Jay McShann Day

January 12, 1916 – December 7, 2006

A tribute to the Kansas City jazz and blues pianist-singer

Pianist, singer and bandleader Jay McShann was born on January 12, 1916 in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

McShann began playing piano when he was 12, he attended Winfield College in Kansas, and freelanced as a pianist in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Arkansas and throughout the Midwest before settling in Kansas City in 1936.

Soon he was leading his own popular big band which during 1937-42 included the young Charlie Parker; among the other members were tenor-saxophonist Paul Quinichette, trumpeter Bernard Anderson, bassist Gene Ramey, drummer Gus Johnson and singers Walter Brown and Al Hibbler.

Signed to Decca in 1940, the Jay McShann Big Band mostly recorded blues (they were also an excellent swing orchestra), having a hit with “Confessin’ The Blues.”

The band, considered the last major swing orchestra to come out of Kansas City, stayed together until McShann was drafted in 1944

After his discharge, McShann settled in Los Angeles for a time (JimmyWitherspoon was his singer and had a hit in 1949 in with “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”) before moving back to Kansas City where he played regularly but in obscurity for much of 20 years.

A 1966 album featured Jay McShann singing for the first time and a few years later his career began a renaissance which found him having a higher profile and sometimes teaming up with violinist Claude Williams; he made his last of many recordings in 2001, five years before his death at the age of 90.

Here is Jay McShann late in life being briefly interviewed by Clint Eastwood and performing “Kewpie Doll.”

-Scott Yanow


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