe Harriott

Southern Horizons is the debut album by Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott recorded in England in 1959 and 1960 and released on the Jazzland label.

<i>Free Form</i> (Joe Harriott album) 1961 studio album by Joe Harriott

Free Form is the second album by Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott recorded in England in 1960 and released on the Jazzland label.

<i>Abstract</i> (album) 1963 studio album by Joe Harriott

Abstract is the third album by Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott, recorded in England in 1961 and 1962 and released on the Columbia label in February 1963.

<i>Movement</i> (Joe Harriott album) 1963 studio album by Joe Harriott

Movement is the fourth album by Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott recorded in England in 1963 and released on the Columbia label.

<i>High Spirits</i> (album) 1963 studio album by Joe Harriott

High Spirits is the fifth album by Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott featuring selections from the musical High Spirits written by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray which was recorded in England in 1964 and released on the British Columbia label.

Frank Holder (musician) British musician

Frank Holder was a Guyanese jazz singer and percussionist. He was a member of bands led by Jiver Hutchinson, Johnny Dankworth, and Joe Harriott.

Stuart Hamer is a British jazz trumpeter. Following an illness in the late 1980s, he switched to the piano and concentrated on composition.

Rupert Theophilus Nurse was a Trinidadian musician who was influential in developing jazz and Caribbean music in Britain, particularly in the 1950s.


  1. 1 2 3 "About the authors". House of Nehesi. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 Johnson, Linton Kwesi. "Shake Keane". LKJ Records. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  3. Philip Nanton, "Shake Keane’s Poetic Legacy". Paper presented at the Society for Caribbean Studies (U.K.) Conference at University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, 4/5 July 2000.
  4. 1 2 Wilmer, Val (13 November 1997). "Shake Keane obituary: The anger behind a free form of jazz". The Guardian. p. 18 via
  5. Carr, Fairweather, Priestley, Parker (1995). The Rough Guide to Jazz. Rough Guides.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. 1 2 Nanton, Philip. "Riff: the Shake Keane Story". Papillote Press. ISBN   9781999776893 . Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Shake Keane. The Angel Horn. ISBN   9780913441664 . Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  8. "St. Martin BookFair 2005". Retrieved 2016-09-10.

Further reading