Kenny Wheeler dead: Jazz 'genius', trumpeter and composer dies, aged 84

The musician was one of Britain’s most influential jazz artists

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Jazz legend Kenny Wheeler has died, aged 84.

He was moved to a nursing home several months ago, before being admitted into hospital more recently.

Although born in Canada, the trumpeter and composer made an indelible mark on Britain’s jazz scene, first moving to the country in 1952 where he lived for over 60 years. He was known for making music built upon a mournful disorderliness.

“Everything I do has a touch of melancholy and a touch of chaos to it,” said Wheeler in 2011. “I write sad songs and then I get the musicians to destroy them.”

In the Sixties, he played alongside Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth and Tubby Hayes, before making a series of recordings with on albums including Gnu High and Deer Wan in the Seventies.

However, for many the Nineties were considered Wheeler’s career peak, when he released influential albums such Music for Large and Small Ensemble and Kayak. In 1997, he received critical acclaim for album Angel Song, which featured Bill Frisell, Dave Holland and Lee Konitz.

More recently, he became the founding patron of the Junior Jazz programme at the Royal Academy of Music and was the focus of a year-long exhibition by the Academy Museum.

Nick Smart, head of jazz at the Royal Academy of Music, described Wheeler as “one of the great musical innovators of contemporary jazz”.

“It is hard to express just how large a contribution he made to the music in this country and around the world, and how deeply he touched the musicians that had the honour of working alongside him,” said Smart in a statement.

“Kenny was an important and much loved figure to the jazz department here at the Academy… His harmonic palette and singularly recognisable sound will live on in the memory of all who heard him and in the extraordinary legacy of recordings and compositions he leaves behind, inspiring generations to come,” Smart wrote.

“Famously self-deprecating, Kenny was always modest and humble about his own musical achievements. But the truth is, he was a genius walking amongst us, and it was the most tremendous privilege to have been able to consider him a dear colleague and friend.”