"Kenny Drew would come up and listen to records and my wife and I would get in bed and go to sleep."
Kenny Drew was born in New York City in August of 1928. At the age of 5, he began studying classical piano with a private teacher and at 8, gave a recital. This early background is similar to that of Bud Powell, the man who later became his main inspiration as a jazz pianist. After digging Fats Waller, at 12, and then Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson, Drew attended the High School of Music and Art. He was known as a hot boogie woogie player but passed through this phase before graduation.
Kenny's first professional job was as accompanist at Pearl Primus' dance school. At the same time, he was alternating with Walter Bishop Jr. in a neighborhood band that included Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Art Taylor. In this period, he used to hang-out on 52nd Street to listened to Charlie Parker and Powell and began sitting in at various jam sessions around town. I remember how he impressed me, the first time I heard him at a private session, playing with Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan in the summer of 1949.
In January of 1950, Drew made his first appearance on record. Howard McGhee was the leader and the other featured soloists were Brew Moore and J.J. Johnson. One of the six sides released was "I'll Remember April." The label, in addition to stating "Howard McGhee's All Stars", further read, "Introducing Kenny Drew." This was Drew's spotlight number and as with many other important jazz debuts, the label was Blue Note.
Later, in 1953, Kenny made his first album as a leader. Again it was Blue Note who recorded him, this time in a trio with Curly Russell and Art Blakey. A 10-inch LP, it was composed mainly of standards.
--IRA GITLER, from the liner notes, Undercurrent, Blue Note.
But Kenny opted to settle in Los Angeles for the next few years. There in 1955, he formed a wonderful quartet with the late Joe Maini, Leroy Vinnegar and Lawrence Marable. The quartet first recorded together on November 18, 1955 for Pacific Jazz under Jack Sheldon's nominal leadership. In December, Jazz West, a subsidiary of Aladdin Records, brought the quartet as is into Capitol's recording studios for Talkin' & Walkin'.
In February of '56, Kenny's band and arrangements were used for another Jazz West release, this one by vocalist Jane Fielding. A month later, Drew, John Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones made the great Chambers' Music for the same label, which is now reissued on Blue Note.
In early 1957 Kenny made his way back to New York as accompanist for Dinah Washington. That September, he participated in John Coltrane's monumental masterpiece Blue Train, but his association with Blue Note did not heat up again until 1960 when he made his own Undercurrent as well as Jackie McLean's Bluesnik and Jackie's Bag, Kenny Dorham's Whistle Stop, Dexter Godon's Dexter Calling, Grant Green's Sunday Mornin' and a couple of Tina Brooks dates all within the space of a year.
Although Kenny was active on the recording and club scenes in New York and even subbed for Freddie Redd for a while in the successful Off-Broadway run of The Connection, he eventually chose to migrate to Europe. But he again popped up on a classic Blue Note date, Dexter Godon's One Flight Up, done in Paris in 1964.
Kenny became a major star in Europe and Japan although his music was sadly neglected at home. Hopefully, these reissues will increase awareness in his great and long-standing pianistic and compositional contributions to jazz.
--MICHAEL CUSCUNA, from the liner notes, Talkin' & Walkin', Blue Note.
A selected discography of Kenny Drew albums.
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