Jay McShann’s “Hootie Blues”
Jay McShann (1916-2006), is a pianist and bandleader whose ability to play the piano was overshadowed by Charlie Parker’s brief tenure in his Kansas City based big band. In 1940, when Parker was barely twenty years old, McShann’s band broadcasted (and was subsequently recorded) live from an engagement in Wichita, KS, creating the first known recordings in existence of the great Charlie “Bird” Parker. Parker’s role in these recordings have gained the bulk of the attention in the jazz world. While this attention is of course justified, less of a fuss has been made about McShann’s incredible ability to play the piano.
McShann arrived in Kansas City around the time that Count Basie had been recruited by John Hammond. With Basie’s departure to New York (1936), McShann began to soak up much of the work he left behind. As a pianist, McShann was influenced by the blues, and boogie-woogie tradition in Kansas City at the time – a style originally forged in the Piney Woods of East Texas, which found its way to Kansas City, the hub for Southwest jazz and blues during the Great Depression and Alcohol Prohibition. The blues were at the core of the Kansas City sound and can be heard as a major influence in early bands such as the Oklahoma City Blue Devils, Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, Count Basie and the Kansas City Seven and of course Jay McShann’s band. McShann’s solo piano style was no exception. In fact, the great Art Tatum once stated that Jay McShann was the greatest blues pianist alive.
Attached, you will find a complete transcription of Jay McShann’s piano solo on his tune, “Hootie Blues,” which was recorded live at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1979. I have also included an accompanying explanation of my transcription method, both in PDF format.