The Troy Street Observer

Dec 3, 1972: Kenny Dorham’s Trumpet Choir

The great—and greatly underrated—trumpeter Kenny Dorham was in a bad way in late 1972. His kidneys were failing and he was undergoing 15 hours of dialysis per week, and he was unable to work full time as a musician. As word of his plight circulated, people on both coasts planned benefit concerts on his behalf. In Boston, trumpeters Mark Harvey and Claudio Roditi organized a Dorham benefit, and even better, Dorham would be able to attend and play.

photo of Kenny Dorham
Kenny Dorham, 1924–1972

Although often overshadowed by other trumpeters, Kenny Dorham had a stellar career in the bop/hard bop years. He was the original trumpeter in the Jazz Messengers, replaced Clifford Brown in the Max Roach Quintet, and worked and recorded extensively with tenor saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, and Joe Henderson. Dorham recorded nearly 20 albums under his own name and was a sideman on dozens of others. Some of his compositions, such as “Una Mas” and “Blue Bossa,” were already standards.

His health—first high blood pressure, then failing kidneys—limited Dorham to part-time status after 1970, but he played as often as he could, notably at a long-running Monday night gig at Minton’s in Harlem. But dialysis treatments three times per week became an expensive proposition, and thus his Boston friends pitched in to help.

The concert was cosponsored by the Jazz Coalition and the Old West Church Arts Program, and held at Old West on December 3.

Vocalist Mattie Mangrum opened the concert with her trio, which included pianist Janet Jones, bassist Chris Amberger (both currently active in California), and drummer Herbie King.

Next was Thing, saxophonist Arni Cheatham’s jazz-funk-fusion, nothing-else-like-it ensemble.

The first half of the concert concluded with Kenny Dorham and the Trumpet Choir. I don’t know what they played, or how much playing Dorham actually managed, but Harvey, Roditi, and seven more trumpeters (Fred Ballard, Avram David, Tony Klatka, Herb Pomeroy, Skip Potter, Bob Summers, and Milt Ward) assembled to keep him company. In the rhythm section were Ray Santisi, Chris Amberger, and Alan Dawson.

The second half of the show featured the International Boston Orchestra, a 16-piece big band co-led by Roditi and composer/arranger Victor Brasil, then an instructor at Berklee.

Harvey later recalled that the turnout was good, and since all the musicians donated their services, the Boston benefit was able to make a significant contribution to Dorham’s healthcare fund.

That was on Sunday evening. Dorham returned to New York the next day and took the stage at Minton’s as usual that evening. But he said he felt weak, and went home early. He died on the morning of December 5, 1972, less than 36 hours after he played with the Trumpet Choir at Old West. He was 48. Mark Harvey was among the speakers at his funeral service a few days later.

Here is Kenny Dorham’s lovely composition, “Sao Paulo,” recorded in 1963 with Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Butch Warren, and Tony Williams.

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