Kenny Dorham

Kenny Dorham

Biography, Selected Discography, Transcriptions

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Selected Discography/

Additional Resources


Overshadowed for most of his career by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, and Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham's abilities as a composer and unique voice as an advanced bop trumpet player are underrated to this day.

McKinley Howard Dorham was born on August 30, 1924 on a ranch called Post Oak, near Fairfield, Texas. He attended Anderson High School in Austin, where he began teaching himself to play piano and trumpet, and spending much of his time on the school boxing team. He later enrolled at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, studying chemistry and minoring in physics. During this time he experimented with arranging, writing for the stage band, where he met such players as Wild Bill Davis, Harold Land, and Roy Porter.

He was drafted into the army in 1942 (spending some time with the army boxing team) and was discharged about a year later.

In late 1943 he joined the Russell Jacquet orchestra in Houston, and he spent much of 1944 playing the band of Frank Humphries. By 1945, Dorham had gained positions with Dizzy Gillespie's short-lived first big band, and then replaced Fats Navarro in Billy Eckstine's orchestra. In 1946 he recorded with the Be Bop Boys (aka the 52nd Street Boys, including Fats Navarro), and spent time playing in the bands of Lionel Hampton and Mercer Ellington.

During this time, Dorham continued to compose and arrange (he arranged "Okay for Baby" for Lucky Millinder and Benny Carter, and "Malibu" for Cootie Williams), ghosting arrangements for Walter 'Gil' Fuller which were sold to several name big bands, including Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, and Gene Krupa.

In 1948, Dorham studied composition and arranging at the Gotham School of Music under the G.I. Bill. On Christmas Eve of that year, Dorham performed for the first time as replacement for Miles Davis in the Charlie Parker quintet, where he would play for about a year (Davis had recommended Dorham for the job), including an appearance at the 1949 Paris Jazz Fair.

After a two-year hiatus starting in 1950, during which Dorham lived and worked day jobs in California, he settled in New York City and began a busy career as a free-lance musician, perorming with players such as Bud Powell, Sonny Stitt, Thelonious Monk, and Mary Lou Williams. In 1952 Dorham recorded with Monk and in late 1953 led his first recording as a leader, a 10-inch record on the Debut label.

In 1954, Dorham replaced Clifford Brown with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers when Brown left the group to form the legendary Brown/Roach quintet, and that same year formed a band called the Jazz Prophets which recorded for Blue Note. Dorham left Blakey's band in late 1955, and shortly found work playing with the Birdland All-Stars (along with Conte Candoli, Phil Woods, and Al Cohn) and recording with the likes of Tadd Dameron, Phil Woods, Cecil Payne, Matthew Gee, Hank Mobley, and Gil Melle.

In August, 1956, Dorham recorded some interesting material for Riverside with alto saxophonist Ernie Henry. Upon Clifford Brown's untimely death in September of that year, Dorham replaced him in Roach's group, an association which would produce several EmArcy recordings and last almost two years.

Once Roach disbanded the group in 1958, Dorham led several groups of his own, recording for Riverside (including a vocal album! and the notable Quiet Kenny), New Jazz, and Time.

In 1961 began a fruitful period recording again with Blue Note records, where he recorded some of his most significant albums, especially with up-and-comers Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, and Tony Williams.

By the mid-1960s, economic circumstances made it impossible for Dorham to maintain his group with Henderson, and he was forced to find employment outside of music (this time working for the post office). He still studied music (at the NYU School of Music) and wrote record reviews for Down Beat magazine, but by the early 1970s his health began to deteriorate; development of a kidney ailment forced him to make regular hospital trips for 15 hours a week on dialysis. He passed away on December 5, 1972, at the age of 48.

Selected Discography/Transcriptions

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Horace Silver: Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers
(Blue Note, 1954/1955)
With Horace Silver co-leading this recording with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, this essential recording helped propel hard bop into the forefront of jazz in the mid-to-late 1950s. Featuring Silver (piano), Blakey (drums), Kenny Dorham (trumpt), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), and Doug Watkins (bass), the album includes such classics as "The Preacher", "Doodlin'", "Hankerin'", and "Room 608". A must-have!

Room 608 (Silver) / Creepin' In (Silver) / Stop Time (Silver) / To Whom It May Concern (Silver) / Hippy (Silver) / The Preacher (Silver) / Hankerin' (Silver) / Doodlin' (Hendricks/Silver)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Hankerin'" (PDF/90KB), transcribed by Giz Bowe. Click here to purchase this album from

The Jazz Messengers: Live at the Cafe Bohemia, Volume 2
(Blue Note, 1955)
The first recording of the small-group version of the Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (Blakey recorded earlier with a larger group with this name), this live session features Dorham on trumpet, Hank Mobley on tenor, Horace Silver on piano, Doug Watkins on bass, and Blakey on drums. A classic Blue Note session. Compare Dorham's solo on "Like Someone In Love" with his solo on the later Coltrane recording (below).

Sportin' Crowd (Mobley) / Like Someone in Love (Burke/VanHeusen) Yesterdays (Harbach/Kern) Just One of Those Things (Porter) / Hank's Symphony (Mobley) / Gone With the Wind (Magidson/Wrubel) / Avila and Tequila (Mobley) / Waited for You (Fuller/Gillespie)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Like Somone In Love" (PDF/116KB) Click here to purchase this album from

Kenny Dorham: Quiet Kenny
(Prestige, 1955)
This 1955 quartet date, with Tommy Flanagan (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Art Taylor (drums), features some great interpretations of standards, plus three inventive compositions by Dorham ("Lotus Blossom" is a real gem). Don't let the title fool you -- this isn't just a ballad set!

Lotus Blossom (Dorham) / My Ideal (Chase/Robin/Whiting) / Blue Friday (Dorham) / Alone Together (Dietz/Schwartz) / Blue Spring Shuffle (Dorham) / I Had the Craziest Dream (Gordon/Warren) / Old Folks (Hill/Robison) / Mack the Knife (Brecht/Weill)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Blue Spring Shuffle" (PDF/77KB)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "I Had the Craziest Dream" (PDF/76KB) Click here to purchase this album from

John Coltrane: Coltrane Time
(Blue Note, 1958)
This album is fascinating on a variety of levels. Not only is it the only recorded pairing of Dorham with John Coltrane, it also puts Dorham together with pianist Cecil Taylor, whose dissonant comping offers a stark contrast to Dorham's bebop style. Also appearing on the album are Chuck Israels on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. Compare Dorham's solo on "Like Someone In Love" with the earlier Messengers recording (above).

Shifting Down (Dorham) / Just Friends (Klenner/Lewis) / Like Someone in Love (Burke/VanHeusen) / Double Clutching (Israels)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Like Someone In Love" (PDF/107Kb) Click here to purchase this album from

Kenny Dorham: 'Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia
(Blue Note, 1956)
This 2-CD set has some of Dorham's most interesting solos. One of only two recordings made by the band "The Jazz Prophets", the date features J.R. Monterose (tenor sax), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Bobby Timmons (piano), Sam Jones (bass) and Arthur Edgehill (drums). Excellent hard bop.

K.D.'s Blues [alternate take] (Dorham) / Autumn in New York (Duke) / Monaco [alternate take] (Dorham) / N.Y. Theme (Dorham) / K.D.'s Blues (Dorham) / Hill's Edge (Dorham) / A Night in Tunisia (Gillespie/Paparelli) / Who Cares? [alternate take] (Gershwin) / Royal Roost (Clarke/Dorham) / Mexico City (Dorham) / 'Round About Midnight (Hanighen/Monk/Williams) / Monaco (Dorham) / Who Cares? (Gershwin) / My Heart Stood Still (Hart/Rodgers) / Riffin' (Dorham) / Mexico City [alternate take] (Dorham) / The Prophet (Dorham)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Royal Roost" (PDF/114Kb) Click here to purchase this album from

Kenny Dorham: Una Mas
(Blue Note, 1963)
Featuring Joe Henderson (tenor), Butch Warren (bass), Herbie Hancock (piano) and Tony Williams (drums), this CD is probably the most explorative of those Dorham appeared on as leader. This album marks Tony Williams' second recording (and predates Williams' and Hancock's first recordings with Miles Davis) -- he's only 17 at the time of this recording, and is the first session that paired Dorham and Henderson together. A classic.

Una Mas (One More Time) (Dorham) / Straight Ahead (Dorham) / Sao Paolo (Dorham) / If Ever I Would Leave You (Lerner/Loewe)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Straight Ahead" (PDF/120Kb) Click here to purchase this album from

Joe Henderson: Page One
(Blue Note, 1963)
Joe Henderson's debut recording as a leader, this album features the original recordings of the jazz standards "Blue Bossa", "Homestretch", and "Recorda Me". Dorham features prominently, composing two of the six selections; McCoy Tyner (piano), Butch Warren (bass), and Pete LaRoca (drums) comprise the rhythm section. Highly recommended.

Blue Bossa (Dorham) / La Mesha (Dorham) / Homestretch (Henderson) / Recorda Me (Henderson) / Jinrikisha (Henderson) / Out of the Night (Henderson)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Blue Bossa" (PDF/73Kb)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Recordame" (PDF/72Kb) Click here to purchase this album from

Joe Henderson: In 'n Out
(Blue Note, 1964)

In 'N Out (Henderson) / Punjab (Henderson) / Serenity (Henderson) / Short Story (Dorham) / Brown's Town (Dorham) / In 'N Out [alternate take] (Henderson)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Punjab" (PDF/101KB)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Short Story" (PDF/75KB) Click here to purchase this album from

Benny Golson: The Modern Touch
(OJC, 1957)
Benny Golson's second album as a leader, this recording features an all-star lineup including Dorham (trumpet), Golson (tenor sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Max Roach (drums). Dorham is in fine form throughout on a set mixing originals ("Out of the Past", "Venitian Breeze", and "Blues On Down"), jazz standards ("Hymn of the Orient", "Reunion"), and popular tunes ("Namely You").

Out of the Past (Golson) / Reunion (Gryce) / Venetian Breeze (Golson) / Hymn to the Orient (Gryce) / Namely You (DePaul/Mercer) / Blues on Down (Golson)

Kenny Dorham's solo on "Reunion" (PDF/66KB) Click here to purchase this album from

Additional Resources

Kenny Dorham - Biography, Selected Discography, Transcriptions
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