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Kenny Wheeler

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Kenny Wheeler
Wheeler in 2007
Wheeler in 2007
Background information
Birth nameKenneth Vincent John Wheeler
Born(1930-01-14)14 January 1930
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died18 September 2014(2014-09-18) (aged 84)
London, England
GenresJazz, avant-garde jazz, chamber jazz
Instrument(s)Trumpet, flugelhorn
Years active1950–2014
LabelsECM, Fontana, FMP, Soul Note, PSI, CAM Jazz

Kenneth Vincent John Wheeler, OC (14 January 1930 – 18 September 2014) was a Canadian composer and trumpet and flugelhorn player, based in the U.K. from the 1950s onwards.[1][2][3][4]

Most of his performances were rooted in jazz, but he was also active in free improvisation and occasionally contributed to rock music recordings. Wheeler wrote over one hundred compositions and was a skilled arranger for small groups and large ensembles.

Wheeler was the patron of the Royal Academy Junior Jazz course.

Early life


Wheeler was born in Toronto, Ontario, on 14 January 1930. Growing up in Toronto, he began playing the cornet at age 12 and became interested in jazz in his mid-teens. Wheeler spent a year studying composition at The Royal Conservatory of Music in 1950. In 1952 he moved to Britain. He found his way into the London jazz scene of the time, playing in groups led by Tommy Whittle, Tubby Hayes, and Ronnie Scott.



In the late 1950s, he was a member of Buddy Featherstonhaugh's quintet together with Bobby Wellins. From 1959 until 1965 he was a member of John Dankworth's orchestra, during which time he also studied composition with Richard Rodney Bennett (1962-3) and Bill Russo (1963-4).[5] He also with (Eric Burdon and) the Animals' Big Band that made its only public appearance at the 5th Annual British Jazz & Blues Festival in Richmond (1965) with tenors Stan Robinson, Dick Morrissey and Al Gay, baritone sax Paul Carroll, and fellow trumpets Ian Carr and Greg Brown. In 1968, Wheeler appeared on guitarist Terry Smith's first solo album, Fall Out.

Wheeler performing with the United Jazz + Rock Ensemble, 1992

Wheeler performed and recorded his own compositions with large jazz ensembles throughout his career, beginning with the first album under his own name, Windmill Tilter (1969), recorded with the John Dankworth band.[6][7] BGO Records released a CD in September 2010. The big band album Song for Someone (1973) fused Wheeler's characteristic orchestral writing with passages of free improvisation provided by musicians such as Evan Parker and Derek Bailey, and was also named Album of the Year by Melody Maker magazine in 1975. It has subsequently been reissued on CD by Parker's Psi label.[8]

In the mid-1960s, Wheeler became a close participant in the nascent free improvisation movement in London, playing with Parker, John Stevens, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and the Globe Unity Orchestra. Despite the above-noted accomplishments, much of his reputation rests on his work with smaller jazz groups. Wheeler's first small group recordings to gain significant critical attention were Gnu High (1975) and Deer Wan (1977), both for the ECM label (Gnu High is one of the few albums to feature Keith Jarrett as a sideman since his tenure with Charles Lloyd). One exception from the ongoing collaboration with ECM was his rare album on CBC called Ensemble Fusionaire in 1976. This had three other Canadian musicians and was recorded in St. Mary's Church in Toronto for a different character to the sound than on the ECM recordings.[9]

Wheeler was the trumpeter in the Anthony Braxton Quartet from 1971 to 1976. He was also a member of the chamber jazz trio Azimuth with John Taylor and Norma Winstone from 1977 to 2000. Their first release under this name was a 1977 album issued by ECM; two albums followed, with later albums coming in 1985 and 1995. He was featured in a profile on composer Graham Collier in the 1985 Channel 4 documentary Hoarded Dreams.[10]

Later life


Music for Large & Small Ensembles (1990) included the Wheeler compositions "Sea Lady" and "The Sweet Time Suite", the latter his most ambitious extended work for big band since Windmill Tilter.[5] In 1997 Wheeler received widespread critical praise for his album Angel Song, which featured an unusual drummer-less quartet of Bill Frisell (guitar), Dave Holland (bass) and Lee Konitz (alto sax). Wheeler recorded seven albums with CAM Jazz from 2005 to 2008 but returned to ECM to record his final album, Songs for Quintet, in 2013.

Wheeler died after a short period of frail health at a nursing home in London on 18 September 2014. He was 84 years old.[11] He was survived by his wife, Doreen, and his children, Mark and Louanne.[12]



As leader/co-leader


Collaborations with John Taylor


As Azimuth


Other collaborations

  • Robert 'Bob' Cornford, Tony Coe, Kenny Wheeler and the NDR 'Pops' Orchestra: Long Shadows (Chapter One, 2007; recorded 1979)
  • The Guildhall Jazz Band: Walk Softly (Wave, 1998; recorded 1987)
  • The Jürgen Friedrich Quartet Featuring Kenny Wheeler: Summerflood (CTI, 1998; reissued 2003)
  • Tim Brady: Visions (Justin Time, 1988) with L'orchestre de Chambre de Montréal
  • Dezső "Ablakos" Lakatos (sax.), Kenny Wheeler (tr.), György Vukán (piano), Balázs Berkes (bass), Imre Kőszegi (drums), Creative Art Ensemble Brass & Rhythm, in "Spanish Rapsody" of György Vukán (CAE LP 002 Hungaroton, ARTISJUS 1991)
  • The Upper Austrian Jazzorchestra: Plays the Music of Kenny Wheeler (West Wind, 1996)
  • The Maritime Jazz Orchestra: Now and Now-Again (Justin Time, 2002; recorded 1998) with Norma Winstone and John Taylor
  • UMO Jazz Orchestra: One More Time (A-Records, 2000) with Norma Winstone
  • Munich Jazz Orchestra: Sometime Suite (Bassic Sound, 2001)
  • Colours Jazz Orchestra: Nineteen Plus One (Astarte/Egea, 2009)

As sideman


With John Abercrombie

With Rabih Abou-Khalil

With George Adams

With Pepper Adams

With the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra

With Jane Ira Bloom

With Anthony Braxton

With Jakob Bro

  • 2011: Bro/Knak (Loveland) [13]

With Bill Bruford

With Rainer Brüninghaus

With Don Cherry

With Steve Coleman

With CCS

With Graham Collier

With Paolino Dalla Porta

  • Tales (Soul Note, 1993)

With John Dankworth With Pierre Favre

With Claudio Fasoil

  • Welcome (Soul Note, 1987)
  • Guest (Soul Note, 1994)
  • Ten Tributes (1995)

With Bill Frisell

With Globe Unity Orchestra

  • Globe Unity 67 & 70 (Atavistic, 2001), 1970 recording only
  • Live in Wuppertal (FMP, 1973)
  • Hamburg '74 with the NDR Chor (FMP, 1979)
  • Evidence Vol. 1 (FMP, 1976; reissued on Rumbling, 1991)
  • Into the Valley Vol. 2 (FMP, 1976; reissued on Rumbling, 1991)
  • FMP S 6...Plus (FMP, digital download, 2012)
  • Jahrmarkt/Local Fair (Po Torch, 1977)
  • Improvisations (JAPO/ECM, 1977)
  • Compositions (JAPO/ECM, 1979)
  • Intergalactic Blow (JAPO, 1983)
  • 20th Anniversary (recorded 1986, FMP, 1993)
  • 40 Years (Intakt, 2007)

With Paul Gonsalves

With Dave Holland Quintet

With Mark Isaacs

  • Elders Suite (Grace Recordings, 1999)

With Philly Joe Jones

With Chris Kase

  • A Song We Once Knew (Satchmo Jazz, 2000)

With Andy Middleton

  • Reinventing the World (2003)

With Joni Mitchell

With Roscoe Mitchell

With Louis Moholo-Moholo

With Tony Oxley

With Enrico Pieranunzi

  • As Never Before (2008)

With Paul Rutherford and Iskra 1912

With Tommy Smith

With Wadada Leo Smith

With Thomas Stabenow

  • What’s New (2010)

With David Sylvian

With John Surman

With Ralph Towner

With Glauco Venier Trio

With Ernst Vranckx

  • A Child’s Blessing (1998)

With Fabio Zeppetella

  • Moving Lines (1995)


  1. ^ Steve Huey. "Kenny Wheeler | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-03-12.
  2. ^ "Psi musicians". Emanemdisc.com. Retrieved 2015-03-12.
  3. ^ "ECM 1691". Ecm-records.com. Retrieved 2015-03-12.
  4. ^ "Kenny Wheeler - Cam Jazz - Labels CAM Jazz". Archived from the original on August 14, 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  5. ^ a b Kernfeld, Barry. 'Wheeler, Kenny [Kenneth Vincent John]' in Grove Music Online
  6. ^ Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain, Decca CD and booklet by Tony Higgins (2021).
  7. ^ Richard Morton Jack. Labyrinth: British Jazz on Record 1960-75 (2024), p. 202
  8. ^ "Psi 2004 CD releases". Emanemdisc.com. Retrieved 2015-03-12.
  9. ^ On Wheeler's career to the late 1970s see Roger Cotterrell,‘Kenny Wheeler: Speaking Softly but Carrying a Big Horn’ Jazz Forum 57 (Jan 1979), 38-41.
  10. ^ https://www.bright-thoughts.co.uk/hoarded-dreams.html Hoarded Dreams documentary website
  11. ^ "RIP, Kenny Wheeler". Ottawa Citizen.com. Retrieved September 18, 2014.
  12. ^ Fordham, John (19 September 2014). "Kenny Wheeler obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 March 2023.
  13. ^ Album entry on JakobBro.com