Although resident in England since 1952 and often thought to be an English musician, Kenny Wheeler was born in Canada in 1930. He began playing in his hometown of St. Catherines, encouraged by his father, a trombonist. His formal studies include composition with Rodney Bennett and William Russo.
His earliest influences included Buck Clayton and Roy Eldrige but, by the time he left for London, he was looking towards bebop, Miles Davis and Fats Navarro particularly.
After his arrival in London, Wheeler balanced commercial dance band work with gigs alongside modernists like Joe Harriott and Ronnie Scott, and in 1959 joined the Johnny Dankworth band in time for their breakthrough Newport Jazz Festival appearance. He consequently came to be one of the major solo voices in the Dankworth orchestra, and during the end of his stay recorded his first album as a leader Windmill Tilter (Fontana), which featured compositions for big band based on Cervantes’ Don Quixote stories.