Ellsworth McGranahan “Shake” Keane (30 May 1927, Kingstown, St Vincent, West Indies – 11 November 1997, Oslo, Norway) was a jazz musician and poet. He is best known today for his role as a jazz trumpeter, principally his work as a member of the ground-breaking Joe Harriott Quintet (1959–65).
Early life in St Vincent
Born on the Caribbean island of St Vincent into "a humble family that loved books and music", Keane attended Kingstown Methodist School and St Vincent Grammar School. He was taught to play the trumpet by his father, Charles (who died when Keane was thirteen), and gave his first public recital was at age six. At the age of fourteen, Keane led a musical band made up of his brothers. In the 1940s, with his mother Dorcas working to raise six children, the teenager joined one of the island’s leading bands, Ted Lawrence and His Silvertone Orchestra. During his early adulthood in St Vincent, his principal interest was literature, rather than the music for which he would become better known. He had been dubbed "Shakespeare" by his school friends, on account of this love of prose and poetry. This nickname was subsequently shortened to "Shake", which name he came to use throughout his adult life. He published two books of poetry, L'Oubili (1950) and Ixion (1952), while still in St Vincent.
Early career in Europe
Keane emigrated to Great Britain in 1952. He worked on BBC Radio's Caribbean Voices, reading poetry and interviewing fellow writers and musicians. He also began playing the trumpet in London nightclubs, working in a number of styles including cabaret, highlife, soca, mento, calypso and jazz. From 1959 he committed more fully to jazz, spending six years as a member of pioneering alto saxophonist Joe Harriott's band. Harriott's group was the first in Europe, and one of the first worldwide, to play free jazz, and Keane contributed mightily to the band’s artistic success, thanks to his fleet and powerful improvisatory skills on trumpet and flugelhorn.
During this period he and Harriott also played extensively with English jazz pianist Michael Garrick, often in a "poetry and jazz" setting. He also made a small handful of records under his own name, but these were usually light jazz, a world away from his work with Harriott and Garrick. In 1966 Keane left Britain to settle in Germany. He became featured soloist with the Kurt Edelhagen Radio Orchestra, and also joined the pre-eminent European jazz ensemble of the 1960s, The Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band.
His musical career was set aside in the early 1970s, as he returned to St Vincent in 1972 to take up a government position as director of culture, remaining in the post until 1975. Afterwards, he turned to teaching as his main profession, while continuing to write poetry. His collection One a Week with Water (1979) won the prestigious Cuban Casa de las Américas prize for poetry.
In the early 1980s, Keane moved to New York, settling the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. He did not return full-time to music until 1989, when he rejoined Michael Garrick and his old band mates Coleridge Goode and Bobby Orr for a tour in honour of Joe Harriott. In 1991 he appeared in a BBC Arena documentary with the Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Death and legacy
In the 1990s, he remained based in Brooklyn, but found a second home in Norway, where he worked most extensively. He contributed music to Norwegian television and stage productions for the next few years, also touring the country playing jazz. It was while preparing for one such tour that he became ill, subsequently dying from stomach cancer on 11 November 1997 in Oslo, aged 70.
In 2003, he was honoured by his country with the unveiling of a life-size bust at the Peace Memorial Hall in Kingstown.
The authoritative collection to date of Shake Keane's poetry is The Angel Horn – Shake Keane (1927-1997) Collected Poems, published by House of Nehesi Publishers in 2005 and launched that same year at the St. Martin Book Fair to an audience of over 200 guests. According to Vincentian author Dr. Adrian Fraser, "'The Angel Horn' is vintage Shake Keane, … spanning a period of 40 years … the best of Keane."
- In My Condition (Columbia, 1961)
- Bossa Negra (Columbia, 1962)
- That’s The Noise (Decca, 1965)
- With The Keating Sound (Decca, 1966)
- The Big Fat Horn Of Shake Keane (Decca, 1966)
- Dig It (Phase 4, 1968)
- Rising Stars At Evening Time (Economy, 1971)
- Real Keen Reggae into Jazz (LKJ, 1991)
- Joe Harriott: Southern Horizons (Jazzland, 1960)
- Joe Harriott: Free Form (Jazzland, 1960)
- Wilton "Bogey" Gaynair: Africa Calling (Candid, 1960)
- Joe Harriott: Abstract (Columbia, 1962)
- Joe Harriott: Movement (Columbia, 1963)
- Joe Harriott: High Spirits (Columbia, 1964)
- David Mack: New Directions (Columbia, 1964)
- Michael Garrick: Poetry & Jazz In Concert (Argo, 1964)
- Michael Garrick: October Woman (Argo, 1965)
- Jonny Teupen: "Love and Harp A La Latin"
(Vogue, 1965) reissued by Sonorama Records Berlin Germany. Listed as Leonard Blech a pseudonym for a well known West Indian Trumpet player who worked at the BBC and in the combos of Joe Harriot, Jonny Keating and Bob Jarnon
- Ambrose Campbell: High-Life Today (Columbia, 1966)
- Joe Harriott and John Mayer: Indo Jazz Fusions (Columbia, 1967)
- Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band: Swing, Waltz, Swing (Philips, 1966), Sax No End (SABA, 1967), Out of the Folk Bag (Columbia, 1967), Latin Kaleidoscope (MPS, 1968)
- L'Oubili (1950)
- Ixion (1952)
- One a Week with Water (1979)
- The Volcano Suite (1979)
- Palm and Octopus (1994)
- The Angel Horn – Shake Keane (1927-1997) Collected Poems (2005)
- Author page at House of Nehesi.
- Philip Nanton, "Shake Keane’s Poetic Legacy". Paper presented at the Society for Caribbean Studies (U.K.) Conference at University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, 4/5 July 2000.