Jay McShann (January 12, 1916 – December 7, 2006) was an American Grammy Award-nominated jump blues, mainstream jazz, and swing bandleader, pianist and singer. During the 1940s, McShann was at the forefront of blues and hard bop jazz musicians mainly from Kansas City. He assembled his own big band, with musicians that included some of the most influential artists of their time, including Charlie Parker, Bernard Anderson, Ben Webster and Walter Brown. His kind of music became known as "the Kansas City sound". McShann died on December 7, 2006, at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City. Jay McShann was survived by his companion of more than 30 years, Thelma Adams (known as Marianne McShann), and three daughters - Linda McShann Gerber, Jayne McShann Lewis, and Pam McShann. Nicknamed Hootie, McShann was born James Columbus McShann in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Musically, his education came from Earl Hines' late-night broadcasts from Chicago's Grand Terrace Cafe: "When 'Fatha' [Hines] went off the air, I went to bed". He began working as a professional musician in 1931, performing around Tulsa, Oklahoma and neighboring Arkansas. He moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1936, and set up his own big band, which featured variously Charlie Parker (1937–1942), Al Hibbler, Lawrence Anderson, Ben Webster, Paul Quinichette, Bernard Anderson, Gene Ramey, Jimmy Coe, Gus Johnson (1938–1943), Harold "Doc" West, Earl Coleman and Walter Brown, among others. His first recordings were all with Charlie Parker, the first as 'The Jay McShann Orchestra' on August 9, 1940. Although they included both swing and blues numbers, the band played blues on most of its records; its most popular recording was "Confessin' the Blues." The group disbanded when McShann was drafted into the Army in 1944 and, the big band era being over, he was unable to successfully restart it when he got out. After World War II McShann began to lead small groups featuring blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon. Witherspoon started recording with McShann in 1945, and fronting McShann's band, and had a hit in 1949 with "Ain't Nobody's Business." As well as writing much material, Witherspoon continued recording with McShann's band, which also featured Ben Webster. He had a modern rhythm and blues hit with "Hands Off", featured Priscilla Bowman in 1955. In 1979, he appeared prominently in the documentary on Kansas City jazz, The Last of the Blue Devils. In the late 1960s, McShann became popular as a singer as well as a pianist, often performing with violinist Claude Williams. He continued recording and touring through the 1990s. Well into his 80s, McShann still performed occasionally, particularly in the Kansas City area and Toronto, Ontario where he made his last recording in February 2001 after a recording career of 61 years.
Jay McShann gets a mention in any jazz history, though often his name appears as the leader of the band in which, from 1939-1942, Charlie Parker reached musical maturity. At first it seems somewhat slighting to Jay McShann. this oblique reference that so often occurs in a portrait of Parker, until one realises that it must have been a pretty good band, and quite a leader, to hold such brilliant and innovative musician for so long. When Parker joined him. Jay was thirty and very experienced. McShann was close to seventy when he re-visited Europe and as can be heard on this CD, recorded in the studio, he was not only 'quite a leader' but he was also an exciting solo pianist besides being a powerful singer. These tracks are all remarkably fresh and timeless recordings of Kansas City blues and jazz!