We have been losing important musicians in batches. In the past few days we said goodbye to four men who were not well known to general audiences but were appreciated—even revered—by jazz listeners and by their fellow artists.
Hal McKusick’s early career found him in two of the most influential big bands of the late forties, Boyd Raeburn’s and Claude Thornhill’s. Accomplished on saxophones, clarinet and flute, McKusick was also a talented composer and arranger. Among his close colleagues on records and off were George Russell, Art Farmer, Bill Evans and Jimmy Guiffre. He has the alto saxophone solo this 1956 recording by the George Russell Sextet that included Farmer and Evans. In his later years, McKusick taught music at a private school on Long Island, New York. He was 87 when he died on April 11.
McKusick’s contemporary Teddy Charles died on April 16, three days after his 84th birthday. Charles was a vibraphonist, pianist and composer whose playing, arranging and leadership abilities made him an important figure in the New York jazz milieu of the 1950s. They also led to his producing albums for a number of important musicians, among them Zoot Sims and John Coltrane. Charles’ adventurous tentet sounds fresh more than half a century later, as in the Mal Waldron piece called “Vibrations.” In the middle 1960s, Charles walked away from his career in music to become a charter boat captain in the Caribbean. He continued in the charter boat business after returning to New York in the 1980s, sometimes holding jam sessions at home and, in 2009, making his first new album in four decades.
Clarinetist Joe Muranyi gained a bit of fame as a member of the last edition of Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Muranyi may have had in mind a career in modern jazz when he studied briefly with Lennie Tristano, but his love for earlier styles sent him toward Eddie Condon, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy McPartland, Danny Barker and Red Allen, among other leaders of swing and traditional bands. Following Armstrong’s death in 1971, he freelanced extensively as a musician and as a writer of liner notes and articles. At his death, he was working on a book about Armstrong. Muranyi was 84. To see and hear him with Armstrong in London in 1968, click here.
Among the busiest trumpeters of his generation, Virgil Jones worked with an array of major jazz artists, beginning, when he was 20, with Lionel Hampton. After moving to New York from his native Indianapolis, he toured with Ray Charles, played in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and Dizzy Gillespie’s big band and Bobby Rosengarden’s band on the Dick Cavett Show. Versatile in brass sections and a good soloist, Jones appeared or recorded with Milt Jackson, Philly Joe Jones, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Heath and Frank Foster among others, and was in orchestras for Broadway shows including Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Jelly’s Last Jam. You can hear Jones at the top of the ensemble and soloing in this 1963 recording with Roland Kirk. Jones made hundreds of recordings with others but never had an album under his own name. Jones was 72.