David McKenna

Inducted: 2003
Born: 1930
Died: 2008

David McKenna was an internationally knonw swing jazz pianist from Woonsocket. Though his entire family was musical, David was largely self taught listening to the radio and to recordings by his favorites Nat King Cole and Teddy Wilson. At the age of twelve, he first began play for local weddings and dances. At fifteen, he joined the musicians’ union and worked around Boston with star altoist Boots Mussulli and his group. McKenna finally left home in 1949 to join tenor-saxophonist Charlie Ventura’s ensemble. This gig led to his his first recordings. The following year he went on to play with Woody Herman and then did a stiny in the army. Following his discharge, McKenna returned to play with Charlie Ventura’s band. He also worked many of the big jazz acts of the day.

In 1966 Dave moved his family to Cape Cod and began to work less frequently with bands and perform more often as a solo pianist. He traveled a lot performing on short tours and at jazz festivals around the world before settling down to a nine-year residency at the Plaza Bar in Boston’s posh Copley Plaza hotel. He stayed away from moderinizing, preferring instead the classic sound of his youth. He sometimes recorded for (and toured with) the Concord Jazz All-Stars and groups led by Herman or cornettist Ruby Braff, but considered himself at home in New England piano bars. McKenna recorded over 50 albums, many featuring all-star line-ups. He was a quiet man who shied away from the limelight, preferring to stay home and watch the Boston Red Sox play. He died of lung cancer at the age of 78 on October 18 2008.

Scroll to Top