McKusick was born in Medford, Massachusetts. In the early 1950s he worked with Terry Gibbs and Don Elliott. McKusick also released albums under his own leadership, including a 1957 album for Prestige titled Triple Exposure.
At that time he made many recordings with groups led by George Russell and Jimmy Giuffre. A fine example of his solo playing can be heard on All About Rosie, the lead track on the suite for orchestra featuring Bill Evans (written by George Russell and conducted by Gunther Schuller), recorded live at the Brandeis Jazz Festival in 1957. He also played on other Russell and projects at that time.
In 1958 Hal McKusick led a small group with Bill Evans that recorded Cross Section - Saxes which included contributions from Art Farmer, Paul Chambers, Connie Kay, and Barry Galbraith. For this album, McKusick commissioned arrangements from George Handy, Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell and Ernie Wilkins. He also worked on sessions with other prominent jazz musicians including Lee Konitz and John Coltrane.
On April 11, 2012, McKusick died of natural causes at the age of 87.
- Hal McKusick Plays / Betty St. Clair Sings (Jubillee, 1955)
- Hal McKusick Quartet (Bethlehem, 1955) with Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson
- In a Twentieth-Century Drawing Room (RCA Victor, 1955) with Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton
- The Jazz Workshop (RCA Victor, 1956) with Gil Evans, Jimmy Cleveland, Art Farmer, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson, Teddy Kotick, Jimmy Raney
- Jazz at the Academy (Coral, 1956)
- Hal McKusick Quintet (Coral, 1957) with Art Farmer, Eddie Costa, Milt Hinton, Gus Johnson
- Triple Exposure (Prestige, 1957) with Billy Byers, Paul Chambers, Eddie Costa, Charlie Persip
- Cross Section-Saxes (Decca, 1958) with Jay Cameron, Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Barry Galbraith, Dick Hafer, Milt Hinton, Paul Chambers, Connie Kay, Charlie Persip, Frank Socolow
With Manny Albam
With Kenny Burrell
- Earthy (Prestige, 1957)
With Al Cohn
- Mr. Music (RCA Victor, 1955)
With Benny Golson
- Take a Number from 1 to 10 (Argo, 1961)
- With Coleman Hawkins
- The Hawk in Hi Fi (RCA Victor, 1956)
With Woody Herman
- Songs for Hip Lovers (Verve, 1957)
- Lee Konitz Meets Jimmy Giuffre (Verve, 1959)
With Gil Melle
- Gil's Guests (Prestige, 1956)
With Helen Merrill
- The Artistry of Helen Merrill (Mainstream, 1965)
With Charlie Parker
With Jackie Paris
- The Song Is Paris (Impulse!, 1962)
With George Russell
- The Swingin' Miss "D" (EmArcy, 1957)
- Yanow, Scott. "Hal McKusick: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
- Colleen Reynolds (2012-04-13). "Hal McKusick, Prominent Jazz Musician And Ross School Teacher, Dies at 87". East Hampton Press. Retrieved 2012-04-14.