McSHANN, JAMES COLUMBUS (1916- )
The work of jazz artist Jay McShann, born on January 12, 1916 (some sources claim 1909), as James Columbus McShann, and known as "Hootie," has influenced musicians for almost a century. Raised in Muskogee, he taught himself piano, performing at an early age with local musicians, including Don Byas. McShann's parents, Jess and Leona McBee McShann, provided a strong religious environment, exposing their young son to the area's gospel music, but blues caught his attention.
In 1933 he traveled to Tulsa and played for Al Denny before joining musicians in southern Kansas. In 1934 McShann arrived in Kansas City, a rowdy place, with whose music scene he would always be associated. By 1937 McShann led his own band, which included a young Charlie Parker. Many jazz historians often focus on the fact that McShann gave Parker his first recording opportunity and introduced him to the New York City clubs. However, the quality and quantity of McShann's music proves his influence on the development of blues, jazz and bebop. Although usually not a blues band, his group had a national hit when they recorded "Confessin' the Blues" in 1941 for Decca Records. In 1942 they performed at New York City's Savoy Ballroom. When McShann returned to Kansas City, Charlie Parker remained in New York.
By 1944 service in World War II broke up the band. After the war McShann located in Los Angeles before returning to Kansas City. Throughout the rest of the twentieth century he led small music combos, working with renowned musicians, such as Jimmy Witherspoon, Eddy Vinson, Clarence Brown, and fellow Muskogee native Claude "Fiddler" Williams. Over his career McShann has been involved in numerous albums and re-issues, including Jazz Heritage Early Bird Charlie Parker (1941-43), Confessin' the Blues (1969), Man From Muskogee (1972), and Crazy Legs and Friday Strut (1976). Increasingly popular in Europe, he made countless tours through the "old world." The films Hootie Blues (1978), Last of the Blue Devils (1979), Jazz (2001), and The Blues (2003) have documented his career. Bestowed with many awards and inducted into several halls of fame over the decades, in 1998 he joined the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. McShann was in the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame's first class in 1988, and the organization annually honors other musicians with its Jay McShann Lifetime Achievement Award, inaugurated in 1999. At the beginning of the twenty-first century McShann continued to perform, using Kansas City as his base.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: George O. Carney and Hugh W. Foley, Jr., Oklahoma Music Guide: Biographies, Big Hits, and Annual Events (Stillwater, Okla.: New Forums Press, 2003). Chuck Haddix, "Still Confessin' the Blues," Down Beat 68 (May 2001). Eileen Southern, Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982).
© Oklahoma Historical Society