Remembering Jazz Great Larry McKenna
Larry Mckenna obituary: The Philadelphia jazz community lost one of its most beloved figures with the recent passing of saxophonist Larry McKenna at the age of 86. Over a career spanning more than 60 years, McKenna made an indelible impact as both a supremely talented musician and a dedicated educator.
Early Life and Musical Beginnings
McKenna was born in Philadelphia in 1937 and lived his entire life in the city, aside from a brief period in his youth. Largely self-taught, he was drawn to the saxophone after hearing legends like Flip Phillips and Illinois Jacquet on record. Though lacking an instrument at first, he joined his high school band on clarinet before fully dedicating himself to the tenor sax.
Esteemed Playing Career
In the late 1950s, a chance encounter led to McKenna joining Woody Herman’s band and touring for six months. He later performed and recorded with artists like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and more. However, he largely remained devoted to the Philly jazz scene, becoming a mainstay in local wedding bands and clubs for decades. Despite his talent, McKenna didn’t release his first album as a leader until age 60.
Parallel to performing, McKenna was a venerated jazz educator at institutions like Temple and Widener Universities. He also offered invaluable mentorship to young musicians at venues around town. His patience, encouragement, and wealth of knowledge profoundly shaped new generations of Philly players.
Kind Spirit and Consummate Musician – Larry Mckenna obituary
Despite his quiet, humble nature, McKenna had a brilliant wit and displayed stunning virtuosity as an improviser and composer. His rich tenor tone was marked by a rare delicate expressiveness. Musicians like pianist Orrin Evans credit him with paving the way for their own careers.
McKenna is survived by his son Matthew McKenna and extended family. He leaves behind a tremendous musical legacy and will be dearly missed in the Philadelphia community and beyond.