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Pianist Dave McKenna Dies at 78

Dave McKenna, a pianist who specialized in the standards of the Great American Songbook, died Oct. 18 in State College, Penn. He was 78 and the cause was complications from lung cancer and diabetes. McKenna had retired several years ago.

Born in Woonsocket, R.I., on May 30, 1930, McKenna learned the piano from his mother. His father was a drummer and his sisters sang. McKenna began playing professionally by age 15. By his mid-twenties he was playing in the bands of Charlie Ventura and Woody Herman. After a stint in the Army, he played with artists such as Buddy Rich, Stan Getz and Gene Krupa. In the early ’60s he became a staff musician at ABC-TV.

McKenna specialized in the songs of renowned writers such as the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. McKenna became a solo pianist after the 1960s. He recorded his best known albums for Concord Records during the 1980s, among them the bass-less No Bass Hit and Major League, both with saxophonist Scott Hamilton and drummer Jake Hanna. Among his other celebrated recordings were Live at Maybeck Recital Hall: Volume 2 and An Intimate Evening with Dave McKenna.

McKenna was also the house pianist at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston during the 1980s.

Originally Published