HAPPY BIRTHDAY KENNY DORHAM: A JAZZ PROPHET


KD on Uptown label

posted by Robert J. Carmack _”In my opinion, pound for pound, he was among the “best of the best” trumpeters from all eras. In 1965, I was sitting in my jazz band class ,where I held down the alto sax chair..every Friday  was free-time where the student musicians  all breakup into small groups, go into the small sound proof practice rooms. That’s when we pull out our own records and learn the “heads” to the great jazz tunes of the day, or standards being played on many jazz stages everywhere. My best friend, Larry R. (RIP) at the time played trumpet, and was very much into the best of trumpet players.”

“He was the first one to bring Una Mas to class, certainly my first time hearing it, we had so much fun trying to play the record, then match up the tones of our instruments with the record.. especially in the fast parts ,when you really have to  listen and repeat the process over and over until it made sense.  We could exchange Miles Davis with Blue Mitchell or Dizzy with Nat Adderley ,But,  We never could swap-out KD for anybody, including Freddie Hubbard or Lee Morgan., These guys were my top three trumpets at the time, no particular order. In all that time since 1965, nothing has changed except, all three have passed (RIP). My love for his sound has increased over the years. I’ve been able to study his style, tone and composing skills. It just draws you into the core of his play, or the heart, where all of his great, melodious playing  is displayed over and over again.  The solos he played were classic compositions in themselves. ”       albumcoverKennyDorham-UnaMas

Kenny Dorham was a musician’s musician. Universally admired and respected by his peers and fellow trumpeters, KD worked with every major figure of the modern jazz movement–Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, Art BlakeyBud Powell, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Max Roach.

Yet for all his popularity with fellow musicians, who loved his unique tone and melodic ideas, Dorham was constantly overshadowed by more obviously brilliant and original voices during his lifetime. He had the misfortune to play beneath the shadows cast by Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown and Miles Davis. Only in the 18 years since his death has a fuller and wider appreciation of KD’s talent developed. There is now a “school” of Dorham trumpet playing.

Kenny was a singularly gifted instrumentalist and improviser who distinguished himself in Bebop but really came into his own during the Hard Bop period when his mature playing graced the Jazz Messengers and the Max Roach Quintet, both quintessential groups of the genre.

“I want to do a book on some of the musicians that I feel were bypassed . . . Like Kenny Dorham. Most people know Kenny, but Kenny during his whole lifetime never got the accolades and never got the roses that he should have received for all that he gave us.”

Jackie McLean -1972

KD  double exposure

Kenny was also an excellent jazz composer and a highly proficient arranger. He used to “ghost” many of the charts which were published under the name of Walter “Gil” Fuller. Dorham was a sensitive ballad singer to boot.

From the 1950’s onwards, Dorham occasionally led groups of his own–the first was called The Jazz Prophets–and gave early and crucial exposure to such younger men as Bobby Timmons,Herbie HancockJoe Henderson, Charles Davis, Kenny Burrell, Butch Warren and Tony Williams.

It is difficult to imagine that this singular talent, who proved to be a discerning critic as his Down Beat reviews revealed, was forced to take jobs in munitions and medical plants and a sugar refinery to sustain his family because the rewards of playing jazz were so poor. Kenny’s playing got better and better from 1954 onwards. In the 1960’s he recorded with Barry Harris, Cedar Walton, Jackie McLeanJoe Henderson, Eric Dolphy, besides making an impressive series of LP’s under his own name for Blue Note. Dorham was a consultant for the Harlem Youth Act anti-poverty program in New York, and a member of the board of the New York Neophonic Orchestra. In the 1970’s Dorham continued to play gigs and appear at festivals. KD, who possessed one of the most uniquely beautiful trumpet sounds in jazz, died on December 5, 1972 of a kidney ailment from which he had been suffering for some time.

KD Z 3

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3 thoughts on “HAPPY BIRTHDAY KENNY DORHAM: A JAZZ PROPHET

  1. I share most of your sentiments re: the trumpets of our times. Your boy Larry R was definitely on top of things — we had the outlets. . . . We had the Lighthouse, KBCA, Wallichs Music City, etc. As always, you’ve brought something to this day.

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    1. Indeed. I recall one night my band needed an organ because the gig we had in lomita,Ca had no piano.(circa 1967/68) we went to Wallich’s and rented a Wurlitzer organ & a leslie speaker….it worked out ok, but we didn’t make much money when we deducted for rentals… Fun times in LA Calif.

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