Howard McGhee Day

March 6, 1918 – July 17, 1987

A birthday tribute to the bebop pioneer

Trumpeter Howard McGhee was born on March 6, 1918 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

McGhee started on the clarinet and tenor, not taking up the trumpet until he was 17.

He worked in territory bands in the Midwest and with Lionel Hampton (1941) before he became a member of the Andy Kirk Orchestra (1941-42), featured with the latter on the recording of “McGhee Special.”

Originally a swing trumpeter influenced by Roy Eldridge, McGhee jammed at Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s Uptown House, learned from Dizzy Gillespie, and developed into a highly individual bop soloist who influenced Fats Navarro (who lter influenced Clifford Brown who in turn influenced Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw); one could think of McGhee as being the “missing link” among jazz trumpeters.

“Maggie” played with the big bands of Charlie Barnet (1942-43), Andy Kirk again, Georgie Auld and Count Basie; by 1945, McGhee was second to Dizzy Gillespie among bop trumpeters.

He traveled to Los Angeles as a member of the Coleman Hawkins Quintet in 1945, staying in L.A. for a couple of years and helping to introduce bop to the West Coast.

McGhee performed with Jazz At The Philharmonic, gigged and recorded with Charlie Parker and worked on Central Avenue.

After returning to New York in 1947, McGhee recorded and worked steadily, appeared at the Paris Jazz Festival in 1948, and guested with Machito’s Orchestra before drug problems resulted in him slipping into obscurity during the 1950s.

Howard McGhee kicked the drug habit and made a few comebacks (making several excellent recordings during 1960-62) and had a final burst of activity during 1976-79 but he never regained his prominence.

Here is the underrated trumpeter playing “Lover Man” at a 1973 Charlie Parker tribute concert.


Howard McGhee, trumpet
Ted Dunbar, guitar
Richard Davis, bass
Roy Haynes, drums

-Scott Yanow


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