"Big" Mike McKendrick Biography

Here is a bit of jazz history that probably happened just to keep discographers from having to fall asleep in order to have nightmares. There were once five brothers, all of whom were musicians. For some reason perhaps known only to their father, a violinist and trombonist named Gilbert McKendrick, Sr., all the boys were given the middle name of "Mike" and apparently all of them decided to use this as a first name when making records. While the otherwise staunch John Chilton claims the resulting plethora of Mike McKendrick credits have lingered to the "utter confusion of discographers", in reality only two of the McKendrick klan played identical instruments. Thus, the Mike McKendrick who played trombone can be sorted out as Richard McKendrick, likewise the violinist was Daniel McKendrick and the pianist was James McKendrick. Only the pair of pickers doubling on banjo and guitar who were known as Mike McKendrick needed some kind of further information at roll call. Thus, the younger of the two became known as "Little Mike" McKendrick, while his older brother by two years was "Big Mike" McKendrick. Both were busy as performers and recording artists in classic jazz, swing and Chicago blues groups between the early '20s and the '50s. It would be hard to improve on either of their credentials in these genres, "Big" Mike McKendrick having managed as well as played in Louis Armstrong's band while "Little" Mike McKendrick, perchance dangerously competitive, was actually involved in a rough-up involving gunplay with Sidney Bechet. Despite any of these details neither size Mike should be confused with various blues, rock and rap performers from later eras known as Little Mike and Big Mike. The McKendrick boys were all raised in Paducah and in turn exited to Chicago en masse. The trail of "Little Mike" McKendrick, apart from his brothers, involves the Hughie Swift Orchestra in the mid '20s, where it is assumed fast tempos were the rule. He went on to work with the influential Doc Cooke, Joe Jordan's Sharps and Flats and Eddie South. McKendrick also led his own group, an enterprise he would return to later. He toured Europe with South in the late '20s, finally departing from that group but staying put abroad, gigging with great frequency with a collective ensemble in France and Spain up until his return to New York City in 1939. McKendrick headed home to Chicago within a few years, concentrating for the next two decades on a small group of his own which he called the International Trio. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi


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