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McGHEE, HOWARD (1918-1987)

Howard "Maggie" McGhee was one of the most talented instrumentalists, composers, and arrangers in the 1940s jazz scene. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on February 6, 1918, he moved with his family to Detroit, where he attended high school until age sixteen. While at home, he learned the basics of music from his half brother, who played the guitar. During high school McGhee learned piano, tenor saxophone, clarinet, and trumpet but eventually made the trumpet his basic instrument in 1935 after hearing Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge. After joining Lionel Hampton's band in 1941, he then became principal soloist with Andy Kirk for two years.

As one of the pioneers in the bebop jazz movement, McGhee performed at jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's Uptown House on Forty-second Street in New York City. After playing briefly with Count Basie, he joined the Coleman Hawkins combo in 1945. For the next two years McGhee was on the West Coast, where he recorded on Charlie Parker's sessions for "Lover Man" and "Relaxin' at Camarillo." By the end of the 1940s McGhee was one of the most highly respected musicians in the bebop movement and was named Best Trumpet Player by the Down Beat poll in 1949. He worked as an arranger for such notables as Billy Eckstine, Woody Herman, and Charlie Barnet. McGhee's compositions include "McGhee Special," "Night Mist," "Midnight at Mintons," "Dorothy," and "Carvin' the Bird." Inactive during the 1950s, McGhee made a comeback in the 1960s. He formed his own big band, toured Europe and Japan with George Wein, performed with Duke Ellington, and participated in jazz services at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York City. McGhee he died on July 17, 1987.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: George Hoefer, "The Early Career of Howard McGhee," Down Beat 30 (15 August 1963). Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). Eileen Southern, Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982).

George O. Carney

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