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Farewell: Kenny Wheeler

1.14.30–9.18.14

Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler and Norma Winstone in 1990

I first met Kenny in the late ’60s. I had heard his Windmill Tilter recording with the John Dankworth Orchestra and fallen in love with it, playing it over and over. I’d never heard big-band writing like that. It was just one gorgeous melody after another, and such individual performances. I was invited to join in some free-improvisation sessions organized by drummer John Stevens in which Kenny was also playing, but I don’t remember saying anything to him. I was shy, and he seemed even more shy and therefore unapproachable to me.

Our paths crossed more in different musical groups, and out of the blue he asked if I’d like to do a broadcast with his big band and said that he would arrange a standard for me. I don’t remember much about that broadcast, as I was probably too nervous, but some time later he asked if I’d like to do another broadcast with the band: This time he had written me an “instrumental” part, no words. What followed were years of unforgettable music for me-because as anyone who has played his music knows, it is a joy to play. Although Kenny’s music has been part of my life for more than 40 years, it has never lost its magic for me. I am still excited to sing those beautifully complex lines.

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