Texas-born and on the piano by age seven -- in those 1920s when we named our children after presidents -- McKinley Howard Dorham honed his horn on ‘bop’ in the 1930s-40s-and-50s bands of Russell Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, Fats Navarro, Stan Getz, J.J. Johnson, Lou Donaldson, Horace Silver, as an original member of Art Blakey’s ‘Jazz Messengers’, Milt Jackson, Tadd Dameron, Phil Woods, Ernie Henry, Hank Mobly, Gil Melle, Matthew Gee, Herb Geller, Oscar Pettiford, Benny Golson, Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, John Coltrane, Randy Weston, Oliver Nelson, Sonny Rollins, Thelonius Monk, Lionel Hampton, Mercer Ellington, Max Roach, and Charlie Parker. He knocked fifteen years around New York as McKinley, then Kinny, and finally Kenny, briefly, with his own Jazz Prophets. On November 13, 1959, teeth well-cut and ready to bite off as much as he could chew, he hailed pianist, Tommy Flanagan, bassist, Paul Chambers, and drummer, Arthur Taylor, over the Hudson River to Van Gelder Studios in Englewood, New Jersey to transpire the songs on this session from ether to album, Quiet Kenny; where audiophiles debate the step or misstep of its title, six of one and half a dozen of the to-may-to-to-maw-to discussion, grip, grasp, and girth of jazz tone and temperament through time with all those other artists, Mr. Dorham steps from shadow to spotlight succinctly on this day, Gabriel-ing songs chosen for their sentimentality as well as their stage-proven effect on audiences nightly calling them out and coming back-stage to make a request of them.
Overshadowed much of his career by better-known trumpeters like Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, and Lee Morgan, Mr. Dorham’s soft, energetic, be-bop style and confident, smooth, lyrical playing influenced countless musicians, and he continued unceasingly to lead groups and work and record on his own and with others until kidney failure ended his life in 1972. Critics herald his best recordings as Whistle Stop, Una Mas, and Jazz Contemporary, however it is this album, Quiet Kenny, that brings him out from sideman to front and center to stand alongside those he’d replaced in others’ bands, a horn player with his own style and tone, to which we can now relish in on this Concord re-issue.
On "Lotus Blossom" (Dorham - 4:36) a drum comes a-knocking, rattling a rail, and an oriental piano trains a track on which Mr. Dorham’s trumpet rides the main car, dinner, drinks, smokes, and witty conversation going ‘round, gossip and topics of social concern, smatterings of plans ahead. "My Ideal" (Robin/Chase/Whiting - 5:04) is sweet and soft to the touch, the line of a women’s neck and shoulder, that whisper that turns your head and makes you smile, her fingers on your forearm and longing to stay in bed all day long. "Blue Friday" (Dorham - 8:45) is all-week-waited and things coming to a change of plans, that drink alone. You’ve got ‘the fever’, but you’re gal is gone. You pay up and know it all goes on, and with or without, at least you’ve got ‘jazz’ to fill your soul, maybe another honey already high-heeling your way, just up the street, in the next club, maybe right at the end of this song. Now that the slow dance has ended, the piano player on "Alone Together" (Schwartz/Dietz - 3:09) lowers his head and there’s nothing left but looking in each other’s eyes.... and a kiss that takes you to the other side. "Blue Spring Shuffle" (Dorham - 7:34) is cool, fragrant flowers struttin’ their swing as you walk by, hopeful the season and the day will be a good one, and it will.... it will. On "I Had the Craziest Dream" (Warren/Gordon- 4:38), your mind wanders, but always comes back to her and everything about her, the way she stands, the way she walks and comes through the door, the smile she gives and that look that knocks you out so you can’t do anything but put her lips on yours, closing your eyes and feeling that timeless urge for two to become one forever. "Old Folks" (Hill/Robison - 5:11) finds us Sunday dinnering and sitting on the porch stoop, silent, rocking, nodding to passersby, how the week’ll go or rather not, leaving that thought for the morning and the resting of your eyes in an end-of-the-week daydream. Finishing out the journey, "Mack the Knife" (Weill/Brecht- 3:02) offers blood and severed flesh in swing-time revel, a bounce to butcher a living, unregrettably unremorseful and happy to perform the deed, as any good craftsman would be.
Following his bliss, McKinley Howard Dorham gave us this first of his own musical intentions, and though he never became a household name, his horn and tone are there with Davis and Gillespie, as strong and proud and entertaining as anyone’s, its width and depth as broad and deep as the Hudson River crossed to lay these songs down, a bridge as lasting as the Fort Lee from Manhattan to Jersey, his talents fording from jazz-sessioner to center stage.
Quiet Kenny, hear him shout.