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Jimmy Knepper Dies

Trombonist and composer Jimmy Knepper, who came to the attention of the public as a member of bassist Charles Mingus’ groups of the late ’50s and early ’60s, died Saturyda, June 14 at his daughter’s home in Triadelphia, W.V. of complications risen out of Parkinson’s Disease. He was 75.

Born James Minter Knepper on Nov. 22, 1927, the trombonist grew up in Los Angeles and began playing music professionally at 15. Throughout the ’50s Knepper played in big bands, including those led by Charlie Barnet, Woody Herman and Claude Thornhill, and in 1957 he landed in Charles Mingus’ band, where he replaced Willie Dennis. Knepper continued playing with Mingus on and off until 1962, when the volatile bassist punched Knepper in the mouth, broke one of his teeth and ruined his embouchure. Knepper permanently lost the top octave of his range as a result.

In the ’60s Knepper played with Gil Evans and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and worked on Broadway in the Funny Girl pit orchestra. Amazingly, Knepper joined Mingus’ band again in 1977 and remained there until the bassist died in January of 1979. Touring with the Mingus Dynasty (a legacy band) and the American Jazz Orchestra, Knepper had no problem finding work through the ’80s

Critics often note that what made Knepper such a remarkable trombonist was that he didn’t sound like an imitation of J.J. Johnson, who is often considered to be jazz’s most influential trombonist. Knepper had a distinct style that was a little dark around the edges. Though his work with Mingus is how many will remember Knepper, he leaves behind a modest leader discography, including two discs with Art Pepper and the lauded Cunningbird on SteepleChase.

In addition to his daughter, Knepper is survived by his wife, Maxine, who played trumpet with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a brother and five grandchildren.

Originally Published