It was late July of 1992. I was sitting on a hillside in a big park overlooking the downtown skyline of Kansas City and listening to a man in his late 70's doing things on a piano I had never heard before. And his voice was silky smooth, just as it had been when he began his career in blues and jazz in Oklahoma in the early 1930's. It was a magic moment for me to finally hear Jay McShann in person that warm July evening. His voice was silenced on Thursday. Jay McShann passed away at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City. He was 91.
McShann's music and the influence he has had on blues and jazz musicians for the last 70 years will never die. He came to Kansas City in the 1930's as a young man. He was on his way to Omaha when his bus did a quick stop in Kansas City. He decided to check out the music and club scene in KC that was then at its height. Dozens and dozens of clubs open all hours of the day and night spread out from one of the true epicenters of blues and jazz in the world at the time, 18th and Vine Streets just southeast of downtown KC.
Fortunately for Kansas City, he never got back on the bus for Omaha. Instead, he stayed and got his first gig two days later and a true musical genius had found a home. But the world became his stage as he became known globally for his mastery of the piano, that honey of a voice and his ability to blend boogie woogie, bebop and the blues into his own, very personal sound.
And then there was that smile. I think that is where his music began.