Hal McKusick: Cerebral jazz saxist and composer

 

The prolific recording career of Hal McKusick escaped the notice of most jazz listeners, yet the people who worked for him in the studios included such eminent men as Gil Evans, George Russell, Al Cohn, Jimmy Giuffre, Ernie Wilkins and Bill Evans. Although he was a musical revolutionary and composer in the manner of Dave Brubeck or Gil Evans, McKusick never made it to the top, although he remained in the middle for an extraordinary number of years.

He was an alto saxophone player in an era when the instrument was dominated by Parker disciples like Phil Woods and Bud Shank. But McKusick's flawless technique and enquiring mind didn't have the key to fame that the other two men had in their work – passion. McKusick's playing was cerebral and melodious and had considerable individuality, but not a lot of bite.

He was one of Elvis Presley's beneficiaries. Presley's record company, RCA Victor, made such an embarrassingly large amount of money from the singer's recordings that for business reasonsthey had to disburse a lot of it quickly. Happily, they threw a substantial part of it at jazz, for once allowing artistry to take preference over potential profit, and among the multitude of recording sessions they promoted were some of McKusick's. It's unlikely that his brilliant but obscure 1955 album In an 18th Century Drawing Room that featured him with a quartet of cellos would have seen the light of day without the application of the Presley dollars. The most notable of McKusick's resulting RCA albums was the revolutionary 1956 Jazz Workshop, which drew in writers like Johnny Mandel, Gil Evans, Al Cohn and Manny Albam.

McKusick's career began in 1943 when he joined first Les Brown and then Woody Herman. He worked as a big- band sideman throughout the decade, playing for Boyd Raeburn, Alvino Rey, Buddy Rich, Ralph Burns, Claude Thornhill and Neal Hefti. He joined Charlie Barnet's orchestra in 1950, worked in the newly formed Terry Gibbs big band, and with Gene Krupa's small group, before joining Elliot Lawrence for five years from 1952.

He worked as a musical partner and sideman with George Russell during Russell's most effective period in the middle 1950s, before joining the staff of the CBS studios in New York. McKusick continued his jazz career alongside his studio work, which lasted until 1972. He also taught privately during this time and in total appeared on well over 200 recording sessions, playing alto or tenor sax and clarinet.

An accomplished pilot, he flew often to his gigs and during the 1980s ferried passengers daily in the Caribbean. In 1994 he founded the Sag Harbor Jazz festival in New York and soon after formed a quartet that featured several up-and-coming jazz stars. He had an entirely separate career as a woodworker, making bowls and furniture in his workshop and was also an accomplished professional photographer.

Harold Wilfred McKusick Jr, reed player, band-leader, composer, woodworker, photographer and pilot: born Medford, Massachusetts 1 June 1924; died Sag Harbor, New York 10 April 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all