McKinney’s Cotton Pickers
- John Chilton
Jazz ensemble formed in Springfield, Ohio, from the Synco Jazz Band, a group organized by the drummer William McKinney (b Cynthiana, KY, 17 Sept 1895; d Cynthiana, KY, 14 Oct 1969) shortly after World War I. In 1923 McKinney decided to conduct the band himself and consequently engaged the drummer Cuba Austin as its percussionist. At the behest of their agent the band became known as McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. With their musical versatility and inspired showmanship they blended comedy routines and light music with jazz numbers arranged by their trumpeter, John Nesbitt. From 1927, when the multi-instrumentalist don Redman became its music director and principal arranger, the band developed its own distinctive style, which highlighted the precision of the saxophones and brass and emphasized the buoyancy of the rhythm section.
The band’s first recordings, in July 1928, helped establish the group nationally and brought widespread praise for the brilliance of Redman’s arrangements and the solo improvisations of Prince Robinson on reed instruments. The Cotton Pickers’ golden era took place during their long residence at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit (beginning in ...