How could we not go about today, August 30th, and not take a moment to celebrate Kenny Dorham’s birthday. I mean come on people. KD! The man, the legend…..that’s right you probably don’t know who he is…
….like most people.
Kenny Dorham is considered one of the most over looked musicians in jazz. I’ve read over and over again how KD was never recognized for his genius as a trumpeter, composer, and piano player. He would never live a long and healthy life, he would spend most of his career working for non musical positions including many years as a post office worker. When you hear KD and all of his brilliance, you can’t, at least I can’t figure out how this has become his fate.
I first came to know of KD the same way most do, by performing his classic tune Blue Bossa. Like so many young and starting jazz musicians this was one of the first tunes I ever learned. Then in college I was exposed to him much more from my college teacher because KD was his idol. For every 5 gigs I play or jam sessions I attend this song is played at least 3 of those times. Its a great tune, and great to improvise over.
I don’t want to get into all the details about KD’s life because it requires the amount of space of a full blown novel but I would like to mention a few points.
His album Una Mas had a very strong impact on my life as a musician. Teamed,with an all-star cast of musicians, including his protege’ Joe Henderson, this album is full of great playing, intriguing melodies and full of groove all people of the world need to hear. At one point this album was played more than anything else I owned.
KD got his first break when he replaced Miles Davis in Charlie Parker’s band in the late 1940’s. He played consistently into the 50’s, took some time off then re-emerged in the late 50’s as one of the original members of the Jazz Messengers. He would then continue playing all through the 60’s in various contexts with everyone from Horace Silver to Andrew Hill.
Due to economical reasons in the 60’s KD began working a regular gig at the Post Office and occasionally reviewed albums and wrote columns for Downbeat magazine.
Kenny Dorham was always in the shadow of many players throughout his career. His curse of never becoming a house hold name seemed to just be an act of fate. Miles writes in his autobiography that at a jam session KD swept him under the rug.
Even though he was over looked by all the stars of the trumpet at the time, he was an amazing player. His ballad playing was melodic and so fluid. His fast paced playing was smooth and connected.
He was an original voice.
He was Kenny Dorham
August 30th 1924-December 5th 1972