Hal McKusick

The Rifftides staff has no more intention of making this blog a birthday watch than of making it a death watch, although there is an endless supply of both phenomena. However, on the Jazz West Coast listserve, Desne Villepigue pointed out that yesterday was the eighty-fourth anniversary of Hal McKusick’s appearance in the world, and that is worth noting. McKusick was one of the most rewarding alto saxophone soloists of the fifties and sixties. He is still active as a player, teacher and inspirer of young musicians.

The screen below brings you his 1958 recording of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time.” There was no movie camera in the studio; we should be so lucky. The visuals are album covers. This arrangement for four saxophones incorporates a harmonized transcription of Parker’s solo on the original 1945 Savoy recording of the piece. It predates by fourteen years Supersax, the group that became famous for this sort of thing. The other saxophonists are Frank Socolow, alto; Dick Hafer, tenor; and Jay Cameron, baritone. Solos are by McKusick, pianist Bill Evans and bassist Paul Chambers. The drummer Connie Kay. Contrary to YouTube‘s information, trumpeter Art Farmer is not present.

Farmer is on several other tracks of the CD, which is a cross-section of music from McKusick’s fine series of albums for Decca. To learn more about McKusick, see Marc Myers’ series of interviews with him on JazzWax.  


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  1. Jon Foley says

    Belated Happy Birthday, Hal. Many of us still listen to your recordings regularly.
    This is one of my favorite jazz performances. I love that it contains a harmonization of one of the great jazz solos; I love Ernie Wilkins’s arrangement using that harmonization; and I love the solos of Bill Evans and Hal McKusick. Talk about a lesson on how to construct a solo! Students at Berklee and elsewhere should be made to listen to this as part of their coursework.
    I owned the original LP called “Cross-Section Saxes” from which this track comes. When the CD, called “Now’s The Time,” came out, I was happy that I could replace my old LP. My mistake – the original LP was in beautifully recorded stereo; the CD, produced by Orrin Keepnews, is mono. Why? And also, the CD, which as Doug notes above contains tracks from other Hal McKusick sessions, is missing quite a few of the tracks from those sessions. Keepnews says in the liner notes that it’s because of the time constraints of a CD. Yet the CD is only about 59 minutes long, but a CD can hold about 79 minutes of music. Want to try again on that explanation, Mr. K?