Jay McShann died yesterday. The Kansas City blues and jazz legend was 90. The Kansas City Star has a nice survey of his career.
Although we lived in the same city, I never knew McShann beyond shaking his hand a couple times. It always frustrated me that I only saw him perform in concert halls and at festivals. I would have given anything to see him play in a small nightclub. I'll nod in approval if you want to call it art, but his good-time party music is meant to be heard in a smoky room with a drink in your hand. For the last twenty years I kept hoping that I'd stumble into him at a jam session or that a jazz bar would book him for an extended run. It never happened.
I collected McShann's recordings to compensate for that absence. Given the general level of disinterest in the history of seminal jazz, it's not surprising that large swaths of McShann's catalog are unavailable today. I can recommend his recent recordings for the fine Stony Plain label, but I'll highlight three of my favorites from McShann's youth.
Blues From Kansas City: The Original Decca Recordings contains terrific remastered versions of his essential material. Alas, it's out-of-print. Yes, that's Charlie Parker on the alto solo at the beginning of "Hootie Blues." My favorite McShann session is contained on the out-of-print Roll 'Em CD. It's a low-down 1969 French recording with guitarist T-Bone Walker. McShann reprises one of his classics, "Say Forward, I'll March," on 1972's Going To Kansas City. It's a friendly saxophone battle between Buddy Tate and Julian Dash, but McShann puts them both to shame with his jaunty solo at the 1:45 mark.