i just stumbled on this today about mckenna's death.  i thought i'd pass it on here.

i've enjoyed his music from the first time i heard it, and i've heard no other pianist play like him.
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that's sad news.
i met dave mckenna in newport, ri in '84. my aunt who is also a pianist/vocalist had him and other friends over for dinner. after dinner we all took turns at the piano. i was 19 and had never heard of dave mckenna, but naturally i could never forget him after that
master jazz pianist who loved cape dies

dave mckenna, who played with jazz legends including stan getz, moved to the cape in 1966 to raise his two sons.ap file photo
by aaron gouveia
october 19, 2008
dave mckenna was widely regarded as one of the all-time legends of the jazz piano, but often shunned the spotlight to live and work on the cape.

mckenna, who was 78 when he died yesterday in pennsylvania from lung cancer, is widely regarded among jazz musicians as one of the best jazz pianists ever to play. born in woonsocket, r.i., mckenna moved to the cape in 1966 to raise his sons stephen and douglas.

jack bradley, a friend of mckenna's for 50 years and a local jazz historian, said mckenna's contributions to american music cannot be understated.

mckenna's strong left hand and powerful baseline immediately set him apart from other players, and contrasted with his humble attitude and quiet personality.

"he was a giant but he never received the credit he was due," bradley said. "he always played with the greats but he was greater than many of the greats he played with."

bradley said tickets to hear a pianist of mckenna's caliber would cost a fortune in new york city, but cape residents could listen to mckenna in local establishments for next to nothing. "a lot of his fans, including myself, took him for granted because he was here and always available," bradley said.

mckenna's son douglas, 44, said he remembers listening to his father play at the columns in west dennis. it was mckenna's favorite place on the cape to play, along with the east bay lodge in osterville. the pianist and his boys lived in south yarmouth and south dennis during their time together on the cape.

and luckily for cape residents, wherever mckenna played, other notable musicians seemed to follow.

dick johnson, stan getz, gene krupa, zoot sims and al cohn all played with mckenna at some point in their careers. but douglas mckenna remembers one instance above all the rest. "when tony bennett came to play the melody tent, he'd take extra time to see my dad at the east bay lodge," he said. "it was an unbelievable treat for people because they'd walk in and there was tony bennett singing with my dad."

in boston, where mckenna was pianist-in-residence at the copley plaza hotel in the 1980s, he befriended then boston celtics head coach k.c. jones.

douglas mckenna said jones would often stop in after games during his father's last set and sing a few songs.

the two became so close jones invited mckenna and his son to a celtics practice, douglas mckenna said.

mckenna was also an avid red sox fan, and the team's miracle comeback against the tampa bay rays thursday night was "a great way for him to go out," his son said.

although mckenna had lived with family in pennsylvania for the past two years and hadn't played the piano in public for years, friend and fellow musician dick johnson called mckenna a "piano genius."

johnson, who played the clarinet and saxophone, met mckenna at a jam session 60 years ago in brockton and was immediately floored.

"the minute he played his introduction, he became my favorite piano player of all time, and he still is," johnson said.

born into a musical family, mckenna had very little formal training, his son said. he picked up the piano from listening to the radio and playing along with it, douglas mckenna said, and loved listening to early recordings of nat king cole.

mckenna respected the song above everything else, his son said, and never indulged in long solos to "show off."

bradley said mckenna was so talented he didn't even need a bass player or a drummer most of the time. "he was a whole orchestra unto himself," he said.

mckenna, who worked for one day at a department store before quitting and going back to the piano, was a man who not only had talent, but also the perseverance to stick with it, his son said.

"you hear people talk about talent, but dad not only had it, he made the most of it," douglas mckenna said. "he was so great and he knew it was what he was meant to do from the very beginning."


it was one thing to listen to dave, but to have him in the audience? i could only imagine him cringing at every note, but i was mistaken. he was ever the gentleman. but to be invited to sit in at one of his gigs? there's no better definition of intimidating. dave played the whole instrument, shaping compositions orchestrally. there was no better left hand in the business and no more inventive soloing. audiences are dazzled by pianistics but there's no substitute for discretion: the notes left out, the spaces. dave was the master. his best recording in this practitioner's humble opinion is live at maybeck recital hall on concord records. his version of "dream dancing" and "i'm glad there is you" are the stuff of genius, a term dave would never have considered. as great a player as he was, dave always seemend the last to realize his prominence. fortunately, there are fans world-wide who know different.
a couple things:

in a great book called "the great jazz pianists", a compiled book of interviews that was published in the 80's, at least two of the pianists (oscar peterson and george shearing are the ones i know for sure) said that they believed dave mckenna was (at the time) the great undiscovered talent of jazz piano.  shearing even goes out of his way to plead that his comments on mckenna not be edited out of the published interview, because he felt that mr.mckenna really deserved the exposure.  some heavy praise from some heavy peers.

i think that dave's first album, solo piano, was really a landmark in establishing that a hard driving bebop/post-bop sound could be created by a piano alone. it had been done in ragtime, dixieland, swing, and stride styles before (morton, hines, waller, tatum, ect. ect.). and the bop and post-bop pianists had recorded solo albums and selections that were composed of stride, rubato ballad, and sparse mid-tempo settings. but i would go as far to say that no one, with the possible exception of oscar peterson, brought the streamlined drive and swing of a bebop rhythm section to solo performance prior to dave mckenna.  

additional points of view?
correction: apparently solo piano wasn't his first album.
thanks to learn jazz piano i was guided towards dave. when i play stardust, i try to play it like dave and it sounds like nothing else i play - a full cusion of sound from the left hand - people always start to hum and sing along.  

listening to dave really gets a song to move from your fingers and into your heart - it is daves version of a song i recall when playing live.  

i read that he played a "rain medley" sometimes ? anyone heard this?

i can not think of that particular medly but dave was fond of medly's.
there was times i would sit and listen to him play for hours at the coply in boston or at the roadhouse on the cape and it is just often how he would think of what to play next ....  so it would not have surprized me at all if after playing "here's that rainey day" he seamlessly segueded into "raindrops keep falling on my head" and giggled to himself   for a second and then would go into four of five other rain tunes some that you could indentify and some that you could not.  the thing is with his amazing knowledge of tunes he most likely could have kept playing rain tunes for the rest of the night but he would suddenly decide to change and then he would play like six "moon" tunes before playing some other medly that you may or may not be able to figure out.
so i would add that if you had asked dave to play a "rain" medly on two different occasions i doubt it would have had the same tunes in two time s in a row.  his repetoire was far too vast for that.
god bless dave mc kenna a true great with  beautiful left hand , as well all the other abilities that made him one of the best
the great oscar peterson once said:"if i had to come back and do it all over again i would like to come back as dave mckenna" something to that effect..
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