Kenny Dorham Biography

McKinley Howard Dorham, 30 August 1924, Fairfield, Texas, USA, d. 5 December 1972, New York City, New York, USA. After learning to play trumpet while at high school, Dorham played in several late 40s big bands, including Lionel Hampton’s and, more significantly given his musical leanings, the bop-orientated outfits of Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine. He was originally known as Kinny (a diminutive for McKinley) and this was how his name appeared on record labels. He was persistently misspelled and eventually gave in to public ignorance and changed to Kenny. In 1948 he succeeded Miles Davis as trumpeter with Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker’s quintet, and in 1954 joined Horace Silver in the first edition of what became Art Blakey’s long-running Jazz Messengers. He also worked with Max Roach (stepping in when Roach’s co-leader, Clifford Brown, was killed), Sonny Rollins and Charles Mingus.

From the mid-50s onwards Dorham mostly led his own groups, which included the excellent Jazz Prophets, modelled as the name suggests, upon the Messengers. He made many fine recordings notably both as leader and with artists Joe Henderson, Herb Geller and Jackie McLean including several outstanding performances for Blue Note Records. Although rightly viewed as one of the outstanding bebop trumpeters, stylistically Dorham’s playing reflected his awareness of the roots of jazz and the blues. Universally admired among his contemporaries, Dorham’s death led unfairly to a decline in awareness of his stature as a fine modern musician.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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