Born: November 11, 1953 Primary Instrument: Bass
Whether you are talking about Andy McKee’s bass playing or his way of moving through life, three words say it - strength, passion and artistry. Having performed for twenty-five years with many jazz greats, his reputation stretches from his home base of New York, across the United States, to Europe and Japan. The deep resonance of Andy’s sound adds unmistakable dimension to every band he plays in. His impeccable time, musicianship and capacity for rhythmic invention were forged over years of in-the-trenches experience with many legendary jazz masters.
Andy’s hard-swinging approach evolved naturally from his formative years on Philadelphia’s jazz scene. Musicians like Hank Mobley, Johnny Hartman, Slide Hampton, and Clarence “Cee” Sharp provided a nurturing environment for him and other young players. Philly Joe Jones, in particular, was an important mentor. “Philly was like my musical father. I was really just starting out when he said, ’Come on. You’re with me’.” McKee adds, “We didn’t talk much about what we were playing; we just hung with the music. I learned through a sort of musical osmosis.” Of touring the US and Canada in 1979-1980, Andy says “Working side by side with Philly Joe was a unique and powerful opportunity to explore the language of jazz. And he brought such a personal sense of finesse and class to everything he did on and off the bandstand.”
The next major influence in Andy’s musical development came in 1983 when he debuted with The Elvin Jones Jazz Machine at the Village Vanguard. Over the next decade, Andy played with the group for years at a time as staff bassist on tour in Europe, the Middle East and at home in New York City. “Elvin was a genius. It took a while for me to understand how to interact with the circular quality of his playing. It demanded total commitment to the downbeat. It gave me great confidence to realize that Elvin Jones wanted me to set him up. And when I got it, he turned and gave me that smile...”
In the mid-80s, Andy was living in Paris. He performed and toured extensively with Mal Waldron, Clark Terry, Steve Lacy, Don Cherry, Horace Parlan, Steve Grossman, as well as European greats Daniel Humair, Marcial Solal and Franco D’Andrea and others. At about this time, he was introduced to one of the most celebrated French jazz pianist of the period, Michel Petrucciani. Between 1987 and 1991, he, Michel, and Victor Jones played to great acclaim at venues throughout Europe, Japan and the US. Andy remembers one of the greatest performances of his career at Tois, a town west of Paris: “We were on the bill with Miles, and he decided he wanted to play first (Miles could do that!). While he and his band rocked the house, we were backstage wondering how we got caught in such a predicament. Well, we were playing together a lot at the time, and there was a tremendous synergy in our performances. That night, we reached a little deeper and threw down hard. According to the critics, we stole the show.” Andy recorded two albums with Michel for the Dreyfus label.
Back in New York for long stretches between 1992 and 2003, Andy toured, recorded and served as associate musical director of the Mingus Big Band and the Mingus Dynasty. “Our shows in those years were electrifying. There was so much energy and focus and spirited cheerleading from the inimitable John Stubblefield.” More recently, Andy has enjoyed sessions with the venerable and swinging Vanguard Jazz Orchestra where sight-reading the intricate arrangements of Thad Jones and Jim McNeilly keeps him sharp. Other notable performances in the last few years have included the Kennedy Center and other venues supporting the Three Baritone Saxophones led by Ronnie Cuber.
While continuing to tour in Europe with various musicians several times a year, Andy has released the recordings Sound Roots with Ed Cherry and Billy Kilson and One World with Idris Muhammed, Alex Foster and Joe Locke. With Manolo Badrena and Dave Stryker, he laid down the groove for Trio Mundo, which recorded the Grammy-nominated Carnaval in 2002 and the popular 2004 follow-up Trio Mundo Rides Again. His latest project, All @ Once, began in collaboration with tabla master Badal Roy and has evolved into a complex bass-rooted soundscape colored by the synthesizers of Adam Holtzman, the harmonic richness of Vic Juris’ guitar work and the fireworks of percussionists Badrena and Mino Cinelu. Drawing on his classical training with Homer Mensch among others, Andy distinctively incorporates arco work into his compositions and solos.
Challenges Andy has taken on outside jazz include playing for film scores, performance art pieces, neo-classical European composers and Broadway orchestras. His teaching takes him to Europe each summer where he puts his French and Italian to work with students in master classes and workshops. At the New School in New York City the rest of the year, Andy teaches the Mingus repertory as well as ensembles and individual bass students. He also teaches privately from his home in Montclair, NJ. Andy brings almost as much subtlety, drive and inventiveness to the kitchen as he does to the bandstand his “chops” in the kitchen have earned him a reputation as the best bass- playing cook on the road.
“You hear all that on Sound Roots, which features McKee’s quintet, NEXT. Both as a dynamic composer and fearless, resourceful arranger... McKee consistently turns to the unexpected, keeping the listener happily surprised.” Zan Stewart DOWN BEAT - December 1997
“Throughout, bassist Andy McKee was the relatively silent, guiding force...” John Ephland DOWN BEAT - December 1997
“McKee was entrusted with the largest shoes to fill... his ability to jump smoothly from steady foundation to avant-garde catalyst was outstanding.” Rob Hubbard St. Paul Pioneer Press - April 17, 1997
“[the Mingus Big Band]... faultlessly anchored by the lithe bass of Andy McKee. Chris Parker The Times (London) - March 14, 1997
“Andy McKee... was faultless, and deserves much credit for sustaining the on-the-edge Mingus atmosphere.” Bob Blumenthal Boston Globe - November 11, 1996
“Andy McKee responds commendably to being in one of the hottest seats in jazz history-Mingus’.” Bill Shoemaker Jazz Times - November 1995
“The energy, the vigor of Petrucciani’s attack was consistently matched by bassist Andy McKee...” Chip Deffaa New York Post - September 23,1993
“Aside from [Elvin] Jones, the strongest echo of Coltrane’s classic quartet was raised by bassist Andy McKee...” Bob Blumenthal Boston Globe - August 24, 1992
“...Admirable.” Leonard Feather Los Angeles Times - May 11, 1988
“...bassist Andy McKee fit the quartet well, playing much in the spirit of Jimmy Garrison and leaving Elvin enough space for his powerful swing.” Alexander Ivansky Jazz Forum - April 1986
Tracks: Top Hat; All Blues; Sound Roots; Andrea; 56 Blows; Inner Circle; Blues Interrogation; U- Turn; Hilltop Stomp; In A Perfect World.
Personnel: Ed Cherry: guitar; Alex Foster: saxophones; Ryan Kisor: trumpet; Billy Kilson: drums; Hamiet Bluiett: baritone sax; Andy McKee: bass.
andy mckee // one world
Tracks: Finders Keepers; Folk Song; Accolades; Losers Weepers; Ife's Dance; Fire Sign; Earth Sign; Deep in Boston/Max is Max; Prayer.
Personnel: Alex Foster: saxophones; Joe Locke: vibraphone & marimba; Idris Muhammad: drums; Badal Roy: tabla; Milton Cardonna: conga, percussion; Kenny Werner: piano; Andy McKee: bass.
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