Jimmy Knepper

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Jimmy Knepper
Jimmy Knepper.jpg
Jimmy Knepper with the National Jazz Ensemble
Background information
Birth name James Minter Knepper
Born (1927-11-22)November 22, 1927
Los Angeles, California
Died June 14, 2003(2003-06-14) (aged 75)
Triadelphia, West Virginia
Genres Jazz
Instruments Trombone
Associated acts Charles Mingus, The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra

James Minter (Jimmy) Knepper (November 22, 1927 – June 14, 2003) was an American jazz trombonist. In addition to his own recordings as leader, Knepper performed and/or recorded throughout his career with many of the top figures in jazz including the bands of Charlie Barnet, Woody Herman, Claude Thornhill, Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, Gil Evans, Thad Jones & Mel Lewis, Toshiko Akiyoshi & Lew Tabackin, and, most famously, as friend and arranging/transcribing partner of bassist and composer Charles Mingus in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Knepper died in 2003 of complications of Parkinson's disease.[1][2]

Biography[edit]

Knepper was born in Los Angeles, California,[2] the second son of a nurse and a police officer. His parents divorced shortly after his birth, and his mother had to take her abusive husband to court in order to get child support. He and his older brother, Robert, were sent to several boarding and military schools (Page Military Academy) while their mother worked. He picked up his first instrument, an alto horn, at the age of 6 while he was a pupil there.[2] His first teacher convinced him to put aside the alto, and pick up the trombone, because, as he said, he had a "trombone mouth". He did his first professional gigs in LA at the age of 16. He graduated high school, and later attended classes at Los Angeles Community College.

He married Maxine Helen Fields, a trumpet player with the all-female jazz band the Sweethearts of Rhythm on May 8, 1954, at a civil ceremony in Phoenix, Arizona, while he was on a tour with the Maynard Ferguson Band. They had two children, a daughter, Robin Reid Knepper Mahonen, and a son, Timothy Jay Knepper, who pre-deceased him. Jimmy chose the names "Robin" and "Jay" to honor his idol, Charlie 'Bird' Parker. He had four grandchildren.

In late 1959, early 1960, he went to Africa on a State Department sponsored tour with Herbie Mann.

In 1962, he toured the Soviet Union with Benny Goodman's Big Band, as part of the cultural exchange during the Cold War. The Bolshoi Ballet came to the US, and the Benny Goodman Band went to the Soviet Union.

He also played the entire run of the Broadway show Funny Girl, with Barbra Streisand, and later, Mimi Hines. After seventeen previews, the Broadway production opened on March 26, 1964, at the Winter Garden Theatre, subsequently transferring to the Majestic Theatre and the Broadway Theatre to complete its total run of 1,348 performances.

While he was playing Funny Girl, he became a member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, a big band formed by trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis around 1965, which began the 40-year tradition of Monday night jazz shows at the Vanguard in NYC's Greenwich Village. The band performed for twelve years in its original incarnation, but since the death of Lewis in 1990 it has been known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. They have maintained a Monday-night residency at the Village Vanguard for four decades. Knepper toured Japan and Europe with them, and appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival with them in 1974.

In 1980, he received a Grammy nomination from The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, for "Best Jazz Instrumentalist Performance, Soloist", for his original album, "Cunningbird".

With Mingus[edit]

Knepper was twice on the receiving end of Mingus' legendary temper. Once, while onstage at a memorial concert in Philadelphia, Mingus reportedly attempted to crush his pianist's hands with the instrument's keyboard cover, then punched Knepper in the mouth. Then, on October 12, 1962, Mingus reportedly punched Knepper while the two men were working together at Mingus's apartment on a score for his upcoming concert at New York Town Hall and Knepper refused to take on more work. The blow broke one of Knepper's teeth, ruined his embouchure and resulted in the loss of the top octave of his range on the trombone for almost two years. This attack ended their working relationship and Knepper was unable to perform at the concert. Charged with assault, Mingus appeared in court in January 1963 and was given a suspended sentence. According to his daughter, Robin, Mingus also later mailed heroin to Knepper's home, and made an anonymous phone call to the police. A little girl, she remembers the police questioning her father after the mailman delivered the package.[3] Nevertheless, in the 1970s, the two eventually reconciled enough to play together in concert and on at least one of Mingus' last albums. Following Mingus' death, he led the Mingus Dynasty Orchestra, and toured the Middle East and Europe.

Discography[edit]

As leader[edit]

  • Jazz Workshop Presents: "Jimmy Knepper" (1957) – debut, with Bob Hammer
  • A Swinging Introduction to Jimmy Knepper (1957) Bethlehem
  • Pepper-Knepper Quintet (1958) MetroJazz Records
  • Cunningbird "Jimmy Knepper Quintet" (1976) SteepleChase
  • Jimmy Knepper in L.A. (1977) Inner City
  • Tell Me... (1979) Daybreak
  • Primrose Path (1980) HEP
  • First Place (1982) Black Hawk
  • I Dream Too Much (1984) Soul Note
  • Dream Dancing (1986) Criss Cross

As sideman[edit]

With Charles Mingus

With Richard Davis

With Gil Evans

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Langston Hughes

With Kai Winding

With Kenny Burrell

With Gary Burton

With the Jazz Composer's Orchestra

With the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra

With Al Kooper

With the Toshiko Akiyoshi – Lew Tabackin Big Band

With George Adams & Dannie Richmond

References[edit]

External links[edit]