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Howard McGhee

McGhee was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but grew up in Detroit. He first learned to play the clarinet and tenor sax, then switched to trumpet. From 1936 to 1940 he travelled around playing in territory bands. In 1941 he led his own band at Detroit's Club Congo. After a short stint with Lionel Hampton he joined Andy Kirk, with whom he made his first recording, his own McGhee Special. During the AFM ban, he spent a year with Charlie Barnet, but returned to Kirk in 1943. In 1944, jobs in the bands of Georgie Auld and Count Basie were followed by his joining the Coleman Hawkin's quintet for half a year in Los Angeles. At that time, he started to play "modern": His earlier style which was based on the Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge schools was now showing the influence of Dizzy Gillespie. With Hawkins, he appeared in the movie The Crimson Canary playing "Hollywood Stampede". He recorded for Dial as a leader and with Charlie Parker. In 1946, he played with tenorist Teddy Edwards and pianist Dodo Marmarosa. McGhee left Los Angeles in 1947 and moved to New York, where he recorded with James Moody, Milt Jackson and Ray Brown for Dial and with Leo Parker for Savoy. After touring with Jazz At The Philharmonic (JATP), he took a band to the Paris Jazz Festival in 1948. The same year he recorded for Blue Note with Fats Navarro and in 1949 won the Down Beat poll. During most of the fifties McGhee was inactive due to drug problems. But he came back in the early sixties, playing with Duke Ellington and then as a leader of his own combo. In the late 60's and early 70's he led a big band in New York City, but was largely off records. He recorded again during 1976-79.


Howard McGhee had the big, brassy tone and expansive melodic imagination of the great swing-era trumpeters. But his rhythmic fluidity and advanced harmonic thinking helped him become one of the first important big-band soloists to master be-bop's intricacies. (New York Times Obituary by Robert Palm




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