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A benefit for Kenny Wheeler

Kenny WheelerFew important musicians have made more noise with less fuss than the trumpeter, flugelhornist, composer and bandleader Kenny Wheeler. A vital figure on the British scene since his arrival in London from his native Canada in 1952 at the age of 22, he emerged from early employment with dance bands to create a reputation that flourished despite a temperament for which such words as “modest” and “retiring” seem entirely inadequate.

Kenny is a musician of immense range. I’ve been listening to some of his early work lately, with the saxophone-playing racing driver Buddy Featherstonhaugh’s excellent pianoless quintet of 1956, which recorded a couple of EPs for Pye, and also to his classic ECM album of 1997, Angel Song, with a fabulous quartet completed by Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell and Dave Holland. In between he contributed to any number of great records, among which I particularly cherish two classics of the early British avant-garde, as nurtured at the Little Theatre Club: the Spontaneous Music Ensemble’s Karyobin (Island, 1968) and Tony Oxley’s The Baptised Traveller (CBS, 1969). 

Problems with his own and his wife’s health have meant that, at the age of 84, Kenny has been unable to play for some months. For his benefit, his old friend and colleague Evan Parker has organised a concert tomorrow night — Friday, August 15 — at a place called Epic, 13-15 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 8BH (admission £12-£10). A stone’s throw from the Vortex and Cafe Oto, the gig will feature the altoist Ray Warleigh’s quartet, a group with Parker, Steve Beresford, Olie Brice and Mark Sanders, the Alison Blunt Ensemble (including the violinists Dylan Bates and Phil Wachsmann), and Reuben Fowler’s big band playing some of Kenny’s charts.

Kenny won’t be playing, but John Coxon of Spring Heel Jack — with whom he also recorded to great effect — will be at the turntable between the sets, playing some of his records and reminding us of his audacious imagination, as well as the purity of tone and elegance of articulation that put him alongside Booker Little in a line of trumpeters stretching from Joe Wilder to Ambrose Akinmusire. 

* The photograph of Kenny Wheeler was taken by W. Patrick Hinely (Work/Play) for the booklet accompanying Angel Song (ECM 1607).

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Chris Walsh #

    Sad to hear that Kenny isn’t doing so well. He’s always been one of my favourite musicians, mainly because of his ability to straddle such a variety of playing environments. I still listen regularly to his outings with Anthony Braxton (with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul), and also to his ECM album Gnu High (if you can persuade Keith Jarrett to be a sideman, you’ve probably got some game).

    August 14, 2014
  2. I hope there’s a way to send them money if we can’t make it.

    August 14, 2014
  3. Well done Richard and Evan. Kenny is the best!

    August 15, 2014
  4. Roger Farbey #

    I concur with Mark’ comment. Is there any way people who can’t make the gig can contribute?

    August 15, 2014
  5. Glen Tilley #

    I had the rare gift to record and tour with Kenny in the early 90s in Canada with the Jeff Johnston Quartet. It remains one of greatest experiences of my life. Above and beyond the music Kenny and and his wife Doreen are two of the kindest and sweetest souls on the planet. Any news of how to support this event would be appreciated.

    August 15, 2014
  6. I’m a trumpet player and great fan and benefactor of Kenny’s work over the years. I first heard him with Maynard Ferguson’s band, then with the killer Anthony Braxton quartet. He’s one of only two trumpeters I can think of to play with both of these ensembles, the other being Hugh Ragin. I then moved on to ‘Gnu High’, a wonderful album, which set me up for ‘Deer Wan’, an album I consider a ‘desert island disc’. I literally wore out several copies of this on vinyl. A masterpiece as far as I’m concerned. There’s also the great ‘Around Six’, a stylistic left turn in his chronology of records that is masterful. I wish Kenny and his wife well and wish everybody a great time at the benefit. Wish I could be there.

    Keith Hedger

    August 16, 2014
  7. Patrick Hinely #

    Kenny Wheeler has had a career of great breadth and depth, and has excelled across the spectrum. His combination of heart, versatility and open-ended creativity is unique.
    I salute his friends and colleagues for organizing the benefit.
    And I thank you for the photo credit; not many bother with such etiquettes any more.

    August 17, 2014
  8. Jamie Baum #

    One of my musical heroes. I wrote a piece for him on my recording, Solace. Wish I could be there to support him.

    August 18, 2014
  9. My introduction to Kenny Wheeler was late in the game — I had never heard him until “Island” with Bob Brookmeyer. What a musician — makes me cry just by playing one note. If there’s any way to donate, please post (even if it’s just a mailing address; I can send him a check — or a cheque, as you’d say over there!)

    August 26, 2014
    • Actually, scratch that — I saw the followup post with PayPal information. Thanks! — Urb

      August 26, 2014

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