Passings: McKusick, Charles, Muranyi, Jones

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.

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  1. Ken Dryden says

    It is a shame we are losing so many talented jazz veterans.

    Teddy Charles’ 2009 recording was his first in 21 years, not 4 decades. He recorded a live album at the 1988 Verona Jazz Festival, which was issued by Soul Note in 1991. The rhythm section included Harold Danko, Ray Drummond and the late Tony Reedus.

  2. Red Sullivan says

    I’m shocked at news of Virgil Jones… more than a good soloist, I would say he was card-carrying “great”, and I’d quote his work on the Milt Jackson sextet record “Invitation”, where he and Kenny Dorham are co-featured, and Jones is OUTSTANDING (also, btw, one of the greatest of Ron Carter’s outings… trust me) .I also loved Jones’ in at least one of Benny Carter’s big band records too. He was great…

    Another huge, immense loss I just heard of, and saw reported nowhere, is that one of the greatest of the great guitars of all time, the Philadelphia legend himself, Billy Bean, passed in January, at an advanced age. No one ever played greater than Billy Bean. No-one.

    • Jim Gicking says

      It is inexplicable that Billy Bean’s name is not among the better known by guitar-worshipers. It is only partly explained by his dropping out of active playing by the end of the 1960s. He left us with recordings of his brilliant playing on The Trio (Riverside), a handful of Charlie Ventura recordings before that, a few tracks with Herbie Mann worth listening to, and some oddball projects like the soundtrack he did with Bud Shank for a surfer movie, released as Slippery When Wet on Pacific Jazz. The best examples of his endless invention, and technique, may be those captured by his colleague, John Pisano, while they were rehearsing for a a couple of largely forgettable mood jazz records (Take Your Pick and Makin’ It) in the later 19560s. John recorded Billy in their kitchen, mostly, and the results were released on the English String Jazz Label a decade ago as West Coast Sessions, and Makin’ It Again. Billy takes several breathtaking original choruses on each tune, big fat sound, compositions in their own right. I first heard Billy’s name when Jim Hall mentioned him, reverently. Turns out Jim wrote the notes for The Trio (and Bill Evans brought Billy, along with Walter Norris, p. and Hal Gaylor, to Keepnews to record).

      Billy still played out in Philadelphia into the early 1980s, but suffered from alcholism. I never heard him. I tried, mightily, to get Billy Bean out of his North Philadelphia row home and back into the music world. Or at least up to hear John Coates, Jr. up at the Deer Head Inn (John was looking forward to it, having played, as a very young man, with Billy with Ventura). Guitarist Seth Greenberg tried harder. (He has since done his dissertaion on Billy: Seth Greenberg). I spoke to him once on the phone, even bought him a guitar. Seth had his old Gibson repaired at great expense. (I think Billy sat on it). A great, great loss.

  3. says

    I got to play with Billy Bean many times at the sessions at David X Young’s loft in NYC. Once, Billy and Jim Hall were plugged into the same amplifier. He was an amazing musician, with a wonderful imagination and full of swing. I treasure the memory of those nights.

  4. David says

    Anyone who followed the above link to the Billy Bean album may have been discouraged by the $250 price tag. What that page doesn’t tell you is that there is currently another edition (OJC) also available on Amazon for considerably less as a cd or download.