January 12, 1916 – December 7, 2006
Jay McShann was a Grammy Award-nominated blues, mainstream jazz, and swing bandleader, pianist and singer. During the 1940s, McShann was at the forefront of blues and hard bop jazz musicians mainly from Kansas City. He assembled his own big band, with musicians that included some of the most influential artists of their time, including Charlie Parker, Bernard Anderson, Ben Webster and Walter Brown. His kind of music became known as "the Kansas City sound".
Nicknamed "Hootie", McShann was born James Columbus McShann in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Musically, his education came from Earl Hines' late-night broadcasts from Chicago's Grand Terrace Cafe: "When 'Fatha' [Hines] went off the air, I went to bed". He began working as a professional musician in 1931, performing around Tulsa, Oklahoma and neighboring Arkansas.
He moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1936, and set up his own big band, which featured variously Charlie Parker (1937–1942), Al Hibbler, Lawrence Anderson, Ben Webster, Paul Quinichette, Bernard Anderson, Gene Ramey, Jimmy Coe, Gus Johnson (1938–1943), Harold "Doc" West, Earl Coleman and Walter Brown, among others. His first recordings were all with Charlie Parker, the first as 'The Jay McShann Orchestra' on August 9, 1940.
Although they included both swing and blues numbers, the band played blues on most of its records; its most popular recording was "Confessin' the Blues." The group disbanded when McShann was drafted into the Army in 1944 and, the big band era being over, he was unable to successfully restart it when he got out.
After World War II McShann began to lead small groups featuring blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon. Witherspoon started recording with McShann in 1945, and fronting McShann's band, and had a hit in 1949 with "Ain't Nobody's Business." As well as writing much material, Witherspoon continued recording with McShann's band, which also featured Ben Webster, until 1951, whence McShann then played in obscurity until 1969.
McShann later became popular as a singer as well as a pianist, often performing with violinist Claude Williams. He continued recording and touring through the 1990s. Well into his 80s, McShann still performed occasionally, particularly in the Kansas City area and Toronto, Ontario where he made his last recording ['Hootie Blues'] in February 2001 after a recording career of 61 years.