Jay “Hootie” McShann, a jazz pianist and bandleader who helped refine the blues-tinged Kansas City sound and introduced the world to saxophonist Charlie Parker, has died. He was 90.
McShann died Thursday at St. Luke’s Hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Kerry O’Connor. The cause of death was not released.
McShann, whose musical career spanned eight decades and earned him accolades from both blues and jazz aficionados, was born James Columbus McShann in Muskogee, Okla. Against the wishes of his parents, he taught himself how to play piano, in part by listening to late-night radio broadcasts featuring pianist and bandleader Earl “Fatha” Hines.
He hooked up with Parker in 1937, after hearing the sax genius’ music coming out of a Kansas City club, and the two worked together off and on until 1941. Parker, who earned his nickname “Bird” while playing with McShann’s orchestra, made his recording debut on McShann’s “Hootie Blues” in 1941.
McShann’s own nickname stemmed from an incident in which someone slipped him a loaded drink during a jam session. McShann, a nondrinker, was unable to play at the hootenanny, and the sobriquet, shortened to “Hootie,” stuck.
In 1949, he and singer Jimmy Witherspoon scored a hit with the recording “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.”
His recording career took off again in recent years, and in 2003, his CD “Goin’ to Kansas City” was nominated for a traditional blues Grammy.
He was the subject of a film, “Hootie Blues,” in 1978 and was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1996, he received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
In 2003, he appeared in “Piano Blues,” a PBS documentary directed by Clint Eastwood.
According to the Kansas City Star, McShann’s survivors include three daughters.