Al McKibbon, 1919–2005

A big man whose big sound bolstered the beginnings of bebop, Latin jazz, and the cool school, Al McKibbon died of kidney failure in Los Angeles on July 29. He was 86. McKibbon played on Thelonious Monk’s first and last recordings and on Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool, and he helped light the fuse to the 1940s–50s Latin-jazz explosion through his work with Dizzy Gillespie and vibraphonist Cal Tjader.
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Born in Chicago on January 1, 1919, and raised in jazz-savvy Detroit, McKibbon began gigging at age 16. In 1943 he moved to New York to play in Lucky Millinder’s band, and he went on to perform and record with icons such as Bud Powell, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, and George Shearing. After moving to Los Angeles in ’58, he became a sought-after electric-acoustic doubler for ’60s pop sessions and TV and movie soundtracks. In the ’70s he joined the Giants Of Jazz tour, and he remained active throughout the rest of his life. At age 80 he wielded his 1650 Jacob Steiner contrabass on his debut solo CD, Tumbao para los Congueros di Mi Vida.

McKibbon summed up his musical identity in August ’99, a few months before receiving a Bass Player Lifetime Achievement Award: “I like to be back there playing some good lines and making the band happen—that’s me.”