CHESTERTOWN — This year’s Chestertown Jazz Festival will feature two “saxophone virtuosos:” Larry Mckenna and Gregory Thompkins.
Mckenna is a tenor sax player from Philadelphia. A news release describes him as “the perfect example of a musician who may not be that well-known nationally but is considered a master of his instrument in his hometown.”
“The majority of jazz lovers in New York or Boston may not be familiar with him, but mention Mckenna’s name to jazzmen in Philadelphia and they’ll tell you that along with Bootsie Barnes and Jimmy Oliver, he’s one of the city’s best tenor sax players,” the release states.
After joining a high school jazz band at 14 and playing small gigs around Philadelphia as a young adult, McKenna got his first significant break when in 1959 he spent six months on the road as a member of Woody Herman’s Big Band, the release states. McKenna was with George Young in 1962 and Al Raymond in 1970.
It was in the early 1970’s that he started teaching at Temple University, West Chester University and Philadelphia Community College.
Over the years, the “sax man” recorded with Herman, Buddy DeFranco and Dr. Bruce Klauber as a sideman and played countless local gigs as a leader, but he did not record a CD of his own until 1997 when he provided “My Shining Hour: Larry McKenna plays Harold Arlen” for the tiny Pittsburgh Alanna Records.
“Not only has h e played with many of the all-time greats, he ‘IS’ one. Larry McKenna is a direct link to the best tradition of straight ahead swinging jazz tenor in the vein of Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz. Whether carving up an un-tempo bebop tune or holding forth on a lush ballad, McKenna’s mastery of the horn is joy to behold,” said John Thomas in the release.
Thomas is the programming manager and instructor of saxophone at Washington College.
Mckenna will open the Jazz Festival at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12 at the Mainstay in Rock Hall. For ticket information, call the Mainstay at 410-639-9133 or visit mainstayrockhall.org.
Thompkins’ professional career started with the the jazz group First Impressions at Towson University in 1985, the release states. The ensemble performed at clubs, concerts and festivals in the greater Baltimore and Washington area.
Thompkins is a graduate of Towson University where he studied music with Hank Levy, Glen Cashman, Greg Hatzka and Dr. Joe Brancuso. After earning his bachelor’s degree in jazz and commercial music he has become a “ubiquitous saxophonist” and teacher on the Baltimore scene, the release states.
While at Towson University, he also performed and studied with Carl Grubbs, recorded with Red Tarpe and received the C.E.E.P. award in 1986. Thompkins also recorded a tribute to Thelonious Monk called “Boo Boo’s Birthday.” He has a recorded concert celebrating John Coltrane titled, ‘”LSQ,” (Love Supreme Quartet).
Since 1992 Thompkins taught saxophone at Music Art Center in Ellicott City and Timonium. Thompkins also is the musical director of the Baltimore Jazz Education Project, a nonprofit that seeks to raise funds to musically educate underserved youth in the greater Baltimore area, the release states.
Thompkins currently resides in Baltimore where he is as a saxaphonist and teacher, the release states. He can be heard regularly with the Greg Thompkins Quintet and Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes.
His career highlights include Grammy Showcase winner with “The Allmighty Senators ‘95,” Best Band (City Paper) and Baltimore Magazine naming him Best Horn Player. He also was Music Monthly’s ‘’Yamaha Artist 2000,” Best Tribute Band with Baltimore Afrobeat Society as well as Baltimore Magazine’s 2004 Best Tribute Concert celebrating John Coltrane.
Thompkins is a Yamaha Artist and will be appearing with Amy Shook, Jim Orr, Brent Mingle, Chuck Ferrell and Carl Filipiak.
The quintet performs at 1:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14 in Wilmer Park. Tickets at the gate $30 for adult, $15 for students and children enter for free.
For more information, visit garfieldcenter.lorg or 410-810-2060.