Obituary: Kenny Drew

Kenneth Sidney Drew, pianist and composer: born New York 28 August 1928; married (one son); died Copenhagen 4 August 1993.

SUCH was his virtuosity that it took Kenny Drew only three years from taking up the piano at the age of five to giving his first public recital when he was eight. In his youth he was much influenced by Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. His first professional work was as an accompanist at the Pearl Primus Dance School. He studied at the High School of Music and Art in New York and was at his most impressionable as a teenager in the turbulent years of the bebop revolution of the Forties when his heroes were the pianists Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. When Drew's own style matured it reflected all these interests, and it was unusual for a pianist of his era to refer back in his playing to Waller and Wilson.

Drew was a clear-thinking improviser who created long melodic lines which, unlike those of many of his contemporaries, resolved naturally, giving his work a great strength of form. On the other hand he was not a sensational player and his cerebral approach usually controlled his emotions. Consequently - in an over- simplification - he will be unfairly remembered as the sort of guy who turned up on time and knew all the tunes.

He was a superb accompanist and, beginning with Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Milt Jackson and Charlie Parker, worked with most of the top jazz musicians of his day. His mature playing meant that he could solo well alongside such diverse talents as Dinah Washington, whose accompanist he was at one time, and Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane.

He moved to California in 1951 and recorded with many of the West Coast stars such as Joe Maini and Jack Sheldon. When he formed his superb quartet in 1952 the bebop clarinettist Buddy DeFranco hired Drew along with the drummer Art Blakey. The altoist Frank Morgan recalls: 'I went to jail for the first time in my life in 1953, San Francisco. Kenny Drew and I got busted together. I was working with Oscar Pettiford and he was with Buddy DeFranco at the same club.' While Morgan was in and out of jail for the next 30 years for drug offences, Drew seemed to have brought his problem under control.

The list of Drew's recordings, which includes sessions with veterans Benny Carter and Ben Webster, reads like a history of modern jazz. His first were made in January 1950 with the trumpeter Howard McGhee and he was pianist in the Sonny Rollins quartet which recorded the following year. He made several albums with his own trio in 1953 and signed with the Riverside label in 1957, for whom he recorded copiously over the next few years. In September 1957 he joined some of the best young musicians of the day to record for Blue Note under the leadership of the tenorist John Coltrane. The resulting album, Blue Train, was a powerful element in the tide which changed the direction of jazz at the end of the Fifties.

After working with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers he joined Buddy Rich's band in 1958, staying with the drummer for a year. He visited Europe in an acting and playing role in The Connection, a play about drug addiction in jazz. As a result of his first visit he moved to Paris in 1961, where he stayed until he finally settled in Copenhagen in 1964. Here he played at the Montmartre Jazzhus, one of Europe's finest clubs, and soon became the resident pianist, working in the trio of the drummer Alex Riel, which also included the bassist Niels- Benning Orsted Pedersen. The partnership between Drew and Pedersen was to last for the rest of Drew's life and they frequently worked as a duo. At the Montmartre Drew was able to work for long periods and often record with visiting Americans like the tenorists Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz (each of whom also took up residence in Denmark at this period), Sonny Rollins, Zoot Sims, Johnny Griffin, Hank Mobley, Yusef Lateef, Joe Henderson and the maverick violinist Stuff Smith.

Drew married Mariann, daughter of a Danish bandleader and their son, Kenny Drew Jnr, is a gifted jazz pianist with trio albums under his own name.

From the late Seventies onwards Drew devoted a lot of his time to composing and orchestrating. He formed a successful music publishing company and was co-owner of the Matrix record company. He was prominent in European radio circles and his many compositions included Suite for Big Band, written for the Danish Radio Orchestra.

Earlier this year he won Denmark's coveted Palay Bar jazz award.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...