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Jack McVea: 1914-2000
Jack McVea
Tenor, alto and baritone saxophone, clarinet

Born: November 5, 1914 in Los Angeles, California
Died: December 27, 2000 in Los Angeles, California

Tenor Man Scored Big Novelty Hit

Copyright © 2001 

The Scotsman, 2001


Jack McVea was one of the generation of hard-hitting tenor saxophonists who straddled the border line between jazz and rhythm and blues in the 1940s, and enjoyed popular success at the commercial end of that spectrum. He scored a massive hit in 1947 with the novelty song ‘Open the Door, Richard’, derived from a comedy routine of the 1930s, and later worked regularly at Disneyland, playing clarinet in a resident Dixieland band.

He was born John Vivian McVea, and learned banjo from his father, Isaac (Satchel) McVea, a musician who had been the first black host of a radio show in Los Angeles in the 1920s. He played ukelele in his father’s band, then took up saxophone at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, a school which had a reputation for nurturing would-be jazz musicians of that era, including Dexter Gordon, Melba Liston and Ernie Royal.

He made his professional debut with Dootsie Williams’s Harlem Dukes at Los Angeles’s famous Club Alabam in 1932. He played in the house band at the club during that decade with many local musicians, then joined the Lionel Hampton Orchestra on baritone saxophone in 1940.

He played with band leaders Eddie Barefield and Snub Mosley in 1943, and was featured in Norman Granz’s inaugural Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in Los Angeles in 1944, the precursor of one of the most successful of all jazz touring promotions. in 1945, he took part in a studio jam session with Slim Gaillard and Charlie Parker, on a tune known as ‘Slim’s Jam’, in which Gaillard introduces him (in the singer’s inimitable invented “vouty” language) as “Jack MacVouty”.

McVea’s hit with ‘Open The Door, Richard’ in 1947, written in collaboration with its original creators, Dusty Fletcher and John Mason, and Dan Howell, sparked numerous cover versions, and ensured that he would remain in demand. The toured his own band with considerable success into the 1950s, and later led a band in Las Vegas. He worked as a studio musician for MGM for a time, and in 1966 began working at Disneyland, a job he held until his retirement in 1992.
He is survived by two daughters, a son, 10 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.

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With 1 reader comment, posted February 20, 2010