Hal McKusick: Cerebral jazz saxist and composer
Wednesday 18 April 2012
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.
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
From rainforests and reefs to beaches and boat trips
comedy'Fresh Meat' star sees off stiff competition from Alan Carr, David Mitchell, Graham Norton, Lee Mack and Sarah Millican to win top prize
Mystery of Epping Forest 'big cat' is solved
North Korea: First Kim Jong-un orders execution of uncle - now it emerges that victim's wife was involved in decision to execute him
Humans are not smarter than animals - we just don't understand them
Woman who miscarried in private prison 'made to clean up after herself,' court told
Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
- 1 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 2 Australia incest case: Deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
- 3 Physicists discover 'clearest evidence yet' that the Universe is a hologram
- 4 Woman who miscarried in private prison 'made to clean up after herself,' court told
- 5 Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
- < Previous
- Next >
£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: PHP Deve...
£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus+benefits+package: Harrington Starr: Technica...
£40000 - £60000 per annum + Bonus + Benefits: Harrington Starr: Risk Managemen...
£Attractive Package: Citifocus: This is a new role offering the successful can...