McKenna, Dave [David J.]
(b Woonsocket, RI, 30 May 1930). American pianist. He took piano lessons as a child, but learned to play jazz chiefly from listening to the radio and recordings. At the age of 12 he began to play with pickup groups at weddings and other occasions, and when he was 15 joined the musicians’ union. By 1947 he was performing in and around Boston with a group led by Boots Mussulli. In 1949 he joined Charlie Ventura’s band, then played with Woody Herman (1950–51) before serving for two years in the US Army. He rejoined Ventura’s band in 1953 for 18 months, but thereafter worked mostly with smaller groups, playing with Gene Krupa, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Bobby Hackett, and others. In 1967 he moved from New York to South Yarmouth on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and from 1970 he has worked regularly as a solo player in piano bars, chiefly in Boston and on the Cape. In 1978 he renewed an earlier association with Bob Wilber, playing in the Boston area, touring in England and Sweden, and recording two albums. McKenna has also made a number of albums for the Concord label, recording as an unaccompanied soloist, in a duo with Dick Johnson, as the leader of a trio including Jake Hanna, as a member of several Concord all-star groups, and as a sideman or leader with such swing musicians as Johnson and Scott Hamilton (both 1979) and Fraser McPherson (1984). He has appeared on television in shows featuring Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney and in concerts taped at the Montreux and North Sea festivals. While focusing on his work in New England and upstate New York, he continued to work with Hamilton into the 1990s; he performed and recorded with Ruby Braff and in a duo with Gray Sargeant, and he made further international tours, performing in Germany in 1991 and at jazz festivals on cruise ships.
McKenna’s style combines enormous rhythmic drive with melodic inventiveness and a profound strain of lyricism; while playing a wide range of tunes, he especially favors Tin Pan Alley standards. He treats ballads lovingly, drawing on his command of the rich harmonic idiom of the progressive jazz of the 1940s and 1950s, and paying close attention to details of sound. At faster tempos he seems to ride along on the energy of his powerful left hand, which may play single-note lines, strummed chords or, more rarely, stride figures. At its best, his music maintains the coherence and conviction that mastery of a classic style can confer, but without sacrificing vitality and excitement.
Video oral history material in NCH (HCJA).
M. Jones: “Quiet Man of the Keyboard,” Melody Maker (20 May 1978), 47
B. Doerschuk: “Dave McKenna Carrying on the Jazz Piano Tradition,” CK, vi/10 (1980), 20
L. Tomkins: “Dave McKenna: Home-grown Swing Man of the Piano,” CI, xix/6 (1981), 6
W. Balliett: Jelly Roll, Jabbo and Fats (New York, and Oxford, England, 1983), 153; repr. in BalliettA (1986), 293; BalliettA (1996), 363
K. Franckling: “Dave McKenna: No Longer New England’s Best Kept Secret,” JT (1986), March, 6
B. Wilber with D. Webster: Music was not Enough (London and New York, 1987)
A. Katz: “Dave McKenna Equals Jazz Piano,” Denver Post (5 March 1989)
“An Interview with Dave McKenna,” The Note, ii/1 (1990), 2
P. D. Attenberry: “Dave McKenna and the Mainstream Style,” Mississippi Rag, xix/11 (1991), 20
J. Thomas: “Most Valuable Player,” Boston Globe (3 May 1991)
D. Asher: “Dave McKenna Has Both Hands Full of Jazz Tradition,” San Francisco Chronicle Datebook (4 Dec 1994)
(recorded for Concord unless otherwise indicated)As unaccompanied soloist: Solo Piano (1955, ABC-Para. 104); Solo Piano (1973, Chi. 119); Giant Strides (1979, 99); Left Handed Complement (1979, 123); A Celebration of Hoagy Carmichael (1983, 227); My Friend the Piano (1986, 313); Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, ii (1990, 4410); A Handful of Stars (1992, 4580)
Duos: with J. Venuti: Alone at the Palace (1977, Chi. 160); with D. Johnson: Spider’s Blues (1980, 135)
As leader: Piano Scene (1958, Epic 3558); No Bass Hit (1979, 97); The Dave McKenna Trio Plays the Music of Harry Warren (1981, 174); with S. Hamilton and J. Hanna: Major League (1986, 305)
As sideman: Z. Sims: Down Home (1960, Beth. 6051); B. Wilber: New Clarinet in Town (1960, CJ 8); S. Hamilton: Tenorshoes (1979, 127)
Selected films and videos
Bobby Hackett (1961); Tribute to Louis Armstrong [Anatomy of a Performance] (1970); Gibson Jazz Concert (c1982)
Carmichael, Hoagy [Hoagland Howard]
(b Bloomington, IN, 22 Nov 1899; d Rancho Mirage, CA, 27 Dec 1981). American songwriter, singer, pianist and bandleader. He studied the piano with his mother, Lida Carmichael, who played ragtime and popular songs in silent film theatres in Bloomington, and also learned the rudiments of jazz piano from Reginald DuValle of Indianapolis. While attending Indiana University in Bloomington he formed a college jazz band, and made his first recordings in 1925. He completed a law degree the following year and established a practice in Palm Beach, Florida, but when by chance he heard a recording of his Washboard Blues performed by Red Nichols he abandoned law. He played piano with the Jean Goldkette band, then moved to New York about 1930 to pursue a career as a songwriter. He collaborated on popular songs with the lyricists Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, Paul Francis Webster, Stanley Adams and others. Later he moved to Los Angeles and contributed songs to a number of motion pictures, including Thanks for the Memory (1938) and To Have and Have Not (1944).
From 1937 to 1954 Carmichael took musical or dramatic roles in 14 motion pictures, most notably To Have and Have Not, The Best Years of our Lives (1946), and Young Man with a Horn (1950). He usually portrayed an easy-going pianist with an unpretentious singing style. During the 1940s he served as host for several musical variety programmes on network radio. Beginning in the 1950s he appeared on television, acting in 13 programmes or series. In 1971 he was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in the following year Indiana University awarded him an honorary doctorate.
Carmichael was one of the master songwriters of the 20th century: ‘the most talented, inventive, sophisticated, and jazz-oriented of all the great craftsmen’ (Wilder). Beginning in the 1930s, along with Mercer, he legitimized regional songwriting and made it internationally popular; his chosen lyrics frequently celebrated small-town America. More than three dozen of his songs became hits. Star Dust (1929) became one of the most enduring of all pop standards, being recorded more than 1100 times and reportedly translated into 30 languages, and In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening (1951) won an Academy Award for best song.
Carmichael was unusual among songwriters for having contributed many songs to both the popular and the jazz repertories. He began his career as a jazz musician, and composed his first piece, Riverboat Shuffle (1925), for his close friend, the jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. Carmichael wrote a number of other instrumental jazz compositions, and recorded with Beiderbecke, Paul Whiteman, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller, and the Dorsey brothers. His songs have been adopted by musicians from most major genres of American popular music. His two autobiographies, The Stardust Road (1946/R) and Sometimes I Wonder (1965), illuminate his life and the worlds of popular song, film, and early jazz.
Collections of Carmichael’s music manuscripts, sheet music, and recordings are held by Indiana University, in the Archives of Traditional Music, Lilly Library, and School of Music Library. Other materials are at the Monroe County Public Library, Bloomington; the Academy of Motion Pictures Library, Los Angeles; and the Los Angeles Public Library.
A. Wilder: American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950 (New York, 1972), 371ff
An Exhibition Honoring the 75th Birthday of Hoagland Howard Carmichael, Ll.B., 1926, D.M., 1972, Indiana University (Bloomington, IN, 1974) [catalogue]
T. Buckley: ‘Profile of and Interview with Songwriter Hoagy Carmichael’, New York Times (27 June 1979)
J.E. Hasse: The Works of Hoagy Carmichael (Cincinnati, 1983)
J.E. Hasse: ‘The Classic Hoagy Carmichael’, The Classic Hoagy Carmichael, Indiana Historical Society IHS 1002 and Smithsonian Collection of Recordings R038 (1988) [disc notes]
W. Sheed: ‘The Songwriters in Hollywood’, American Heritage, xliv/6 (1993), 82–93
R. Kennedy: Jelly Roll, Bix and Hoagy: Gennett Studios and the Birth of Recorded Jazz (Bloomington, IN, 1994)
K. Gabbard: Jammin’ at the Margins: Jazz and the American Cinema (Chicago, 1996)
J.E. Hasse, ed.: H. Carmichael: The Stardust Road & Sometimes I Wonder: the Autobiographies of Hoagy Carmichael (New York, 1999)