Tributes to Dave McKenna
Dave McKenna, one of the world's greatest jazz pianists, passed away on October 18, 2008. Fans all over the world are sending their memories and tributes, which you can view below.
The tributes are in a sldeshow format so you can see each tribute in a separate slide. When you click on the link you will see a list of contributors as well as the first tribute. You can navigate either by using the VCR controls or selecting the contributor whose tribute you would like to view. You can also use the "H" key to access a help panel.
If you would like to add a tribute please e-mail it to Dave McKenna Tribute.
Links to Other Tributes
Francis Rodgers, a long-time mega-fan of Dave's from the Albany area, wants to let Dav'es fans know that on Saturday, July 11 from 8 - noon the SUNY Albany radio station WCDB, 90.9 FM, will be presenting four hours of Dave's music. You can listen to the live streamed audio here. More from Francis:
"5 years ago I did this show. This time Bill McCann, the DJ, will do three hours and I plan to bring my choices in at 10 a.m. for an hour. It is a memorial type program to Dave aimed at his many friends in the Capital District."
Christopher Lydon, one of Dave's biggest fans, recently posted a very special tribute on his blog//podcast Open Source. It features almost 90 minutes of Dave playing and talking music at Christopher's home. Here's an excerpt:
"I’m posting here, in belated tribute, a thank-you gathering-up of lost-and-found McKenna sounds: from one of many house parties he played on my Grotrian grand piano; from a radio conversation we did on the piano bench; and from an extraordinary session in the early Nineties when I asked Dave to record Leonard Bernstein’s “Lucky to be Me” as theme music for a new series of television conversations we were starting. He gave us, as it turned out, six distinctive takes on the tune. Listening to them now feels like watching Matisse or Picasso toss off six drawings of the same alluring model. Prodigious and guileless, Dave McKenna shared his life and his gift with abandon. It feels like a great privilege to fall under his spell again. Thank you, Dave McKenna."
Here's an article about Dave's December 7 memorial concert in the December 8 Boston Globe.
On Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, Nov. 27) National Public Radio’s, “Fresh Air,” the Peabody award-winning radio program with Terry Gross, presented a salute to Dave.
The program featured interview & musical excerpts from Dave’s earlier visit to “Fresh Air,” a recent interview with his sister Jean McKenna O’Donnell, and other highlights and history of the McKenna musical legacy. Here's a link to the archived program.
Tom Reney of WFCR, 88.5 FM in Amherst, Mass. featured Dave's music on his wonderful program "Jazz a la Mode" on Monday, October 20, from 8-11 p.m. Visit their Web site to see his playlist. There's also an audio tribute that aired on WFCR on Monday, October 20. You can listen here.
David May of WHFC, 91.1FM in Belair, Maryland did a featured artist program for Dave on Saturday, October 25, from 5-7 p.m on his show "Desert Island Jazz". Here's a link to his playlist (in PDF format).
Duncan Ledsham has a Facebook page devoted to celebrating Dave and his music, which you can check out here.
The Boston Globe has an obituary guestbook for Dave here.
- Mike Jones
- Daryl Sherman
- Tom Reney, WFCR
- John Pizzarelli
- Scott MacKenzie
- John Stallmann
- Billy VerPlanck
- Sonny Drootin
- Charlie Puzo
- George Ziskind
- Bill Crow
- John Breslin
- David Thibodeau
- Bill O'Donnell
- Louis A. Lehr
- Barry Bell
- Stephen F. Dudzik
- Noelle Lanham
- Art Topilow
- Michel Duport
- Stephen Rittenberg
- Paul E. Bauer
- Joanne Trestrail
- Chris Krenger
- Joyce and Ron Della Chiesa
- Charlie Baron
- Nat Johnson
- Steve Voce, The Independent (London)
- J. Bruce LaMotte
- Doug Gould
- Kathy Flanagan Loerzel
- Duncan Ledsham
- Bert Konowitz and Family
- Maureen Egan
- Gerry Priesing
- Mike O'Hara
- John C. Graham
- Gail Even
- Harry and Joan McKinley
- Kathy Cahill
- Rio Clemente
- Rik Tinory
- Francis Rodgers
- Tom Morley
- Thierry Montfort
- David May
- Maria Vincent
- Joe Slomka
- James Lowe
- Hank O'Neal - Chiaroscuro Records
- Joann Olmstead
- John Altman
- Tom Shaker
- Maureen Connelly
- Bob and Pug Wilber
- Sam Levene
- Ruth Hellkamp
- Paul Ciulla
- Corte Swearingen
- Don Frese
- Edris Kelley
- Bill Novak
- Guy Trudeau
- Sue Katz Miller
- Jimmy Stewart
- Michelle Fey
- Mike Gorajec
- Nick Niles
- Jordan Rich, WBZ Boston
- Paul Shanley
- Anita Stav
- Ellen James
From Mike Jones:
Back in 1981 I was a student at Berklee. My friend, Diana Krall asked if I'd been over to the Copley Plaza to hear Dave McKenna yet. I hadn't, but that evening, on her recommendation, a group of us went to check him out. I couldn't believe it! It was the single most important musical moment of my life. I decided right then that I wanted to try to do what Dave was doing.
I was far too naive to realize the incredible depth of his genius that first night, but boy, did it sink in over the years. There has simply never been a better solo pianist in the history of jazz, as far as I'm concerned. No one swung harder, with more originality than Dave. No one conceived of better medleys, or played a ballad with as much sensitivity, or had a bigger command of the American songbook.
My first gig in Boston, after Berklee, was at the Ritz Carlton. I played from 7:00 - 11:00. Dave was at the Plaza Bar from 9:00 - 1:00. I would rush over and catch Dave for almost 2 hours every night! It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Imagine, I was able to watch the greatest living pianist for FREE every night. I became friendly with Dave, and was honored when he would ask me to sit in. I wound up playing a few weeks in the summers, when he would be on vacation, and had the time of my life.
I learned more from Dave than any other pianist, and never asked him a musical question! I think of him all the time, and every interview I do, I talk about him. I still can't do what he does, (despite years of trying!), but, then again, who can?!
From Daryl Sherman, as posted in a newsgroup on October 19:
'I just heard from his sister Jean that Dave McKenna passed away peacefully late last night. As some of you know he'd been sidelined for the past few years -- living out in Pennsylvania close to his son Steve. Worsening conditions from diabetes and other issues kept him from playing in recent years. It was cancer that finally did him in. At least he got to see the Red Sox surprise win the other night.
Just two bars from Dave and he was immediately inside the song. His unique rhythmic thrust that sounded as if three hands were at work are a trademark of this world class piano stylist. But he also could caress a melody in a way that sounded as if he were singing just to you. Dave had an innate sense of just the right harmony to enrich a song without diminishing its integrity. Once he told me that Harold Arlen was one of his favorite writers and thought My Shining Hour to be the most perfect song. They'd met once when Dave was playing for a radio broadcast and the usual self-effacing McKenna seemed quite proud to relate how Arlen complimented his playing. I can well imagine Harold Arlen especially digging Dave.
McKenna admitted he preferred backing horn/reed players (i.e. Bobby Hackett, Zoot Sims, Dick Johnson, Scott Hamilton). He'd bellyache about having to take out glasses to read charts or transpose but Dave really did enjoy playing for singers he liked and he was great at it. I grew up listening to recordings he'd made with sister Jean. Those of us lucky enough to catch him through those years out at the Cape, Boston or in New York might occasionally get asked to sit in. It was like riding in a Cadillac. People on this list will know more extensively just who and how many singers he's recorded with through his career. Donna Byrne has a recent one and I'm grateful to have recorded three with Dave. I'll be interested in reading future posts about this. Of course the Teddi King album is a poignant beauty. I recall that Richard Sudhalter helped produce that project. He loved and wrote a lot about both Teddi and Dave. Hope they're all together somewhere now. Imagine the collective colossal treasure trove of songs these three could toss around. Now, that's an eternity I could dig.
From Tom Reney, WFCR Radio:
Dave McKenna, a New England jazz legend, died on Saturday at the age of 78. His sister Jean noted that he'd enjoyed the Red Sox Game 5 victory on Thursday night. Dave, who grew up in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, had two great passions: jazz piano and the Boston Red Sox. Indeed, during his playing years, he was notorious for his habit of listening to Sox game from a concealed transistor radio while he played piano at the Copley Plaza and other Southern New England saloons. Among the handful of tunes he composed, two were dedicated to Ted Williams, "Theodore the Thumper" and "Splendid Splinter."
The New Yorker jazz critic Whitney Balliett was a regular at Dave's gigs on Cape Cod and at Bradley's in Greenwich Village. One of Balliett's most affectionate pieces was his 1979 profile of McKenna entitled "Super Chops." It begins, "Dave McKenna's life pivots on paradox." Here's one that comes to mind for me: When I began seeing McKenna as a teenager, I was amazed at how little attention nightclub patrons paid to his playing, and dismayed at how difficult it often was to hear his powerful attack over the din of conversation. (This was before Bradley Cunningham began insisting on silence for the performers at his legendary nightclub on University Place.) But when Terri Gross interviewed Dave on Fresh Air years ago, she mentioned this same annoying phenomenon, and asked if it bothered him. "Not really," he replied. "When they're quiet, I get nervous."
I used to see Dave on a regular basis on the Cape, at the Copley Plaza in Boston, with Ruby Braff at the Regattabar, and at Bradley's, where I'd hang till the last note was struck and often get a lift down to Spring Street from Dave and his driver, sometimes Frank Tate. Especially memorable were the times when Zoot Sims would arrive at Bradley's around 2 a.m., mount a barstool, and play duets with Dave. I also ran into him a few times at Fenway Park. And most memorably, when I was visiting Paris in January 1991, I ran into Dave and his wife Frankie on the street where I was staying; he'd played some holiday gigs in Germany and then come to Paris for sightseeing.
The last time I saw Dave was on his 70th birthday, May 30, 2000, at a church in Belchertown, Massachusetts, where he played a Sunday afternoon concert. His playing was as brilliant as ever, but he was in no mood for celebration. When the emcee proposed that we sing "Happy Birthday" to welcome Dave back for his second set, he shot us a ray that said, "Don't dare!" And no one did. Afterwards he attended a reception at the producer's home, and was surprisingly garrulous. That was the last time I saw him, and I believe it was one of his last performances anywhere.
I first heard Dave at The Columns on Rt. 28 in West Dennis around 1970. I was a 17-year-old passing for 21, already fanatical for Duke Ellington, Chicago Blues, and the jam sessions I'd catch every week at the Kitty Kat Lounge in my hometown of Worcester. But seeing Dave, Dick Johnson, Lou Colombo, even Bobby Hackett at these Cape Cod roadhouses was a revelation. To discover music of this caliber played with such beauty and passion by master musicians working far from the limelight gave me a whole new insight into the workaday nature of the jazz life. Speaking of which, I once asked Dave to confirm that he was playing a regular Thursday night gig at the opulent Chatham Bars Inn on the Cape. “Oh yeah,” he replied, “That’s my corned beef.” Back in the early 70’s, Dave and his colleagues impressed in me an understanding that the ritual of music making was itself the highest reward, and that riches and fame were of secondary importance. In many ways, the relative obscurity of these players was one of the things that fueled my desire to pursue a career in which I might bring a little exposure to their great work. Now, with all due respect, I can tell you that it's been an honor to play Dave's music on the radio for the past 30 years.
From John Pizzarelli:
From the first time I heard him at Hannraty's in NYC in 1984, I was mesmerized by Dave's playing. Every note was always perfect, heartfelt, strong and swinging and the songs, the medleys, just incredible.
I had the great fortune to record with him on two occasions and he was always generous, humble and willing to participate in any way to make the record better.
Dave is simply one of the greatest pianists to grace this earth.
From Scott MacKenzie:
I asked Dave several times over the years "What do you think about when
you sit down to play?" The answer was always the same - "I don't think about anything in particular; I just put my fingers on the keyboard and they play". A fitting response from one of the greatest geniuses of jazz piano - the length and beauty and logic of his solos are unsurpassed. We were friends, and it hurts like hell that he is gone - it was an honor and a privilege to know him and be considered "his man in Chicago".
There are all kinds of piano players; and then there was Dave McKenna.
From John Stallmann:
In the winter of 1976, I was retailing hi-fi equipment in Hanover, Ma. I’d recently moved to the Boston area to continue studying piano and hopefully find some work as a player. As I opened the store each morning, I’d power up a demo unit and tune to the morning jazz shows on public radio. Ron Della Chiesa, Tony Cennamo, Steve Elman and others were offering a well-rounded jazz education.
One morning, within the span of a few minutes, my ears changed forever. I flipped the radio on as usual. There was a solo piano recording that caught my attention. It was different somehow. I’d collected records by Tatum, Peterson, Garner, Wilson, Shearing, Evans, Jarrett, Corea, Hancock, Monk, Hawes and others, but I couldn’t identify this player. This was a cocktail style, or so I thought. It was a style I’d been working on. The tune was "I've Got the World on a String." It was lyrical and melodic. It was rhythmically and structurally sound. It was voiced like an orchestra, yet had an easy swing like a small band. This guy had all the elements in balance, and he wasn’t smothering me with flourishes of his chops. It was musical. I tore open a blank cassette and began recording.
That tune went seamlessly into another, and another. Several minutes later, I realized this player was stringing together tunes whose titles included the word "Day". It was seamless, and pretty clever. When he went into "What A Difference A Day Made," his left hand began walking with a swing feel I'd never quite heard before. I could feel accents on beats 2 and 4. This bass line swung. I was transfixed.
Then came my magic McKenna moment. After completing a chorus of melody, this guy went into his first chorus of improvisation. The right hand took off swinging hard, with accents completely independent from the bass line accents in his left hand. It sounded as if Louis Armstrong had strutted onstage and started to blow a horn solo. But it was a piano player's right hand. That was it for me. I heard more things happening simultaneously than I had thought possible with just two hands, and each of the parts seemed to have its own sense of swing. This was ensemble playing, but by only one player. I’d been gently drawn into McKenna’s music, but now a full jazz band had broken loose. During that tune, that chorus even, my ears changed.
After 15 minutes or so the set concluded, followed by a round of applause. Ron Della Chiesa's voice came on, saying "That was pianist Dave McKenna, from a solo recital Sunday afternoon at the Thorny Lea Country Club down in Brockton." This was a local player? I knew I’d be keeping the day job.
For the next 30-some years, I wore out many cassette copies of that medley of “Day” tunes. It stands at the top of my short list, along with Gould’s Goldberg Variations, Evans’ Village Vanguard recordings, and Jarrett’s Koln Concert. Besides the solo recordings, I went on to discover a path through several decades of jazz history by pursuing Dave’s many recordings as a sideman.
For over two decades I saw Dave play in solo and group settings around the Boston area. I don’t think it occurred to me then that those days couldn’t last forever. But Dave’s music lives, and continues to make me smile each day.
From Billy VerPlanck:
Dave McKenna, the sound of his name like his music is, was, and forever magnificent. To say he will be missed is an understatement in double time. Walk on Dave we all will hear and love you.
In the early 50's Dave, Tommy Stewart, and I would go to Yankee Stadium watch a Red Sox game against those "Damn Yankee's". It was a joy to be part of that. God Love You Dave your music made life a better place.
With Love, Honor, and Respect,
From Sonny Drootin:
I first met Dave when I was working with Bobby Hackett. Bobby brought Dave in as a special guest star for the night. He introduced Dave as the "world's greatest piano player". No exaggeration!
Dave was a good friend and probably the most humble musician I ever met. Ironic, since he was one of the greatest all-around pianists that ever lived. There has always been much talk about his dynamic left hand and his amazing technique.
His tasteful phrasing and wonderful melodic improvisation is often overlooked and under-appreciated. Don't know why - but I'll give it a mention here. There were so many facets to his talent and creativity and they'll all be missed, as will Dave the person.
From Charlie Puzo:
A Tribute to my friend Dave Mckenna
It was in October 1971 at a seaside bistro named Ila's place in Hyannis, Mass when first I met the great Maestro by the name of Dave Mckenna. Dave came into Ila's Place with his two young sons Steve and Douglas, and friend Dick Garbitt. They came to hear a very talented vocalist by the name of Bob Travers. Bob accompanied himself on piano. Dave was asked to play a tune but in all modesty he said no thank you I came to hear you.
Let me point out that I was recording Bob to make a demo recording for him. It took much prodding by Bob to get Dave up to the piano. When it was Bob's last set he coaxed Dave to play at least one tune. Dave reluctantly sat down at the keyboard my recording equipment was still running when Dave sat down to play a tune. Dave started in playing a very beautiful tune called "Lullaby of the Leaves."
When I heard Dave's playing I could not believe the breath taking sounds that he coaxed from that old upright. In all my life I never heard such incredible sounds. Dave continued playing a medley of "Autumn " tunes. When he finished the house exploded with applause and me yelling Bravo Bravisimo. It was then I realized that I left my recording equipment running. To this day I have that original recording. I later learned that Dave is very reluctant to play at another person's gig. It was my good fortune to have recorded Dave.
I went over to the table where Dave was sitting. Dick introduced me to Dave and I instantly knew that I would be seeing and hearing more of Dave. In our conversation Dave said that in the coming week he will be playing at a restaurant in West Dennis, MA called the Columns.
On Dave's opening night at the Columns I was one of many who came to hear the incredible Jazz pianist. Dave's jazz style and improvisations were so upbeat and refreshing. I couldn't get enough of this incredible Jazz pianist. A little known fact about Dave is that he does not drive nor did he ever get a driver's license. At the end of each evening performance the Columns owner Warren Maddows or one of Dave's acquaintances would drive him home. Dave lived relatively close to the Columns Restaurant. Soon I found myself taking Dave home. He would invite me in for a nightcap. We talked about music and about me. At the time I was employed with the FAA as an electronics-engineering technician.
Dave loved sports and I found myself regretting that I didn't know much about sports. My sporting interests peaked during the World Series and the Super Bowls. I wanted to know more about sports so I could engage in more conversation with Dave. Almost nightly after Dave's playing at the Columns we would go either Dave's home or to mine. Dave would answer my questions about his career, which he might engage in a brief conversation about, and then drop it.
Over Dave's years at the Columns Dave introduced me as his friend to most of the celebrities that came to hear Dave. At this time I want to mention that the owner of the Columns was extremely talented in numerous areas and among his talents he was a really excellent vocalist and often would get together and sing. His voice was similar to the Great Tony Bennett's.
In many of our "after hour sojourns" we would listen to several types of music, but mostly Jazz. His favorite female vocalist was Sarah Vaughan and for male vocalist he had two favorite namely Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Nat Cole was his favorite pianist, and his favorite tune was Stella by Starlight.
Dave asked me if I like other type of music besides Jazz? I said ' I also love Classical and Opera.' Classical and Opera music were not on top of Dave's favorite type of music, but he did have a great admiration for the discipline and accuracy that the musicians were required to follow. They were required to be faithful to the composer's composition. Dave did like Resphigi's "Pines of Rome especially in the portion of the music where the intoxicated celebrants where portrayed with music.
Dave also liked Ruggiero Leoncavallo's I Pugliacci where the Aria "vesti la giubba" was sung by many great tenors such as the Great Enrico Caruso. I decided to have some fun with Dave. I went through my fairly extensive collection of recordings of tenors that sang "vesti la giubba" and copied their performances to a tape. When the "Demo" tape was finished I set it aside until Dave and I could listen. On one of our late night sojourns in my music room which in fact happened soon after I had made the tape. I told Dave that I recorded about a dozen tenors singing "vesti la giubba" and that we could listen to each one and select in our judgment the tenor that sang the aria the best. On the tape that I made I recorded Jussi Bjorling, Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti, Enzo Stuarti, Mario Lanza, Beniamoino Gigli, and several other Tenors singing the Aria.
Dave with his great smile that he was about to express something great turned to me and said " Charlie wait until I tell Ron Della Chiesa that we have the "World Series of Tenors singing "vesti la giubba" on tape. For several hours we went back and forth over the different tenors singing "vesti la giubba". Then after many plays, rewinds, fast forwards we decided who sang it the best. I said I thought that Jussi Bjorling sang it the best and had best phrasing. Dave jumped up and said "Charlie how can you say that? That's a sacrilege for an Italian like you to say that a Swede sang it better than Caruso or Pavarotti."
After several back and forth replays Dave seemed like he was going to agree with me but at the last minute he chose Luciano Pavarotti. We finished the night and I drove Dave home.
At this time Antonio Carlos Jobim's music was a big hit. Frank Sinatra made a recording with Antonio Carlos Jobim. Dave was unaware of the recording. On the recording were most of Jobim's tunes. On another night of listening and sipping whatever was available we listened to the Sinatra and Jobim recording. On another one of our after hours sojourn to my basement music room I introduced Dave to Frank's latest recording. It certainly was one of Frank's best. We listen to that album over and over and over. And now it was sunrise and time to get some sleep. I took Dave home and I went home to sleep.
That same day when Dave went to the Columns for the first hour he would play soft dinner music then after the early diners would leave the Columns, Dave would get into some serious jazz. Dave started in with the first number on the Sinatra-Jobim collaboration and played every tune in the same order as the recording with all the Claus Ogerman arrangements. It was all so incredible. In last few years of his life Dave loved and regularly listened to Brazilian type Jazz.
And when Dave attacked the keyboard with those large hands of his it was like a freight train was coming through the room. Dave would work up the most incredible base lines. I felt so fortunate to be a part of it and better yet for Dave to call me his friend. In the thirty-seven years of our friendship we never exchanged a sour word between us.
Dave knew and loved good food and at the top of his list was Italian Food. Dave said that Dick Johnson's wife Rose made the best Tomato Sauce and said that mine was nearly on a par with Rose's. Dick Johnson, another friend of Dave's and another musical genius who in his later years conducted the Artie Shaw Orchestra. Dave worked with Dick for numerous years.
One night during Dave's playing at the Columns he asked if I had anything to drink at my house? I replied that all I have is an unopened quart of the Greek drink OUZO. Dave's reply was "We can't drink that so lets call it an early night." By the time that Dave completed his performance he came to me and said " Charlie let's go back to your place and have a "taste" (of the OUZO) then we can call it an early night" I replied, "it sounds good to me" and Dave said "Let's do it." After Dave finished the last set of the evening we left to go to my home for one last drink.
I opened the bottle of OUZO, put on a Blossom Dearie recording and we decided to call it a night after Blossom's recording was finished. The next thing I saw was the morning sun's ray shining through the window illuminating the empty bottle of OUZO on the end table next to Dave and Dave fast asleep in the recliner. I woke Dave and took him home.
At this time our friendship grew to the point that now I was picking Dave up and taking him to work as well as taking him home---at some ungodly hour. It was good that my home and Dave's home were relatively close to the Columns. That night we went to the Columns as usual and by now I was a friend with Warren Maddows, his employees and all the musicians. Dave told Dick Johnson what had happened with the quart of OUZO. Dick almost fell down laughing. He said to Dave, "Dave you have to write a tune for Charlie and call it "No More OUZO for Puzo." Dave just gave that great big smile and nodded a yes.
It was several months later on St Patrick's Day 1976 when I took Dave to Jordan Hall in The New England Conservatory where he was to make a recording for Ron Della Chiesa and Will Morton. Ron and Wil were partners in a new recording company called "Shiah Records". Wil Morton was known in the business to be one of the best recording technicians along with his assistant Steve Izzi of Nova. One of the first artists to be recorded was the incomparable Dave Mckenna. Several radio personalities were invited to the recording session. As Dave played and Wil recorded a number of selections, Dave 's artistry was so incredible and Ron felt that he had a winner to start off his business. There was one tune that Dave played that I did not recognize. Ron called me to him and said "Charlie you are going to be famous!" I asked Ron what do you mean by that? Ron's reply was that Dave wrote a tune and told Wil to label it "No More OUZO for Puzo." I was overwhelmed that Dave did that for me. Up until then the only tune that he wrote for a person was the "Splendid Splinter" for the great Ted Williams.
Dave wrote another song for a sports legend. I was naturally moved that he would do something like that for me. All I can say is Dave I love you! I not only loved him for being one of the greatest if not the greatest Jazz pianist in the World, and also for our great friendship and all the things we did together like taking me to Carnegie Hall,The Musicians Bar, box seats at Fenway Park, Foxwoods Stadium and to many of his record dates and especially for the number of truly important and great people that he introduced me to and called me his friend.
He introduced me to numerous legendary Jazz musicians, Actors, Actresses, Newspaper and Magazine editors and writers. Over the years Dave allowed me to record him hundreds of times and these recordings I will always cherish. It has been exactly 37 years to the week that I met and that Dave and I have been friends.
From George Ziskind:
When on the Cape each summer, before ten years ago when we graduated to staying in the Truro area, we used to stay in a mid-Cape location in Dennisport. It wasn't terribly far from Dave's house on Rte. 134 and it became my job to drive Dave (who never learned to drive) to wherever his gig was that night - a job which I loved doing, because it meant more hang time with Dave - and of course, I'd be going to wherever he was playing anyway.
One memory: the final set of the evening had just ended, as it often did, with Dave playing "The Last Dance". True, Frank Sinatra "owned" the tune, but nobody did it more tenderly than Dave. It was around midnight - I paid my tab and prepared for us to split and for me to deposit Dave at his place and then continue on to mine. However, Dave had gotten into a conversation with a fan, and when they stretched it past the 15 or 20 minute mark, I began getting concerned that my wife would worry. Dave saw me throwing "let's hit it, already" glances at him and said to me "Hey George, this guy wants to buy me a Stoli - c'mon and join us - and then we'll leave after that."
Realizing this could easily develop into another half hour, I felt I had to bite the bullet and announce that I was running out of steam, plus my wife would worry where I was and that I really needed for us to start the trip back.
Dave - bless his soul forever, and he's the only one who could pull off this line with that hurt hangdog St. Bernard look on his face, fixed those Irish eyes on me and said, "Gee, man, it's awful hard to turn down a Stoli . . ."
Just one more: One night when he was working at "The Lobster Boat" on Rte. 28 a writer and a photog from one of the Boston papers were there, getting material for a feature on Dave on an upcoming Sunday edition. Dave's hands were on the keyboard, the photog had his lighting all set, and then he called to Dave "Give us a big smile Dave". Dave stopped what he was doing and shot back at the shutterbug, "That's not natural to me, man."
From Bill Crow, as posted in his Bandroom column for Local 802's monthly Allegro:
While chatting on the phone recently, Frank Tate and I were remembering the late, great Dave McKenna, who spent most of his career playing solo piano. Dave sometimes denied being a jazz musician. “I’m a song player,” he would say. Dave loved good songs, but his jazz roots were always present… he walked better bass lines with his left hand than many jazz bass players, and he always swung like mad. Dave loved to eat and drink, and his youthful overindulgence caught up with him in his final years. He once told me, “I suppose if I do what the doctor says, and cut down on the booze and rich food, I’ll live a little longer. But how will I know for sure?” Frank said that Dave broke him up completely one day when he told him, “In all my years in the music business, I’ve only been late forty-nine times!”
I first met Dave in the 1950s at a jam session with Zoot Sims, and played with him at many more of them. In 1965 I joined the band at Eddie Condon's club on the upper east side, and there was Dave on piano. The band was led by Peanuts Hucko, with Yank Lawson, Cutty Cutshall and George Wettling. It was a six night a week job for those guys, but they only hired me for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The other three nights they played without a bass. This bugged Dave, and he began playing walking bass lines with his left hand. That approach became an integral part of his solo playing later on.
When my future wife, Aileen, and I were sharing an apartment in Chelsea, at the corner of 9th Avenue and West 20th Street, I discovered that Dave was living in the adjoining building on 21st Street… the two buildings were connected by a lobby hallway that extended to both streets. I used to run into Dave there, and we often went together to the Half Note down on Spring Street. And we both haunted the building on 28th Street near Sixth Avenue where Dave Young, Hall Overton, Dick Carey and photographer Eugene Smith had lofts. There was always music being played there, and Dave was one of the main piano players. It was always a joy to play with him.
One late summer day when Aileen and I were on our way to our cabin on Martha's Vineyard, we had some time to wait for the Woods Hole ferry, so we headed for the main street to get a bowl of chowder. Passing the church, we noticed a poster announcing that Dave would be giving a concert there on the following Saturday. We got tickets and came back to Woods Hole on Saturday for a wonderful concert Dave played on a very good Steinway. He was glad to see us, and we chatted for a while during his intermission. He said his wrists had been giving him trouble, and was planning some carpal tunnel therapy.
The last time I played with Dave was at Struggles in Edgewater, NJ. He was playing a duo there with Ken Peplowski, and I had my bass in my car. I ran out and got it and played a whole set with them. That was nice.
Dave was one of a kind.; I miss him. There is always one of his CDs on the player in my car.
From John Breslin:
I worked as a bellman/doorman at the copley plaza hotel in the mid 1980's. I became a fast friend of daves, via both our loves for music and baseball. he was so humble, for a man who could out play most with 1 hand tied behind his back. I was so impressed when more well known artists came to the hotel, specifically to hear dave. tony bennet bent my ear about his greatness for quite awhile. dave reminded me a lot of another genius player I met, who cared more about the instrument, than the business. the late great tal farlow. I hope they meet up there in 13th storyland.
one last thing...when dave heard I had a young son, who lived for baseball, he lit up and offered me his tickets. I believe he had season tickets. we had a great time. I got the sense that going to games was a great escape for dave. well, he need not worry about forms of escape now, just jumpin' jubilation, jammin' at the over the rainbow room, j. christ promoter [artists get paid up there!]
thank you dave, love, john breslin
From David Thibodeau:
We listened to him at the Copley Bar several times and really appreciated him and his wonderful music. He was always willing to play our requests.
We will really miss him and his music. Fortunately we have many of his CDs and have his name on our favorites on Pandora.
I hope you know the enjoyment Dave has given us.
Best to all of the family.
From Bill O'Donnell, Dave's Brother-in-Law
I slid in the side door of the McKenna family. I won Jean and in the deal I got some solid, responsible, truly nice in-laws, among them pianist Dave McKenna. Dave has been a wondrous, continuing presence in our marriage from day one. We never hung out as such with the peripatetic musician but the house was always filled with the sounds of his newest album and of course we were audience often and everywhere from Cape Cod to Chicago, to Carnegie Hall, to Eddie Condon’s in New York to Boston’s Copley Plaza and points beyond.
Everyone enjoyed having Dave around. He rarely talked music but he talked about the Red Sox (cursing the manager’s latest bonehead move), about Ireland and her Troubles, newspaper articles that drew his laughter or disbelief, and occasionally when he could tolerate one of my manhattans, he would tell hilarious stories sitting at the dinner table, going on about guys he played with and traveled with who never missed a musical beat but were capable in those early unruly days on the road where music makers toiled to make a living, of outrageous bouts of Animal House madness, fueled by alcohol and exotic substances. He could recount very human vignettes of Benny Goodman, Red Norvo, Zoot Sims, Bobby Hackett, Rosie Clooney, Teddie Wilson, Louis Armstrong, Dick Johnson, Scott Hamilton and an endless array of the world’s best instrumentalists. It was always major league time when David reminisced and never a bad or envious word about anyone. His tales of the road were so good and fall-down funny, I quietly hoped that he might stand still for a book, a memoir. Not likely. He described himself in his early days as wild and rude and untamable but musicians throughout his half-century as a professional pianist were invariably his best audience; they knew at a special redoubt what Dave was doing. And they loved playing with him. We could merely grab a bit of it as we listened in civilian awe at what he could produce with his two hands and a willing piano.
Dave had checked his ego early on and it was the easiest thing in the world to be Dave McKenna’s brother-in-law. No heavy lifting. He was always Dave, no special treatment needed, nothing to get out of the way of, but good with little dogs, and heads up baseball, and scrappy Patriots teams, and Kurt Mazur and Brazilian music, good Italian food, and his two boys, the Red Sox and Ted Williams, and Boston and the Cape but skip the water. He was very special and I will miss him. But his music and the memories are gifts to keep.
From Louis A. Lehr:
When I say early, I mean early. In the fall of 1951 I met Dave at Camp Gordon, GA. He had left Woody Herman and some how wound up in Military Police basic training. I had just finished law school and passed the Illinois bar. There we were in Company B learning how to be soldiers. Dave did not take to that to well and several of us sort of looked out for him. The first pass we had I went with Dave into Augusta, GA and found him a piano at the Knights of Columbus Clubhouse. That lifted his spirits. They needed a lawyer in the Law Section of the Criminal Investigation Department and I was pulled out of basic training to teach Military Law in the Provost Marshall General's School. I managed to see Dave a couple times after that and talked to some folks in personnel about getting him into Special Services. I never did forget Dave and followed his career from afar. He was a great guy and I have always remembered the few months we spent together in Co.B where we talked of Cabbages and Kings, and Sealing Wax and many other things.
Louis A. Lehr
Attorney at Law
From Barry Bell:
As a bartender at Hanratty's in the late 70s early 80s, I had the pleasure of meeting Dave. However the greatest pleasure was getting to listen to him play. After my first time hearing him, I manipulated the work schedule to give me most of the shifts behind the bar when he came to play. A kinder more self effacing man never existed. He was a genius at the piano. I'll never forget those nights and the way he used to ask me to pour him a "Bat and a Ball" between sets. In jazz heaven you know who's sitting at the keyboard.
Barry Bell Richmond,VA
From Stephen F. Dudzik:
I saw Dave perform at Chan’s in Woonsocket, RI with Scott Hamilton. Maybe a strange place to hear jazz but it was an intimate setting and Dave and Scott were great. I bought Dave and Scott’s albums not just because they are fellow Rhode Islanders but because the music was top notch. No Bass Hit remains a favorite album. My condolences to Frankie and his family.
Stephen F. Dudzik
From Noelle Lanham, as written to Steve McKenna:
To Steve: I was so sorry to hear about the passing of your father. You and I worked together at PTPM in State College many moons ago. I didn't really get to know your father's work until after that however.
Marian McPartland of NPR's Piano Jazz is such a huge Dave McKenna fan, that I got to know his work through her. And others who traveled to NYC specifically to here him play.
Once music is released into the world, it never goes away. And thus shall your father be forever memorialized. God Speed, Noelle
From Art Topilow:
I'm a Hematologist/Oncologist, but I've played piano in public since high school and continue to perform at this time. I first heard Dave when I went up to Boston twenty-five years ago for a week long medical refresher course. I went into the bar at the Copley Plaza in the evening after spending the whole day at lectures. I was completely knocked out by his playing. I had never heard anyone play so great.
I barely slept that week, since I spent four nights in the bar, listening to his wonderful playing. Several years later I heard him in Maine and soon afterwards invited him to my home to play. He played brilliantly for two hours. His playing encouraged me to develop my solo piano skills. I played piano for him at the time. I had only told him that I played, but he hadn't heard me play. I loved his reaction. "I knew you could play." It was a great compliment.
I heard a story that Dave was on tour and Art Tatum was also on the bill. Tatum was seen listening to Dave. When asked, Tatum said, "I just like to hear him play." I believe the story is true. What greater compliment and testimonial could there be.
From Michel Duport:
I only saw once dave mckenna live, it was at Antibes Juan les pins jazz festival in France, years ago, he was performing with many "Concord Jazz" stars. I took some photos and keep a great souvenir of that night. I own many records by him or with him as a sideman and he will remain one of my beloved musicians. I'm sad tonight knowning he's no longer with us.
From Stephen Rittenberg:
I once had the opportunity, of all places, in the men's room at
Hanratty's to awkwardly tell Dave how great an artist I thought he
was, up there with the very best--Tatum and Glenn Gould. Dave's
unforgettable way with a melody---he could create architectonic
masterpieces out of simple songs---was musical genius. I hope he
understood how much he meant to us, his audience. Life would have been
far blander and less satisfying without Dave's music--and as a
lifelong Yankees fan, I'm happy that he lived to see his beloved Red
Sox win it all in '04. Thanks for the memory, Dave. Your music is
playing right now. Lulu's back in town and death cannot prevail.
Stephen Rittenberg, M.D.
From Paul E. Bauer:
'Im up a bit late tonight. I have to be at 2:00 A.M. but when I heard that Ron Della Chiesa reported that Mr. McKenna passed away and was featuring him on his, "Music America." program tonight, I had to listen.
I was lucky to have been able to, "chat," with him during the old, "South Shore Jazz Festival." One of the years, after his set, two or three women were talking with him about who he liked to listen to. When they had gone on, I approached him and said, "You can't forget Lennie." He nodded and appeared to dream back and concurred, "Yes, you can't forget Lennie." (Tristano) I have many of his, "sides," and was gladdened to see him included in the, "88 of the Giants of Jazz Piano," that I purchased at the Kennedy Center, earlier this year. He was sheer joy to watch and to listen to.
Earlier this year, I was at four sets of the Duke Ellington Band at the Blue Note in, " The Village." I always try to sit near the pianist. I enjoy their artistry so much. Thank heaven for the recordings. Future people will be able to enjoy great musicians.
Paul E. Bauer
From Joanne Trestrail:
What a guy Dave was! Listening to his recordings, I'm bowled over by how enjoyable they are (and by how unconcerned he was about bowling anyone over). Is it just me, or is there less of that combination of talent and modesty in the world with each passing minute? Shrill self-promotion is so much more popular. I love how Dave's playing doesn't try to impress, just puts something great out there, for us to notice or not. So, so sorry he's gone.
From Chris Krenger:
Dear Family McKenna,
As a jazz fan and admirer of the late Dave McKenna, please accept my condolence on the death of Dave. I feel like letting you know, that here in Switzerland, a lot of jazz fans will remember Dave as a truly great artist. Maybe you are interested to know about a short tribute, that was held this weekend.
With kindest regards
And here's his write-up about the tribute:
Louis Mazetier pays tribute to Dave McKenna
Last Saturday, 25th and Sunday, 26th of October, the “Stride & Swing Piano Summit” took place at the famous “Old Church of Boswil” (Switzerland). Doris and Jörg Koran of “Jazz Connaisseur” recording productions, presented to an enthusiastic public six piano-giants. On two Steinway Concert Grands the musicians played solos and performed with all kinds of combinations in duets. From the United States and for the first time in Europe came newcomer Stephanie Trick and two, in Switzerland well known piano-stars, Jon Weber and Italian born Rossano Sportiello. Paolo Alderighi came from Milan, Italy, from Germany Olaf Polziehn and from Paris Louis Mazetier. One of the finest bassist, Ingmar Heller from Cologne, Germany, accompanied the pianists on many tunes. The “stride-monster” from Paris, Dr. Louis Mazetier (a radiologist), honored the late great piano-player Dave McKenna with a short but impressive announcement and performed the Duke Ellington tune “Prelude To A Kiss” as a tribute to one of the greatest pianists, we all admired so much.
Jazz fan Chris Krenger
Jona, Switzerland, 27.10.2008
From Joyce and Ron Della Chiesa:
Joyce and I had the pleasure of knowing Dave both as a friend and great artist for many years. Anytime he sat at the keyboard be it at Carnegie Hall or the Copley Plaza Bar it was always a command performance. His command of the piano was unrivaled and he had a built in rhythm section with that famous left hand that Jazz critic Whitney Balliet so aptly described as sounding like..." A Rumbling Freight Train in the Night."
During my many radio interviews with him he always preferred to talk about his love for Italian food rather that his musicianship. My wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Italy with Dave years ago and we will never forget the experience of hearing him play "Sorrento" at a private dinner party in Rome. From that moment on our Italian friends referred to him as "Grandioso!" Indeed he was in every sense of the word. Upon hearing the sad news of his passing Tony Bennett summed it up when he said......"Dave was the best."
Thanks for all those wonderful memories Dave...we'll miss you!
Joyce and Ron Della Chiesa
Boston, MA USA
From Charlie Baron:
In the early eighties my business allowed me to commute from my New Hampshire home to my New York East Side company apartment. Being in NY also provided me the access to recording studios and record manufacturing facilities that enabled me to pursue my labor of love, Chaz Jazz Records, which featured the work of Ralph Sutton and his buddies. I regularly attended the NY Jazz bistros one of which was Bradley Cunningham's piano emporium where I met Dave McKenna who was performing there. During our intermission conversation we soon established that we shared a love for the Boston Red Sox and sports in general. It was sports rather than music that provided the basis for our future close relationship.
Dave was staying in a cheap Times Square hotel so I suggested he share my East 48th Street apartment with me at no charge which he gladly accepted and used during his subsequent visits to NY to play at Hanratty's. It was during our spare time and sometimes heavy drinking sessions that I got to know Dave. However he was not an easy study as his natural modesty prevented him to comment in depth about his obvious genius.
He was however a source of inside stories about many of the jazz guys I held in awe, Goodman, Herman, Zoot, Venuti, Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Rowles, Frishberg, and many others. Most people don't know that his favorite and early inspiration was Nat King Cole.
His story about Bobby Hackett is a classic. Bobby was known to never say a bad word about anyone. Consequently when questioned by Dave as to what he thought about Hitler Bobby's response was, "Well he was the best man in his field."
Space does not permit me to expand fully on McKenna lore, nor will I comment on his piano playing as so much has been written by the experts except to offer this seldom mentioned facet of his technique, namely, his tongue in cheek sense of humor.
Once while listening to Dave with Bob Wilber Dave broke into his version of stride. I commented to Bob that he played "funny stride" which made me laugh out loud. Wilber totally agreed. Actually he was doing a sophisticated parody on stride which was as beautiful as it was unique.
He was, aside from his wonderful piano playing, truly a joy to be around and I shall miss him dearly.
From Nat Johnson:
During his first year at the Copley, Dave played on a slightly run-down baby grand minus a standard piano stick to hold up the lid. One night, just after the first set, I asked him “why no stick,” but he just shrugged it off. “Someone usually puts an ashtray under the lid when I play,” he replied with a wry smile. The following week, just before the first set, I presented Dave with a stick I’d crafted in my basement – fashioned exactly like a Steinway short-stick in black lacquer, complete with a brass hinge and “Dave’s Stick,” painted in gold letters running down the side. Dave was extremely pleased – perhaps even amazed – and years later in New York when I asked him about it, his eyes lit up and he grinned. “I took it with me when I left, man,” he said.
From Steve Voce, The Independent (London)
Dave McKenna: Jazz pianist lauded as both solo artist and accompanist who played with Charlie Parker and Tony Bennett
Friday, 24 October 2008
Although he now counts as one of the music's great accompanists, Dave McKenna was rightly first regarded as one of the finest jazz piano soloists of the late 20th century.
He was outstanding for the whole of the second half of the century, but because he was a shy man his great talents were renowned for many years only among his fellow musicians. It wasn't until the 1970s that he received his just recognition as a great artist and the huge audiences that ensued. He was good enough to accompany Charlie Parker, but soon after he'd achieved that particular jazz Elysian field, the US Army sent him off to Korea to be a cook for a couple of years.
McKenna was uniquely gifted. He was a big, long-limbed man and he had a broad and powerful spread of hand. He played with colossal strength when required but also had a delicate and imaginative way with improvisation. His encyclopaedic familiarity with the Great American Songbook was staggering and he had a rhythmic sense of such instinct that he was one of the few jazz pianists who sounded at his best playing solo and without a rhythm section. He was able to play with convincing honesty in any style and blended Bebop licks with swing or the joyous stride piano style of which he was a master. He would move between all of these styles within the interpretation of one song.
But he disliked being called a jazz musician. "I play saloon piano," he claimed. "I like to stay close to the melody. I'm a player of tunes first and add my interpretations second."
Growing up in a musical family, McKenna took a few formal lessons from his mother, local nuns and from a local teacher, but was largely self-taught from listening to records on the radio. He had first begun picking out tunes on the piano when he was seven; by the time he was 12 he was playing at weddings. He loved the piano work of Nat "King" Cole, and cited Cole as his main inspiration. He learned from Cole's records and also held Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum in high regard. During his career he graced the bands of Charlie Ventura, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Buddy Rich and Bobby Hackett.
McKenna's life was driven by a great love of baseball that, for him, took precedence over his piano playing. The Boston Red Sox was his team. His audiences at the Copley Plaza hotel in Boston, where he was house pianist for many years, playing six nights a week, were sometimes disconcerted when, throughout the baseball season, he kept a small radio propped up next to the piano keyboard. He was determined not to miss a pitch.
He moved to Cape Cod at the end of the 1960s and worked there mainly as a solo pianist in bars. But his fame spread internationally and he soon gave recitals at home and worked in small bands with musicians like Ruby Braff and Joe Temperley. He toured England and Sweden in 1978 with the clarinettist Bob Wilber. He gave support when he toured abroad to Scott Hamilton and the younger group of mainstream musicians who had emerged.
McKenna was hard to get but much in demand by vocalists, who valued his considered and sympathetic accompaniments. One such was the superb Daryl Sherman, with whom he recorded several excellent albums, notably the 1999 Jubilee. He appeared on television with Rosemary Clooney and Tony Bennett. Whenever McKenna played in New York Bennett would make a point of going to listen to him as often as he could. "If he's playing, I want to be there," said Bennett. McKenna also played for some months at Eddie Condon's club in the city, where, according to the cornettist Bobby Hackett, they played "Whiskeyland jazz".
Condon, Hackett and McKenna were prodigious drinkers. "A lot of those years on the road I was drunk," McKenna said frankly. Eventually he contracted diabetes but chose to ignore it, continuing to drink, smoke and indulge his sweet tooth. "I suppose if I do what the doctor tells me and I cut out the rich food and the booze I'll live a little longer," he reflected. "But how will I know for sure?"
Brought down eventually by the diabetic neuropathy that first affected his right hand and later moved on to his legs, he stopped playing piano in public in 2002. His marriage had broken up and at first he lived alone in an apartment in Rhode Island. As his illness worsened he was cared for by his sister.
Fortunately McKenna's playing received the documentation that it deserved with many dazzling CDs, notably on the Concord, Arbors and Chiaroscuro labels. He received a great many citations, including some from mayors and state governors and one from President Bill Clinton.
From J. Bruce LaMotte:
Dave McKenna was truly unique as both a pianist and a human being. His modesty, however, was trumped by his unmatched talent. I have been a friend of Dave's for over 40+ years. Memorable nights were many. One that comes to mind is a New Year's eve gig on the Cape.
By 8:00 p.m. there was about 18-24 inches of wind blown snow with no sign of let up. I'm wondering if Dave will make it. Shortly he arrived. I spoke with Dave briefly as he entered the club. He was sick, could hardly talk. Sat down at the piano and opened with a long "weather" medley the first of which was "I've got my love to keep me warm".
Ever inventive, always with humor and grace, Dave will live forever in the hearts of his many fans and admirers.
J.Bruce LaMotte, Cambridge, MA
From Doug Gould:
Written October 18:
I am deeply saddened by this news. I found Dave's playing on a completely different level to other pianists - and have listened to several tracks many, many times. Could I prepare a page of Lost in the Stars and send that through as my personal homage to one of the musical greats?
Also written October 18:
I never heard Dave play live - but felt something very special in his music. I am a pianist myself and it is very rare for a piece to move me like Lost in the Stars. I remember in the Liner notes it said that Dave also felt he was philosophically very close to that piece. I would certainly like to do that and the link idea is very nice too.
Thank you for everything
All the best
Written October 24:
Please find attached my contribution to Dave's Tribute page. It is a pdf so anyone should be able to open it. I really hope other pianists will be able to keep Dave's wonderful music alive through performance.
All the best from Dave's UK fans
Here is the link to Doug's transcription of Lost in the Stars.
From Kathy Flanagan Loerzel:
I met Dave several times when he was playing with my brother Mike Flanagan in and around Albany,NY.
My brother, who was a terrific bass player, loved and appreciated Dave. They had a great friendship for many years. It was always such a treat to go and watch them playing together at the Petit Paris or the Van Dyck- what great memories! what great music!
I was so sorry to hear of Dave's passing. I knew he had not been doing well in recent years but the silence he leaves behind is deafening. He was truly a giant in his field and he will be deeply missed.
The great thing he has left for all of us who appreciated his talent are his recordings. There will be many times in the days and years ahead that one can play a CD and close their eyes and remember the gift to all of us that was Dave McKenna.
My thoughts and prayers to his family and loved ones.
Kathy Flanagan Loerzel
From Duncan Ledsham:
I was extremely sad to hear of the death of Dave a few days ago. I have been a fan of Dave's for many years and its my biggest regret of never seeing him perform live.
I first became aware of Dave's playing on the LP with Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson live at the Roosevelt Grill and I remember thinking who is that pianist?! His fill-ins and sensitive backings really gave the quintet strength and colour and his solo on S'wonderful really knocked me out.
Of course I looked for more recordings and finding Dave's solo outings opened up a new world of his wonderful solo playing. I do play (try to!) some piano myself and hearing Dave rumble through On the Street Where You Live or Have You Met Miss Jones left me speechless. I love the way he will tackle something like End Of A Beautiful Friendship and play the first chorus slow, do a bop break then go into double time, then return to slow for the end of the tune. In the midst of this, there can be stride, more bop and strumming and yet the beauty of the tune is still there. One of my all time favourites is Dave playing Ill Be Seeing You, virtually just the melody with very few embellishments, the left hand strumming the beat. It really is a very beautiful thing.
I managed through email to contact Dave's sister a year or so ago and was pleased that she managed to pass on my admiration of Dave's playing to the great man himself. A couple of years ago I formed a Facebook page devoted to Dave and through the wonders of YouTube have some of his performances on there.
It is a sad time and my thoughts go to Dave's family and friends. Dave's music will continue to live on through CD's and videos of his performances. I feel privileged that in my life time I can listen to and still watch this truly amazing man.
Duncan Ledsham, North Wales, Great Britain
From Bert Konowitz and Family:
Dear Dave: I, and my family shall always hold your wonderful music in our hearts and ears. You brought an elegance to jazz that never rejected a wonderful sense of swing and surprise. Coming to Boston to visit our son Paul and his family was incomplete without a trip to hear Dave perform. It was a highpoint.
It is with great sadness, but with an eternal sense of joy for what you accomplished and gave to so many that we offer you a resounding "Bravo", and a standing ovation.
May you swing in Peace.
Bert Konowitz and Family
From Maureen Egan:
Met Dave in the late '50's in the Heublein Hotel lounge in Hartford, CT. Sat and watched him played in so many places and so may wonderful memories. Particularly our Cape Cod experiences... .Orleans Inn to the Woods Hole Community Center....and the Copley in Boston. What a sweet guy!! So down to earth....with a super sense of humor. Fortunately we have his records/CD's to keep him with us...SLAINTE'- Maureen Egan Northern-Falmouth, Ma.
From Gerry Priesing:
I once had the good fortune to exchange a few words with Dave during a gig he played in New York City. I told him that I thought that he was the finest jazz pianist still performing (this was during the 80s) along with Tommy Flanagan. Dave protested that he was not in the same league as Flanagan. His modestly is belied by his legacy of extraordinary recordings and the memory of his outstanding live performances.
Exactly like Flanagan and another all time great jazz pianist - Bill Evans, Dave loved and respected the melodies of the fine songs he interpreted. His performances were never an attempt to show off his impressive physical skills as a pianist, but rather to enrich the melodies he loved with a thoughtful and imaginative interpretation. This is not to say that Dave didn't swing or improvise brilliantly, but to emphasize his respect for his starting point, the work of the song's composer. In this way Dave was a jazz performer more like Dinah Washington, who inhabited the songs she performed, than Sarah Vaughan, who often showed off her remarkable vocal instrument at the expense of her material.
Every summer during visits to Cape Cod, I would seek out the location where Dave was performing. Dave's encyclopedic knowledge of popular songs enabled him to gracefully weave together extended sequences of thematically related songs. Many of these can be found on Dave's recordings. One evening at the Asa Bearse House in Hyannis, Dave paused briefly during a set before beginning a lovely performance of "As Time Goes By." He never even mentioned to the audience that Ingrid Bergman, a co-star of the movie Casablanca which prominently featured that tune, had passed away recently. It was so typical of Dave to let the music do his talking rather than call attention to himself.
I have very many recordings by Dave but a few particular favorites are My Friend the Piano, Live at Maybeck Hall, Easy Street and Dancing in the Dark, although it's hard to go wrong with any of them. Every Christmas Eve at our house is graced by Dave's lovely Christmas album on the Concord Jazz label.
We will all miss Dave enormously but his musical legacy endures.
From Mike O'Hara:
I just wanted to say how much pleasure Dave's playing brought to old jazzers like me. As a drummer I always put Gene Krupa on a plinth and my favourite album is one called "Hey,Here's Gene Krupa" which strongly featured Dave on piano…………what a great technician and an inventive swingin' soloist. God rest him.
From John C. Graham:
My Heartfelt Greetings,
So sorry to hear of Dave's passing. I play Dave's recordings often and with greater frequency at this time of year-baseball playoffs. It was just one of those things. Thank goodness the Red Sox finally won while Dave was still around. Condolences to all.
john c graham
From Gail Even:
I've felt a private and special "connection" with Dave since I was first introduced to his music; and often after a particularly good session at my own piano, put on one of his CDs because, although my hands are fatigued, I 'm not ready to lose the special feeling accorded musicians when they and the music come together in that inexplicably binding way.
His recordings never fail me (even though my left hand gets a severe case of inferiority complex). A friend emailed me a picture of him, and whenever it pops up on my random-picture screen saver, I think, "there's my friend Dave" even though I never had the privilege of meeting him or hearing him in person. I'm sure I will continue to think that, enjoy his music and be thankful for that initial introduction to it.
From Harry and Joan McKinley, as written to Ron Della Chiesa:
Read in today's NYTimes of the death of Dave McKenna at "only" 78 .. I'm 77. Sad, we thought a lot of him. Many evenings at the Copley, where he "owned the room". Had him almost to ourselves more than once, where he graciously played our favorites. Saw you there more than once too.
An era has ended.
Harry and Joan McKinley
So. Dartmouth MA
From Kathy Cahill:
Beginning when I was a young adult, I visited the Copley Plaza Oak Bar for the free hors d'oeuvres early in the evening and stayed for the incredible jazz pianists. The drinks were expensive, but one or two would get me through an evening of amazing music. Dave McKenna was a complete joy to listen to. The humorous segues from one song to the next, with similar themes or names, commenting musically on the weather, seasons, baseball, other happenings. Trying to guess the names of the songs. People making requests and the knowledge that something special and intimate was happening in the room that evening....and so many other evenings!
Thank you, Dave, for all the joy and amazement your music has given and continues to give me!
From Rio Clemente:
Dave is probably hanging with my friends Bobby Hackett and Joe Venuti. He was the conduit that arranged for me to perform with both of these legends. I respected his artistry and interpolations along with his marvelous interpretations of the American songbook. A quiet individual, non-assuming, and a bit shy but he let his piano speak on his behalf. He will truly be missed. Ciao Dave!
The Bishop of Jazz
From Rik Tinory:
My first introduction with Dave McKenna
When I first met Dave McKenna, It was in the 1950s in New York City at Bell Sound Studios. The Late Don Costa had just arranged two of my songs, "Toy Man" and "Blushing Girl" I was in horrible shape with a bad sore throat. Don was furious at his oldest brother John for not calling off this very expensive session. John made me gulp down a whole bottle of honey thinking this voo-doo remedy would heal my throat, of course it did not work.
Don never stayed angry with anyone for long, especially with his older Italian brother. After the session we were walking past Studio B, when I heard these incredible piano riffs steaming out of the studio, I stopped short, and peaked into the window. Turning to Don, i said, "who the hell is that" Don replied, that's Dave McKenna. I said , "Wow" "where is he from", Don replied, "Boston".
Don waited for the music to end and opened the big double door to studio B, "Hey Dave", meet Rik Tinory, ". Dave got up from the piano, he was tall, good-looking, quiet, rather reserved, a perfect gentleman. Dave greeted us with an infectious smile.
Our session went well after all. "Blushing Girl" was later released back to back with "Pachanga Baby" by Latin king Tito Rodrigues on the United Artists Label.Dave and I meet a second time
I was doing a live session for a female singer at the Copley Plaza Merry-Go Round room in Boston. As I entered the room I saw Dave crouched over the grand piano doing a solo gig. We made small talk about the days in New York, and his playing was as solid as ever.Many years later Dave and I meet for a third time
I was asked to produce an album with the following wonderful musicians:
Dick Johnson, Reeds, Tony Defazio, Bass, Art Pelosi, Baratone Sax, Sonny Cain, Valve Trombone, Lou Colombo.Trumpet .....and yes Dave McKenna., Piano. The band had just played the entire evening at Johny Yee's in West Yarmouth, Mass. It was closing time about 1 a.m., I rushed to set up my recording equipment, a portable Ampex reel to reel recorder. My thoughts were that these guys were worn out from a whole night's gig., "This is no way to record a full album, I thought".
We recorded the entire night non-stop until daylight, although exhausted, the band was still swinging at 6:00 in the morning. The result, a nine song album entitled, " The Magnificent Seven" for seven "Magnificent" musicians.
The late Norm Nathan later phoned asking to write the liner notes -- Norm was blown away after hearing a demo of the album. Norm wrote:
All these guy's are from New England and, since we have Marvelous Musical Traditions here, you would expect that they would all be something else.
"Dave Mckenna has long been the pride of New England, He's a first rate Pianist"
--The late Norm Nathan
When Dave and I last spoke, Dave told me that his hands were no longer working, this saddened me.
Farewell Dave... A gentleman... A superb musician. My thoughts and condolences to the McKenna family. Your music will be heard in the heavens.
From Francis Rodgers:
Memories of Dave McKenna, his talent, his generosity and his self effacing attitude flood my mind today. He just could not say no when he sat down at the piano though he might say, “I don’t think I know that tune...’ prior to playing it in a few keys and with many choruses. He was a man of few words but spoke volumes with his playing.
He came to The Van Dyck Restaurant in Schenectady, NY for about 25 years beginning in the mid 70’s. His gigs were sometimes for a week, sometimes for a month. In the early days mid week nights were not crowded. As he became more popular his local appearances were less frequent. He might arrive after a gig in Texas, California, Ireland or Japan. His followers around the world were like the faithful, all believers. When the preacher came to town the Church was filled. There was no greater thrill than to watch and listen to him play an hour or more and virtually command the eating, drinking, listening crowd. Wait people would stop service to hear.
Solo Dave was what it was all about though he was sometimes joined by others such as Joe Venuti, (“Live at the Palace”, Albany N.Y. was recorded here with Joe); Red Norvo came to town and they played one of the best running, answering, swinging bits I have ever heard. Pug Horton (see above) sang with Dave at the Van Dyck. Marian McPartland played the room but not with Dave. Dave had recorded “Cooking at Michael’s Pub”(Halcyon,1973) for Marion. I asked her about other recordings by Dave and she said ‘I gave him some but he goes around the country giving them away.” When I asked Dave about the recordings, he apologized and said, “Oh I forgot and left them home or you could have one.”
One slow night I brought him a Gershwin book, noting that George would be proud of his work. He put on his glasses and read through some tunes he wanted to brush up on. Always wondered if that was just for effect as we all know he had them all up there...wherever he kept them.
He was a two handed player but one of my memories of his hands at work was when he played, lit and smoked a cigarette, and checked the time on his wristwatch without missing a note or a beat. Towards the end of the evening he would say, “On the home stretch now...” Seemed to me his favorite tune, always at the end of a vigorous sometimes sweaty night was “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”
As Dave goes Home it is timely that the Red Sox won the come from behind game this week, and that the Schenectady Van Dyck was closed and sold this fall. We are left with his music and memories of Dave whom Whitney Balliett called one of the greatest jazz players of the last century.
As Time Goes By. Requiescat in Pace
Francis W. Rodgers
From Tom Morley:
I believe I first met Dave thru Bob Wilber when they played a New Years Eve party on the Cape.That was a fun evening, and great thrill for a fan of both men. There were other memorable times--in Hyannis, Bradley's, Hanratty's,The Copley, and Carnegie Recital Hall--where Dave did 10 min of "Alexander's Ragtime Band' in multiple tempos and keys to a standing ovation--unforgettable!
He very kindly came to my house in Long Island in 1991 and played an impromptu Sun afternoon party. After playing for 15 minutes, with hushed silence by the guests, he smiled and said "you people aren't making enough noise"--and after big applause "that's not necessary--only intelligent nods".I told everyone that Bob Wilber had said to me that he'd never heard Dave make a wrong harmonic progression, and that he could play any tune in any key--to which Dave quickly said "I make mistakes all the time- I just cover them up". A very modest genius to be sure.
Those of us who knew and loved him, and his amazingly inventive playing, will never forget how lucky we were. Thanks Dave.
From Thierry Montfort:
Written to Dave in early September:
My name is Thierry Montfort and I discovered Dave Mc Kenna at the Copley Plaza in Boston, thanks to my friend Pete of Concord, NH...This has been one of the greatest discovery in my musical life... I was in awe... And I am an avid collector of all of his records!
I have played classical piano since I was a child and I am now 50 years old and now I would like to learn to play like Dave, with his incredible rhythm and sense of freedom. This is my dream and I know I will have a lot of work!
Could you please indicate how I should proceed? Does Dave himself teach? I live in France but for this I am ready to travel to Northeast USA!
Written in early September:
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind feedback. If only I could have a suggestion of how to proceed by Dave Mc Kenna himself, this would give me a motivation equal to none!
Please let him know that his fans all over the world (again, I am now in France) miss him and wish him the best possible health and recovery. Please let him know that there is in Lyon, France a musical bookstore which has decided to carry all of his records thanks to my presentation to them.
Written October 20:
Your message has touched me deeply. I feel treated like family and this is a great honor. I feel very sad that I came too late to communicate with Dave Mc Kenna about piano playing... I know he will continue to bring magic feelings to those who will listen to his records...
My thoughts are going to you and all his loved ones. Dave "fingers" Mc Kenna will play in my prayers. I am with you all. Please feel free to use any of my messages in your tribute
With all my heart
From David May, WHFC-FM
I first became aware of Dave McKenna's music on WXTR's Fred Grady Show, back in 1968, and was immediately impressed by his readily identifiable style. Dave has enriched our lives, and for that I am very grateful.
May God bless Dave McKenna.
Host, Desert Island Jazz
Bel Air, MD
From Maria Vincent:
Mr. McKenna was a friend of my parents, and I first met him as a young child in Albany, NY. I was taken to hear him play at several venues around the area: the Van Dyck Restaurant, a club tucked into the Northway Mall, and at the Academy of Holy Names, where Sister Annette Covatta invited him to play. He stayed with us many times and he was larger than life to me, a personality that filled a room. I recall more than one occasion where the party would go on long after I had gone to bed to the sound of Mr. McKenna at our piano. It seems that my brother and I grew up with his music, and we both continue to listen, with more mature ears and great appreciation.
From Joe Slomka:
The first time I heard Dave was in 1971 or so. I was a high school student living in Brockton, Ma. and a solo gig Dave had at the Thorny Lea Golf Club somehow found its way onto an AM station in town, WBET that I only listened to when I was in the car, and only for its weekly jazz show.
So there I was, driving into Boston in my Dodge Dart convertible one Saturday evening, and I couldn't believe what I was listening to - on AM radio, no less!!! I was even more amazed when the announcer (Forrest Adams) indicated it was coming to me live from my very own home town. So I made a mental note: gotta hear that Dave McKenna again sometime.
As luck would have it, I settled in Schenectady, NY after college, where Dave used to play regularly at the Van Dyck. I'd sneak out of my 2-11 shift at the nearby Schenectady Gazette to hear him play solo on weeknights and occasionally with ringers like Joe Venuti and Red Norvo on weekends. I heard him many times in Schenectady over the years, at the Copley in Boston, the Asa Bearse House in Hyannis, the March of Jazz in Florida, even a benefit with Gray Sargent at a Catholic girls' school in Albany. Always amazing!
Dave and I shared a love for the Red Sox and Italian food, so naturally we became friends. When he played for Schenectady's A Place for Jazz about 10 years ago, I presented him with my "Four-Star Dave" button, which was a picture of a racehorse who always seemed to win when he ran at nearby Saratoga Race Course.
Dave was always four-star in my book!
From Jim Lowe:
We are very lucky that he passed our way and enriched our lives. Most days I listen to something by him and today is no exception. If I ever feel low - Dave gives me a lift and soon brings a smile to my face!'Jim Lowe, Manchester, UK.
From Hank O'Neal, Chiaroscuro Records:
In the 1970s the two pianists most frequently featured on Chiaroscuro recordings were Earl Hines and Dave McKenna. Earl appeared on a dozen LPs during that decade and Dave appeared on ten. Earl was nearing the end of his career and Dave's solo career was just beginning to take off and I was lucky enough to be in the presence of these remarkable artists many times. There were no second takes with Earl; he played it once and that was it. He was that secure with what he did. Dave was more thoughtful and the results were equally outstanding, but he was even better when he didn't have any constraints.
One day in late 1977 Dave was at Downtown Sound as part of a quintet that also featured Flip Phillips, Kenny Davern, George Duvivier and Bobby Rosengarden. It was a terrific recording and afterwards the guys packed up and left. Everyone but Dave. I suggested we go out for dinner, at the always reliable Blue Mill on Commerce Street. We talked about a lot of things and as the dishes were being cleared away, I asked Dave if he'd like to come back to the studio and try something.
Always reluctant, he asked what I had in mind. I did have something in mind, something I'd been thinking about for a few weeks, and I blurted out, "Give me a couple of Bradley's sets. No take one or take two. Just turn on the tape recorder and play whatever you want to play." He liked the idea and we walked back to the deserted studio. I changed the room around for a solo recording and turned down the lights. There was a quick sound check and then Dave just played and played and played. There was never a false note, never a hesitation and everything was inspired. The only time he stopped was when I had to change the tape. My only regret is that I didn't ask for three sets. It was the last time I worked with Dave on a recording.
Those ten selection will have their thirty-first birthday in less than week and they still sounds just a fresh and inspired as when they jumped out of the speakers in the control room all those years ago. I was lucky to have been there and even luckier to have been able to enjoy this master pianist's music for nearly half a century. And Dave, as I write this, the Red Sox are leading Tampa Bay 2-1.
From Joann Olmstead:
Written to Dave in late September:
Listening to Jonathan Schwartz on XM Radio....he's playing one of your songs and mentioned that you're health is not good right now. I just wanted to send you a "get well" message along with a couple of added stories.
I first heard about you through my musican mentor and friend, Herbie Hall. Herbie was a well known pianist in the Portland Oregon area for many, many years. Because I play the piano, and am left-handed.....Herbie clued me in about you many years ago. He told me to listen to you - as you were the BEST left handed player around. That was my introduction to YOU !
Then a few short years later....I finally saw you live at Otter Crest. Remember? Jim and Mary Brown had a wonderful annual jazz party every year at the Oregon Coast. We are huge jazz fans...and were fortunately to be a part of that incredible experience every year !! It was an honor to have finally seen and heard you live, Dave. Herbie was right. You knocked it out of the ball park !!! You have a legion of fans who love you and your enormous talent Please get well. You're in our prayers !!!
Written October 18:
I am so sad to hear of this news, but am thankful that he was at peace during the time of his passing. He gave us many wonderful musical memories, and for that I am grateful. I would be happy if you would share any part or all of what I e-mailed you regarding my memories of him. Thank you for taking the time to share this information and offer me the opportunity to be included on his web page tribute.
My very best goes out to his family and close friends during this difficult and sad time. May he play for the angels and watch them dance in delight !
From John Altman, as posted on the JazzWestCoast Board:
When Dave was preparing his Tribute to Harry Warren album, I took him to Chappells Music in London in the days when they employed publishers who knew about music. Stan Bradbury, who looked after the Warren catalogue, gave Dave a pile of sheet music, and as we got up to leave, asked if he would mind playing something on Stan's piano. What ensued was one of the cherished moments of my life. Dave played, at my request, This Heart Of Mine, and half a chorus in, every door along the corridor opened and heads popped out of rooms. It was just like a cliched Hollywood musical with all the cleaners stopping to listen, and you could have heard a pin drop as the audience feasted on every note. I still remember the golden radio voice of disc jockey/publisher Jimmy Henney uttering the word 'Beautiful' in the magical die away of the last note. Beautiful indeed!
From Tom Shaker:
Dave was a wonderful person. I remember in the 1980s the thrill of going into the Copley Hotel and listening to him play. He was such a
sweet guy, we talked more baseball than music!! His music will live on!!
From Maureen Connelly, as submitted to the Cape Cod Times:
Dear CCT Editor:
Not at Carnegie Hall or the Great Wall of China but at Epoch Assisted Living in Brewster is where Dave "Fingers" McKenna performed publically, perhaps for the last time, eight years this fall. Assisting in Activities at that time, I knew many of the residents idolized Dave and knew of my friendship with his sister Jean and her husband Bill O'Donnell. And sure enough, despite a N'easter, they drove from Woonsocket to Brewster where Dave "tickled the ivories" for 100 seniors and staff.
Dave did another favor for me 11 years earlier when I asked him if he'd play for my neighbor Tip O'Neill when he was the Eire Society of Boston's Gold Medal recipient at the Harvard Club. On that occasion, he told Tip that his "dream job would be to play the organ at Fenway Park." How appropriate then, that the last Sox game he watched was the great comeback win on Thursday night. I like to think he's playing "Take Me Out to the Ball game" this very minute. Followed by "Old Cape Cod."
Maureen Connelly, HarwichPort, Ma.
From Bob and Pug Wilber:
My husband & I are deeply saddened by Dave's death.We were surprised not to read the name of Bobby Hackett among his colleagues-Hackett was his foremost admirer. He was quoted often as saying " Dave McKenna is the world's greatest piano player-notice I didn't say jazz" .Amen.
Bob & Pug Wilber
From Sam Levene:
Dave McKenna was my favorite pianist for many years. I might say that he was my favorite living pianist until yesterday. We were very lucky here in Toronto to have him perform here often in the 80s and early 90s, always solo, at two great jazz clubs - the Cafe des Copains and its successor, the Montreal Bistro, both owned by the same people, both clubs alas now gone. I had read the great Whitney Balliett piece about Dave, "Super Chops" in the New Yorker in 1979, (later collected into Balliett's book, American Musicians), and that was more or less my introduction to him. After that I started buying his records and relished the opportunity to see him on his club appearances here.
It was always a thrilling experience. In his appearances at the first of the two clubs he'd be booked in for as long as two weeks, then later for a week. I'd be in there night after night, listening, utterly absorbed. My private nickname for him was "The Big Train" - taken from the nickname of the 1920s baseball power pitcher, Walter Johnson.
There was something locomotive-like about his driving style on an up tempo tune when he got rolling with that distinctive left hand. I loved the medleys - there was an incredible 45 minute "on the road" medley when he was here in July 1985 that was broadcast locally and I taped it so can still have the pleasure of hearing it. Between sets he would usually sit quietly at the bar chatting with the customers, myself included, hopefully not being too much of a bore. He seemed a quiet, reserved man but unfailingly polite. To break the ice I'd ask about the Red Sox but I suspect he grew tired of people using that as a way in. He must have enjoyed the team's triumphs of recent years. I saw him once in Boston at the Copley bar and was kind of disappointed at the physical setup there with the piano on the floor and the customers not giving him the attention he merited. But I guess it was a good gig for a long time.
I can't really describe the intensity of the listening pleasure he provided and there will be no one else like him. I'd heard a few years ago that he was unwell and had stopped playing. I hope his last years were comfortable. I thank him profusely posthumously but am happy that I thanked him in person on his visits here. My sympathies and best wishes to his family.
From Ruth Hellkamp:
As a young pianist, I stood speechless when introduced to Dave McKenna at a local jazz club here in Upstate New York. Twenty years later, I ended up playing that same club and the same piano. Mission accomplished!
His "wonder of the world" left hand will never be surpassed by any other pianist, for sure! His reverence for the song's melody was a lesson in good taste for students of the art of jazz interpretation.
A gentle, humble, unassuming legend, Dave always had time to be a friendly, kind, human being, unlike some giant egomaniacs of the ivories!
Dave could play a tender ballad like no other, my favorite of his repetroire being "Ill Wind" by H. Arlen. Goosebumps appeared each time I heard him play it. Thank goodness I have it on a Cd for safe keeping.
I was blessed by the stars to have met Dave and spend a few precious moments with him...to me...the best jazz solo pianist of all time!
Pianist in residence for 28 years - Desmond Hotel, Albany New York.
From Paul Ciulla:
Our deep-felt condolences to Dave's family. We are big jazz fans in the Boston area and my family members have been part of that scene through jazz radio shows and jazz record store ownership (Stereo Jacks). I personally was the biggest of Dave's fans and have long said that Dave was the greatest jazz musician I have ever heard. "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" and nobody, nobody, ever swung as hard and more enjoyably than Dave McKenna. We'll never forget him.
From Maurilio in Brazil:
I regret Dave's death. People like him go but take a part of us with them - so special they are. Dave IS the best talented piano player I've heard - what a left hand, my God ! I said a prayer for him. Like Santo Agostinho said, " A tear drop the wind takes; a flower lives a few days but a prayer God receives." I'm sending a friendly embrace for you and all his family. Thanks to be so kind.
From Corte Swearingen:
"I first heard Dave McKenna's piano playing back in 1991. At the time, I was listening to people like Oscar Peterson and George Shearing. I happened to pick up a CD by McKenna and could not believe what he was able to do with just two hands. I listened over and over and tried to figure out how this guy was able to sound like an entire orchestra. I instantly became a fan - a fanatic is more like it.
Through the generosity of Scott MacKenzie, one of Dave's closest friends, I was able to actually meet and speak with Dave. I still remember the evening I spent with Dave. I distinctly remember trying to get him to talk about his technique and how he developed it. I must have asked him a dozen questions. His response was the same - he didn't know. I eventually came to realize that Dave was not being evasive, just honest. He really didn't have any secret to his incredibly powerful technique, he simply played. This, in my mind, is the true mark of genius. Dave simply played. He didn't try to analyze what he did or systemize it - he just played. Those of us that heard him knew that they were in the presence of something extremely rare and special.
I know that my life was greatly enhanced by Dave and his music. I will never forget the man or his music as long as I live."
From Don Frese:
I met Dave in Annapolis sometime in the early 70s. He was playing at the Maryland Inn there, and I got to see him several times. During his stay he befriended a good friend of mine, Mike Meeks, who was a budding jazz pianist (who has been a working jazz musician off and on for many years in New Orleans). One night both of them came up to my apartment where we talked music, killed a bottle of scotch and listened to some of my records, mostly Louis Armstrong at Dave's request. I remember a very warm, funny, and personable man.
His recordings, solo, and the wonderful duos with Buddy DeFranco and Joe Venuti, are among the treasures of my collection.
I am grateful for his music, glad to have met him, and saddened by his passing. My prayers and my sympathy to his family and friends.
From Edris Kelley:
I received the sad news yesterday via e-mail from David's brother-in-law and friend, Bill O'Donnell. I have known the O'Donnells for many years, however, the first 10 or so years I had no idea that Dave McKenna was Jean O'Donnell's brother.
One evening in the summer of 1992 I was invited for a cookout at Bill and Jean's home in Woonsocket. It was delightful. This very tall man with a wonderful smile and very easy manner was cooking hamburgers and hot dogs and we were all having a great evening. I knew that his name was Dave and I knew that he was Jean's brother, however, not until someone started asking him if he was going to be playing at the Plaza Bar at the Copley the next weekend did I realize he was THE Dave McKenna. To say that I was surprised is an understatement. My husband and I used to frequent that Bar at least twice a month.
I would meet my husband after work and we would be planted there for the evening - I think I have every one of Dave's CD's and they have been played again and again. What an interesting life that man had, the stories he must have been able to tell - the greats that he worked with. There will be a very large gap in the music world. He was a modest person, a kind person, and so, so talented - he touched the hearts of many through his music. I wish I had been able to get to know him better as a man, but I certainly knew him fairly well as a musician - Sincerely, Edris Kelley
From Bill Novak:
A few years back I was listening to one of the many fine jazz shows on WOMR, the Provincetown radio station that for me is one of the best things about Cape Cod. They were playing a piano duet of Ellington's "C-Jam Blues" that was so enjoyable I called the station to find out who the musicians were. "That," said the DJ, "was Dave McKenna. Alone, at Maybeck Recital Hall." At the time I owned half a dozen of Dave's recordings and had heard him in person a couple of times, but I was still fooled.
What a joy it was to hear him! - Bill Novak
From Guy Trudeau:
I had the pleasure of watching Dave perform a Christmas concert at the Cape Playhouse Restaurant in the late 80's. That night I became a life-long fan of Dave McKenna. What an amazing and unique talent he was. I will always treasure his recordings and the memories of the performances I attended.
Cape Cod Mass.
From Suzanne Katz Miller:
My father (84 and still playing piano) first took me as a child to hear Dave McKenna. My father was a regular at the Copley Hotel bar, and an avid Red Sox fan as well, so he would amble up to Dave at the break to find out the score, since Dave would have a radio with him on game nights and discreetly flick it on between sets. My husband and I had many of our first teenage dates going to hear Dave McKenna at the Copley. I couldn't (and still can't) imagine a more romantic evening. The fruit of this courtship is my son, age 11, a third generation piano-jazz-and-Red-Sox fan, who is already playing piano standards he learned from my father. I'm sorry he didn't get to hear Dave McKenna live, but the spirit and music live on.
Sue Katz Miller (Takoma Park, Maryland)
From Jimmy Stewart:
I first heard Dave's playing in about 1956 on the ABC Paramount Solo Album. I was 17 and I was hooked. I bought every record, tape and CD I could find over the years. I followed him from Hanratty's to the Fortune Garden to the Longshore Inn, wherever he played in our area.
About 1995, a friend, Bob Anderson, and I hired Dave to do a party at Bob's house. Before the party, Dave asked me to play a tune. I was so nervous, my glasses fogged and my fingers froze. So much for that.
In the next few years we hired Dave three times to christen a piano series at our little club in Connecticut. It continues to this day with great players.
Dave never played a bad note. His chord progressions seemed so simple but at the same time were like the finest orchestral arrangements. He was at home in any key. An eight minute version of "Lulu's Back In Town" in seven keys is for me "The Greatest Bar None".
Dave was a musician's musician. John Williams told me that great artists enjoyed playing with the Boston Pops so that after the performance they could go over to the Copley to hear Dave.
Rossano Sportiello, one of today's great young players, and I visited Dave in February. We tried to get him to play the keyboard that sat across the room. No dice! I wish we could have persuaded him because there was still lots of great music inside.
He gave many of us more joy on a daily basis than one can imagine. Thanks Dave!
From Michelle Fey:
I am Bobby Hackett's granddaughter. My grandfather loved Dave as a person and as the best pianist he knew. They are together again now, and both will live on forever in their music.
From Mike Gorajec:
Please accept my sincere condolences on Dave’s passing. Dave was an American original that will never be duplicated. Those of us familiar with his work are truly blessed for being able to hear such joyful rendition’s of the classics from “the greatest friend a melody ever had”. Thanks Dave!
From Nick Niles:
A number of years ago, I was at a Christmas service in the Cathedral of St John Divine in New York City. Kurt Masur gave the sermon.( Traditionally the New York Philharmonic does a service every year around Christmas. This year Kurt was giving a sermon.) He talked about the relationship between a mother and child. He said, in fact, the only reason he became a musician was to please his mother. He went on to say that he often was the visiting conductor in Boston for the BSO. He stayed at the Copley Plaza and would go downstairs to hear a musical genius by the name of Dave McKenna play the piano. They got to be good friends and one night he asked Dave if he would like to come to New York and play with the New York Philharmonic.He pressed Dave to do it and how much fun it would be to have him. Dave finally said to Kurt that he really was just a simple piano player and only really got playing the piano to please his mother-and that playing with the New York Philharmonic was just not his thing.
Another time I remember going to the Tavern on the Green to hear Dave. We walked in with him for his first set and I said I was really looking forward to hearing him play. Dave said he'd try to play some good stuff for me and hoped I'd enjoy it. I also said that if he were interested I had a box at Yankee stadium right behind home plate and would he have any interest in using it the next day. The Yankees were playing the Red Sox. He looked at me with a big smile and said, you really do want me to play well don't you!
We were all lucky to have had many experiences with Dave - I could go on, but these two stand out in my memory.
From Jordan Rich, WBZ Boston:
I'm honored that Dave's music has opened every hour of my show for ten years. I became a fan and collector of Dave's recordings during the Concord years and had the pleasure of catching him performing at his perch at the Copley Plaza in Boston. As far as I'm concerned, there has never been a better jazz pianist. And he was as humble as he was talented. God Bless you Dave and thanks for everything, including "Broadway," a wonderful theme song.
From Paul Shanley, as written to Dave's sons Steve and Doug:
Dear Steve and Doug,
This is a sad day. Dave was such a warm and sensitive person. So much of it came out in his playing which could be so poetic it would bring tears to our eyes. I spoke with him a few times after he moved out to Penn State. And despite his many health problems he was always interested in other people and what they were up to.
Isobel and I were so fortunate to have Dave come to our house and play on three very special occasions. They are moments that our four daughter and their families cherish. While Isobel died two years ago we are all taking comfort in knowing that she can now get to hear Dave again. Our family prays for Dave. We know this is a tremendous loss out of your lives and you, too are in our prayers.
From Anita Stav:
One of my most beloved pianists ever. Dave Mckenna - your playing will remain with me forever.
Thank you so much for your legacy.
From Ellen James:
Dave made everyone happy. His music was a joy. May he rest in peace.