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Hall of Fame - Kenny Dorham

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McKinley Howard "Kenny" Dorham (August 30, 1924 – December 5, 1972)

Kenny Dorham's soft, energetic, be-bop style and confident, smooth lyrical playing has influenced countless musicians. One of the great trumpet pioneers of the bebop era, Kenny had the misfortune to play beneath the shadows cast by Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown and Miles Davis and has been scandalously undervalued in the jazz trumpet lineage. Eschewing the typical trumpeter's showmanship and flashiness, Dorham instead relied on his economical melodic logic in constructing poetic, lyrical improvisations with meaningful beginnings, middles, and ends.

His technique is also unique: Dorham chose to attack notes with his tongue, where most of his bebop contemporaries would slur for a more continuous flow. His clearly articulated lines had a singular running quality to them that fleetly pushed ahead of the time.

He worked with most of the giants of the music in the '40s and '50s, and continued to lead his own groups through the 60s. Many of his compositions have become jazz standards (Blue Bossa, Prince Albert, Lotus Blossom, Una Mas, Whistle Stop). He used to "ghost" many of his charts, which were published under the name of Walter "Gil" Fuller.

Kenny was born into a musical family on August 30th, 1924 in Fairfield, Texas. At age 7, he began piano lessons, switching to trumpet while attending high school in Austin. Dorham briefly attended Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, where he studied chemistry and physics while performing in the dance band alongside musicians such as trumpeter Wild Bill Davison, saxophonist Harold Land, and drummer Roy Porter. It was in this group that Dorham first began honing his arranging and compositional skills. 

In 1942, he joined the army, becoming a member of their boxing team and in 1943, began working with trumpeter, Russell Jacquet, “Illinois” Jacquet’s older brother. He later moved to New York City, playing and singing with Dizzy Gillespie's band, as well as other groups, including Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton, and Mercer Ellington. He earned the nickname “Quiet Kenny” due to his quiet, subdued sound. Paradoxically, the fact that Dorham was nearly always the first-call replacement in all-star groups, which should be a testament to his talents, has led to a perception that he was a second-tier trumpeter, when nothing is farther from the truth. Dorham replaced Fats Navarro in Billy Eckstine's band in 1946 and replaced Miles Davis in Charlie Parker’s group from 1948 to 1950.

In the early 50s, Kenny began playing in New York City, recording with Thelonious Monk in ’52, and became a founding member of the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey and Horace Silver. He later replaced Clifford Brown in the Max Roach/Clifford Brown Quintet when Clifford was killed in an automobile accident. Dorham would occasionally lead his own groups, giving early exposure to such younger men as Bobby Timmons, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Charles Davis, Kenny Burrell, Butch Warren and Tony Williams.

He was very active in the late 50s and 60s, teaching at Lennox School of Jazz, leading and touring with his own groups, co-leading groups with Joe Henderson and Hank Mobley, and recording with Barry Harris, Cedar Walton, Jackie McLean, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, and Sonny Rollins. During that time, Kenny recorded an impressive series of LP's under his own name for Blue Note. His best recordings include Whistle Stop and Una Mas for Blue Note and Jazz Contemporary for Time. He was also a thoughtful reviewer for Downbeat Magazine, was a consultant for the Harlem Youth Act anti-poverty program, and held a position on the board of the of the New York Neophonic Orchestra and attended college at NYU School of Music, teaching at the school. By 1970, his health began to seriously deteriorate and a kidney ailment forced him into fifteen hours of weekly dialysis at a local hospital. He died on December 5, 1972 of kidney failure.


Kenny Dorham Quintet 10-inch album (Debut 1954)
Afro-Cuban Holiday 10-inch album (Blue Note 1955)
Kenny Dorham's Jazz Prophets Volumes 1 & 2 (ABC-Paramount 1956)
'Round About Midnight At The Café Bohemia (Blue Note 1956)
Jazz Contrasts (Riverside 1957)
2 Horns, 2 Rhythm (Riverside 1957)
This Is The Moment! Kenny Dorham Sings And Plays (Riverside 1958)
Blue Spring (Riverside 1959)
Quiet Kenny (New Jazz 1959)
The Arrival Of Kenny Dorham (Jaro 1959)
Jazz Contemporary (Time 1960)
Showboat (Time 1960)
with Clark Terry Top Trumpets (Jazzland 1960)
The Swingers (Jazzland 1960)
Kenny Dorham And Friends (Jazzland 1960)
Osmosis (Black Lion 1961)
Ease It (Muse 1961)
Whistle Stop (Blue Note 1961)
West 42nd Street (Black Lion 1961)
Hot Stuff From Brazil (West Wind 1961)
Inta Somethin' - Recorded "Live' At The Jazz Workshop (Pacific Jazz 1962)
Matador (United Artists 1962)
Una Mas - One More Time (Blue Note 1963)
Scandia Skies (SteepleChase 1963)
Trumpet Toccata (Blue Note 1964)
New York 1953-56 (Landscape 1993)
The Complete "Round About Midnight At The Café Bohemia (Blue Note 2002) 

Click below to view Kenny's youtube performances: