Howard McGhee Biography

6 March 1918, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, d. 17 July 1987, New York City, New York, USA. During the late 30s, McGhee played trumpet in several territory bands in the Midwest before moving to Detroit, where he became well known in that city’s lively jazz scene. He first enjoyed major success with Lionel Hampton in 1941; however, he quickly moved on, joining Andy Kirk, for whom he wrote arrangements and was featured soloist. Although he was to work in other big bands of the early 40s, including Charlie Barnet’s and Georgie Auld’s, McGhee soon became most closely associated with bebop. From the mid-40s he could be heard playing in clubs and on records with Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro and others. He was present on the notorious Parker recording session for Dial Records that produced ‘Lover Man’ and was, in fact, largely responsible for salvaging the session from potential disaster when Parker broke down.

During the 50s, McGhee’s career was damaged by drug addiction and his private life was blighted by some of the worst excesses of racism: his marriage to a white woman resulted in his wife being beaten up and he himself was framed on drugs-related charges. However, he survived and, in the early 60s, was making records with Teddy Edwards, George Coleman and others and later returned to regular playing. A big band he formed at this time and a 1969 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival with Buddy Tate helped to prove that he still had talent to spare. One of the most melodic of bebop trumpeters, McGhee was an important influence on two major figures, Navarro and Clifford Brown, both of whom, ironically, were to die many years before him.

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

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