Al McKibbon, a bassist who brought a masterly fusion of jazz and Latin music to the George Shearing quintet and other groups in the 1940s and ’50s, has died. He was 86.
One of the last great string bass players from the bebop era, he was little known publicly but was famous among musicians and had performed with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, Chen-Stein said Saturday.
“He merged Afro-Cuban and black jazz. His bass line became standard,” Chen-Stein said. “His contribution in jazz is immeasurable. He’s got fans all over the world.”
Born in Chicago to a musical family, Alfred Benjamin McKibbon grew up in Detroit and began learning the bass at his brother’s urging. He played local nightclubs while in high school and in 1943 was hired by bandleader Luck Millinder and moved to New York. There, he played with leading jazz figures such as saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.
He later appeared with Gillespie’s big band, where he became interested in Latin music. Gillespie was experimenting with combining jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms at the time.
“I began to feel that the Cubans were as close as you could come to African culture because they still practiced the roots of our music,” McKibbon wrote in the afterword to the 2002 book “Latin Jazz: The Perfect Combination.”
He brought those sensibilities to his work with Shearing.
McKibbon moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and played in the staff orchestras of CBS and NBC, for movie soundtracks and on albums by Frank Sinatra, Randy Newman, Sammy Davis Jr. and others. He also played on Davis’ “The Complete Birth of the Cool” recordings.
He appeared on Monk’s final recording in 1971 and toured with Monk and Gillespie as the Giants of Jazz that year and the next.
In 1989, he was part of the orchestra for the Broadway revue “Black and Blue.”
Chen-Stein said McKibbon is survived by two daughters.
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