As Sideman

It may be sixty years since he introduced Charlie Parker and Walter Brown to the world, but “What A Wonderful World” shows that Jay McShann is still a class act. The flexibility of McShann’s piano playing coupled with the excellent guitar work of KC stalwart Sonny Kenner, and the sympathetic sax of Ahmad Alaadeen–another mainstay of the KC scene–lends the album a feel that combines together the best elements of blues and jazz.

The track listing reads almost like a resume of McShann’s career. The composer credits range from McShann himself through cohorts to influences. Indeed, McShann gently eases himself into things with three tracks by influence Pete Johnson, starting with “Piney Brown Blues,” closely followed by “Cherry Red” and “Just For You”. It is a very fine introduction to the band, and gives you a chance to discover two of KC’s best kept musical secrets: Sonny Kenner and Ahmad Alaadeen. Along with McShann they each make their most of their chance to shine in the spotlight when it turns their way. It soon becomes obvious too, that McShann is enjoying himself to the full, since you can hear him humming along as he plays in several places.

In many respects “What A Wonderful World” is an archetypal KC style album. In other words, it encompasses both blues and jazz played by quality musicians who can swap between the two at will as the tune requires. There are few other places where you could find a piano-led jazz trio workout (“Crazy Legs and Friday Strut”) immediately followed by a blues ballad (“Rain Is Such A Lonesome Sound”) with neither of them sounding out of place.

The pick of the tracks is “Lonely Boy Blues” which sees McShann, Kenner, and Alaadeen at their best individually and collectively. It is also, unsurprisingly, given the title, one of the bluesier tracks on the album. The other standout track is McShann’s own instrumental “Hot Biscuits,” which precedes a romp through “Blue Monday” before the McShann wraps things up with a rather melancholic version of the title track.

“What A Wonderful World” is a great album which shows that Jay McShann at 84 is still more than a match for most. McShann is living proof that blues and jazz can be compatible bedfellows. The album should therefore appeal to blues and jazz lovers alike, sitting, as it does, in the same musical territory as the late Charles Brown. Indeed, like much of Brown’s work, “What A Wonderful World” can be summed up in just one word: Classy!

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