Rifftides reader Wade Nelson of River Forest, Illinois, writes:
After reading a piece about George Russell, I hauled out a 1957 LP by Hal McKusick called Jazz Workshop that I hadn’t listened to in many years. Arrangements by Russell, Giuffre, Evans, Mandel, Albam and Cohn. Very fine music.
I couldn’t agree more. McKusick was in an elite cadre of musicians during a golden age of jazz in New York in the late 1950s and early ’60s. He had a distinctive tone on alto saxophone and a personalized adaptation of Charlie Parker’s style. He worked often with George Russell, recording with Russell and in various combinations with Art Farmer, Bill Evans, Eddie Costa, Paul Chambers, Milt Hinton, Barry Galbraith and others. He is the alto soloist on George Russell’s seminal recording of “All About Rosie.” There is a good cross-section of McKusick’s small groups from 1957 and ’58 on the compilation CD Now’s The Time.
Through the late fifties until 1978, McKusick was a CBS staff musician. I encountered him as a member of the band on the Arthur Godfrey radio program when I was doing a television news story about Godfrey. Godfrey’s band also incuded pianist Hank Jones, guitarist Remo Palmieri and trombonist Lou McGarity. I don’t know how they felt about Godfrey’s singing or his ukelele playing, but they all seemed glad to have the work. That kind of employment for New York musicians no longer exists. Since studio work ended, McKusick, now eighty-three, has made his living as a private teacher.