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March 2000

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Jay McShann
What A Wonderful World
Groove Note

Jay McShann - What A Wonderful WorldSome very special musicians age gracefully, like a fine wine, and continue to get better with age. Count Jay McShann as one of this breed. Now well into his 80's, the Kansas City pianist has a fine new disc out entitled What A Wonderful World (Groove Note). For this session, McShann is teamed with a great crew of K.C. session regulars, most notably the formidable guitarist Sonny Kenner.

What A Wonderful World opens with three Kansas City classics, "Piney Brown Blues" (featuring nice guitar from Kenner), "Cherry Red," and the Pete Johnson "Just For You." McShann shows on the latter cut that his piano skills have not been diminished by age.

Even stronger is McShann’s nimble piano playing on the instrumental number "Crazy Legs and Friday Strut."

Just as pleasing is McShann’s vocal work on What A Wonderful World. Nearly every singer in the jazz/blues genre has covered the classic "Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You," but McShann gives it a fresh, more mellow approach. He also sounds great, exhibiting more range, on an excellent "Lonely Boy Blues," which he cut for Decca in 1942 with Walter Brown and Charlie Parker.

Another standout tune is the jazzy instrumental "Hot Biscuits," this one providing a showcase for tenor sax player Ahmad Alaadeen and guitarist Kenner.

What A Wonderful World ends with the title cut, a cover of the Louis Armstrong song. This number doesn’t work as well as the previous 10 songs … McShann doesn’t seem exactly at ease with the arrangement.

With a recording career spanning nearly 60 years, Jay McShann is truly one of the greatest blues and jazz pianists ever. It would be nice if he could get a "late career" boost similar to that of the late Charles Brown. But I won’t complain as long as someone keeps releasing wonderful albums like What A Wonderful World.

 - Bill Mitchell

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