One of the watershed experiences in my early appreciation of jazz was seeing Dave McKenna, Dick Johnson, and Lou Colombo at The Columns in West Dennis on Cape Cod in 1971. McKenna’s astonishing piano playing was the great discovery of that day, but Johnson’s saxophone and clarinet playing and Colombo’s trumpet work were impressive too. At that age, I probably recognized the Swing and Bebop tunes they played, but the Great American Songbook was much less familiar to me, and I have these gentlemen to thank for fostering my love of songs by Arlen and Porter and Gershwin.
As I soon learned, McKenna, Johnson and Colombo came of age during the Bebop era, and it was obvious that Bird and Bud and Dizzy were in their hearts, and occasionally in their set lists and recordings too. But for working musicians, playing modern jazz would hardly sustain a livelihood, so they specialized in standards and Swing, music for dancing and conversation. Theirs was a social music, and they played it with a sense of style and conviction that I fear is passing right along with them.