Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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McKusick, Hal (Harold Wilfred McKusick, Jr)

McKusick, Hal [Harold Wilfred McKusick, Jr], saxes, clarinets, flutes, composer (also Keyboard knowledge and orchestration); b. Medford, MA, 1 June 1924. He was raised on a dairy and horse farm in Newton, MA. His parent were Harold W. and Bernice Jessie  (born in 1896, and 1897). Mother died in1946, Father passed in 1982. He has two sisters, Elaine and Ruthe, and two brothers, Charles and Kenneth.

Don Bestor was his first band in 1942. The band broke up in Texas and he returned to N.Y. and joined Les Brown. He made early recordings with Boyd Raeburn in N.Y. (1943, Dizzy, Benny Harris, Trummy Young were in that band. First version of Night in Tunisia). In 1944 he was with Dean Hudson and Woody Herman and Johnny Otis on the west Coast. He then rejoined Raeburn in San Francisco. He was on Raeburn recordings in Hollywood, 1945, playing George Handy charts: Yerxa and Tonsillectomy (Handy and McKusick shared credits for those tunes). Also, Forgetful with David Allyn singing and some others as well. After 6 months with that great band, he joined Buddy Rich at the Palladium in Hollywood. They toured through Canada and opened The Clique Club in N.Y. (became Birdland). They had George Shearing, Sarah Vaughn and Buddy's big band. He returned to California and worked locally and on the road with Alvino Rey, Al Donahue. He settled down in Hollywood for a bit then came East and joined Claude Thornhill. They were on the road for 2 years and recorded from 1947-1950.  He then began to get studio work through Elliot Lawrence from 1950-1955. They did a series of recordings written by John Mandel, Tiny Kahn, Gerry Mulligan. He organized a group that met on Sunday afternoons in Milt Hinton's basement in Long Island, with food courtesy of Mona Hinton. This group was to explore new horizons in jazz and jazz arranging. He had George Russell bring in some quite complicated material which had to be worked out in detail. They all liked his ideas and it led to the first Jazz Workshop album for RCA (plus works by Manny Albam and Gil Evans). When he went to Decca, they recorded George's work on an album called N.Y., N.Y.  Jon Hendricks and Coltrane were on those sessions plus Bob Brookmeyer and more terrific musicians. In the middle 50's, he was involved in a concert at Brandeis (Waltham, MA).  Gunther Schuller conducted works by 3 classical composers (Babbitt, Green, and another) and 3 jazz composers (Giuffre, Mingus, Russell). Columbia recorded them later and it was released as The Third Stream. In the mid-50's, he was involved in a recording session with Charlie Parker and the Lambert Singers. Gil Evans was the arranger. They had a woodwind quartet, 10 singers, 3 rhythm, and Bird. He was magnificent, in spite of the heavy voices. He blew right on through and thrilled all the musicians on If I Love Again, Old Folks, and In the Still of the Night. In that period, Hal was working in the N.Y. area with Latin bands: Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Machito (others), as well as Erskine Hawkins and Lucky Millander at the Savoy Ballroom, and Charlie Barnett on various dates (although Phil Woods and I were known as alto players, we were hired on tenor). Other groups he played with were Bill Harris, Mel Torme (CBS TV), and Dizzy Gillespie at Birdland. He replaced Ernie Henry for a while when he wasn't feeling well. He's been fortunate to have experienced a life in music: mostly jazz, some Broadway, some off-Broadway (wrote music and performed in 2 Edward Albee plays: Death of Bessie Smith and The Sandbox where he was an onstage performer). Also, he was a soloist with the N.Y. Philharmonic with Alan Hovhaness conducting his own works. In 1958, after becoming very busy in freelance recording, he joined CBS Studios with Hank Jones, Chuck Wayne, Thad Jones and some other gifted musicians. He remained in that position and continued to play jazz clubs and recording assignments until 1972. He moved to Sag Harbor and started again, maintaining his N.Y. associations. In 1994, he started a series called Sag Harbor Jazz Festival Presents, producing 3 concerts a year in a 19th century church there. He did it with 2 friends of his, Steve Fochios and Rusty Banks. It has been successful and has included his quartet, his nonet, and artists such as  Art Farmer, Jon Hendricks, Hank Jones, Clark Terry and  Jim Hall. His groups have Mike LeDonne or Don Friedman or Steve Kuhn, Dennis Mackrel or Tim Horner, Santi DeBriano, Jay Brandford, Jerry Dodgion and other talents. Don Lenzer (award winning cinematographer) has made a documentary of parts of Hal's life in concert and other places. The Smithsonian Oral Jazz History has included his story in their (and Rutgers) collection. That interview took place a few years ago. Darko Lunganov has made a documentary of some concerts (he is head of Media Studies at Ross School in East Hampton). Now, his time is taken with performing, writing, teaching (private classes and at The Ross School).

In 1956, he recorded Hal McKusick Quartet with Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson and Barry Galbraith. In 1957, he recorded as part of the RCA Jazz Workshop series: Hal McKusick Jazz Workshop, In a Twentieth Century Drawing Room, (4 Cellos and rhythm), and others with Manny Album, Al Cohn, and Urbie Green (Jack Lewis was the A and R man). From 1957-58, he made albums for Coral, and Decca (Cross Section Saxes, Hal McKusick Quintet with Art Farmer). Also, somewhere in that time period, he made albums for Prestige and Savoy, some he led with Al Cohn and Art Farmer (with Paul Chambers, Charli Persip, Eddie Costa) and some with other artists (a lot of dates with Quincy Jones). During the years between 1959 and 1972, he recorded with many others, including Tony Bennett, Barbara Streisand, Dinah Washington, Neal Hefti, Terry Gibbs (earlier, 1952-53), George Russell, Gil Evans, Andre Hodier, Gil Melle and others he has forgotten.

Films were made of the Buddy Rich Band and Claude Thornhill in Hollywood: 1947-1949.

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