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.
Bruno Leicht (himself) says
Far underrated and mostly unknown to young players, especially in Germany, Hal McKusick is one of the most inventive improvisers and a true jazz stylist. He and Lee Konitz are the last living exponents of a musical era, where it was more important to tell a story with your horn than to babble around with plain technical skills.
Jim Denham says
I’ve just come back from the pub, where I ran into a sax player and bandleader, Mike Fletcher, who reminded me that next year is both the centennial of Lester Young’s birth (27 Aug 1909, Woodville Mississipi) and the fifthtiest anniversary of his death (15 March 1959, NYC). Mike predicted that the BBC, now that Humph is gone, will ignore these anniversaries, and proposed a campaign to ensure that Prez is properly honoured. I heartily agree, and urge all readers of a jazz persuasion to start lobbying the BBC. Prez is a much more important figure than Miles Davis, to whom, at the time of his death, the Beeb devoted generous time and attention. But then Prez never wore an “iconic” green shirt on an album cover. The truth is that Prez is up there on a par with Louis, Duke, Parker and Bechet – in other words, one of the Absolute Masters