McShann, Jay (James Columbus; aka Hootie)

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McShann, Jay (James Columbus; aka Hootie)

McShann, Jay (James Columbus; aka Hootie), jazz pianist, singer, bandleader; b. Musko-gee, Okla., Jan. 12, 1916. Some sources give his birth year as 1909, which McShann himself disputes. His cousin, Pete McShann, played drums. He started playing piano from age of 12; he spent two months at Fisk Univ., returned home, then went to Tulsa to perform with the Al Dennis Band for four months. He briefly led own band in Ark. before studying for a year at Winfield Coll., Kans.; he left there to Ariz, and N.Mex. with Eddy Hill’s Band. While on a trip to visit relatives in Iowa, he stopped off at Kansas City and began playing in local clubs. During the mid-1930s, he worked in many Kansas City night-spots, then after a residency at the Monroe Inn, he joined a group led by trumpeter Dee “Prince” Stewart. In 1938, he began leading his own band, which included Charlie Parker, at Martin’s, Kansas City. In early 1936, he worked for four months in Chicago with his own trio, then returned to leading the band at Martin’s. After a residency at the Century Room, Kansas City (February to June 1940), the band began regular touring, leading to their successful debut in N.Y. Among their hits were “Hootie Blues” (a title which gave him his nickname), “Confessin’ the Blues,” and “Swingmatism”; the band included Charlie Parker, Gene Ramey, Gus Johnson, and singer Walter Brown. McShann continued to lead his own big band until the Army call-up in late 1943. He was released a year later and reformed the band; in 1945, they were the resident band at The Downbeat Club in N.Y. In June 1946, he took the band to Los Angeles for various residencies including the Susie Q Club and Cobra Club. He returned to Kansas City in 1950 and has been based there since. He recorded for Vee Jay (1955–56) and backed Priscilla Bowman on her big hit, “Hands Off,” for that label. During the 1950s and 1960s, he led his own group in Kansas City for long engagements at the Club Flamingo, Kismet Lounge, Barbary Coast Club, etc. After a long hiatus, he returned to recording in 1966 with the album McShann’s Piano that rekindled interest in his work at home and make him a star touring attraction in Europe. He worked extensively in Europe during 1969, leading a specially formed band in France and Holland and subsequently appearing as a soloist at London’s “Jazz Expo” in October. He embarked on worldwide touring during the 1970s, often with his own trio: Claude Williams (violin and guitar) and Paul Günther (drums). In 1974, he toured Europe with the show The Musical Life of Charlie Parker; in 1975, he took part in the Montreux Jazz Festival; in 1979, he played at the Alexandra Palace Jazz Festival in London. He often appears in all-star groups and has displayed an engaging singing style more and more since the 1970s. He also appeared in the film The Last of the Blue Devils.


Jay McShann (1954); McShann’s Piano (1966); Kansas City on My Mind (1967); Roll ’Em (1969); 1208 Miles (1969); Confessiti’ the Blues (1969); Big Apple Bash (1971); Man from Muskogee (1972); Going to Kansas City (1972); Kansas City Memories (1973); Vine Street Boogie (1974); Crazy Legs and Friday Strut (1976); Last of the Blue Devils (1977); Tribute to Fats Waller (1978); Kansas City Hustle (1978); Tuxedo Junction (1980); Swingmatism (1982); Best of Friends (1982); At Cafe des Copains (1983); Airmail Special (1985); Paris All-Star Blues: A Tribute (1989); Some Blues (1990); Hootie & Hicks/Missouri Connection (1992).

—Lewis Porter/Nicolas Slonimsky

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McShann, Jay (James Columbus; aka Hootie)

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