The Troy Street Observer

June 24, 1989: McKenna’s Last Set at the Plaza Bar

Photo of Dave McKenna
Dave McKenna in the 1980s

On Saturday, June 24, the Age of McKenna ended at the Plaza Bar in the Copley Plaza Hotel.

Dave McKenna first worked at the Copley Plaza in 1976, a trio date in the big street-level room that was then called the Merry-Go-Round, with its revolving stage in the center of the room. They usually hired singers there, good ones, but even talent like Teddi King and Johnny Hartman were unable to solve the creaking and groaning of the rotating stage.

The Merry-Go-Round was gone in 1979, replaced by the Plaza Bar, and the singers were replaced by pianists like Teddy Wilson in long residences. In 1981, the hotel management decided to book one pianist for a seven-month season starting just after Labor Day, and on September 13, 1981, the Age of McKenna began at the Plaza Bar.

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May 30, 1930: “Saloon Player” Dave McKenna Born

The fine pianist Dave McKenna was born on this day in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, in 1930.

Photo of Dave McKenna
Dave McKenna in the 1980s

Dave McKenna was an integral part of the Boston jazz scene for only about eight years, which constitutes less than a quarter of the time he was active professionally in New England. Still, the listeners who heard him when McKenna was the resident pianist in the Plaza Bar in the Copley Plaza Hotel cherish the memory. Everybody liked Dave. Even people whose taste in creative music went in different directions liked Dave because he was a one-of-a-kind and very, very good at what he did.

What he did in the Plaza Bar, of course, was play solo piano, from 1981 to 1989, for about eight months a year, six night a week, four hours a night. He was self-effacing: “I play a lot of melody. I’d call myself a saloon player.”
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