Howard McGhee

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Howard McGhee
Howard McGhee 1976.jpg
Background information
Birth name Howard McGhee
Born (1918-03-06)March 6, 1918
Tulsa, Oklahoma United States
Died July 17, 1987(1987-07-17) (aged 69)
New York City, New York United States
Genres Bebop
Hard bop
Occupation(s) Trumpeters
Instruments Trumpet
Labels Dial
Associated acts Lionel Hampton, Andy Kirk, Count Basie

Howard McGhee (March 6, 1918 in Tulsa, Oklahoma – July 17, 1987 in New York City) was one of the first bebop jazz trumpeters, together with Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro and Idrees Sulieman. He was known for his fast fingers and very high notes. What is generally not known is the influence that he had on younger hard bop trumpeters, together with Fats Navarro.


Howard McGhee was raised in Detroit, Michigan. During his career, he played in bands led by Lionel Hampton, Andy Kirk, Count Basie and Charlie Barnet. He was in a club listening to the radio when he first heard Parker and was one of the early adopters of the new style, a fact that was disapproved by older musicians like Kid Ory.[citation needed]

Thelonious Monk and Howard McGhee, Minton's Playhouse, ca. September 1947

In 1946–47, some record sessions for the new label Dial were organized at Hollywood with Charlie Parker and the Howard McGhee combo. The first was held on July 29, 1946. The musicians were Charlie Parker (as), Howard McGhee (tp), Jimmy Bunn (p), Bob Kesterson (b), and Roy Porter (d).[clarification needed] The titles played were "Max is Making Wax", "Lover Man", "The Gypsy" and "Be-bop".

Charlie Parker’s performance during this recording session suffered greatly due to heroin withdrawal. Parker attempted to ease his withdrawal symptoms by combining whiskey and a prescribed prescription of pentobarbital. Parker collapsed after recording only four tracks and was brought back to his hotel room. While still suffering from the side-effects of booze, pentobarbital, and heroin withdrawals, Parker "strolled downstairs stark naked, across the lobby, past the incredulous night manager, out the front door, and climbed on top of a car where he sat Buddha like".[1] Parker was admitted to Camarillo, a psychiatric clinic north of Los Angeles, where he spent six months. After that, Parker returned to music making and a new recording session was organized on February 26, 1947, also for the Dial label. McGhee continued to work as a sideman for Parker. He played on titles like "Relaxin at Camarillo", "Cheers", "Carvin the Bird" and "Stupendous". The last three of these tracks were composed by Howard McGhee. McGhee played live with Parker in a club at LA in March of the same year. His stay in California was cut short because of racial prejudice, particularly vicious towards McGhee as half of a mixed-race couple.[citation needed]

Drug problems sidelined McGhee for much of the 1950s, but he resurfaced in the 1960s, appearing in many George Wein productions. His career sputtered again in the mid-1960s and he did not record again until 1976. He led one of three big jazz bands trying to succeed in New York in the late 1960s. While the band did not survive, a recording was released in the mid-1970s.

He taught music through the 1970s, both in classrooms and at his apartment in midtown Manhattan and instructed musicians like Charlie Rouse in music theory.[citation needed] He was as much an accomplished composer-arranger as he was a performer.


(From left) Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Hill, Minton's Playhouse, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947

As leader/co-leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With James Moody

With Don Patterson


  1. ^ Chuck Haddix, Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker. Chapter 5. University of Illinois Press. 2013.

External links[edit]