Kenny Wheeler

Kenny Wheeler bigraphy, stories - Canadian jazz trombonist

Kenny Wheeler : biography

14 January 1930 –

Kenneth Vincent John Wheeler, OC (born 14 January 1930 in Toronto, Canada) is a Canadian composer and trumpet and flugelhorn player, based in the U.K. since the 1950s.

Most of his output is rooted in jazz, but he has also been active in free improvisation and has occasionally contributed to rock music recordings. Wheeler has written over one hundred compositions and is a skilled arranger for small groups and larger ensembles.

Kenny Wheeler still lives in Britain today and is the patron of the Royal Academy Junior Jazz course.


Growing up in Toronto, Wheeler began playing cornet at age 12, and became interested in jazz in his mid-teens. Wheeler spent a year studying composition at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto in 1950. In 1952, Wheeler moved to Britain. He found his way into the London jazz scene of the time, playing in groups led by Tommy Whittle, Tubby Hayes, and Ronnie Scott. In the late 1950s, he was a member of Buddy Featherstonhaugh’s quintet together with Bobby Wellins. Throughout the Sixties, he worked with John Dankworth, and also formed part of (Eric Burdon and) The Animals Big Band that made its one-and-only public appearance at the 5th Annual British Jazz & Blues Festival in Richmond (1965) with tenors Stan Robinson, Dick Morrissey and Al Gay, baritone sax Paul Carroll, and fellow trumpets Ian Carr and Greg Brown. In 1968, Wheeler appeared on guitarist Terry Smith’s first solo album, Fall Out.

Kenny Wheeler has performed and recorded his own compositions with large jazz ensembles throughout his career, starting with his first album Windmill Tilter, (1969), recorded with the John Dankworth band. The Windmill Tilter LP today is a collector’s item, since the original master tapes have been lost. A digitally remastered (by Andrew Thompson at Sound Performance, London) CD was released by BGO Records in September 2010. The big band album Song for Someone (1973) fused Wheeler’s characteristic orchestral writing with passages of free improvisation provided by musicians such as Evan Parker and Derek Bailey, and was also named Album of the Year by Melody Maker magazine in 1975. This has subsequently been reissued on CD by Evan Parker’s Psi label.

In the mid-1960s, Wheeler became a close participant in the nascent free improvisation movement in London, playing with John Stevens, Evan Parker, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and the Globe Unity Orchestra. His involvement in this genre continues to this day. Despite the above-noted accomplishments, much of Wheeler’s reputation rests on his work with smaller jazz groups. Wheeler’s first small group recordings to gain significant critical attention were Gnu High (1975) and Deer Wan (1977), both for the ECM label. Gnu High is one of the few albums ever to feature Keith Jarrett as a sideman since his tenure with Charles Lloyd. One exception from the ongoing collaboration with ECM was his rare album on CBC called Ensemble Fusionaire in 1976. This had three other fellow Canadian musicians and was recorded in St. Mary’s Church in Toronto for a different character to the sound than on the ECM recordings.

Wheeler was the trumpet player in the Anthony Braxton Quartet from 1971 to 1976; and from 1977 he was also a member of chamber jazz group Azimuth (with John Taylor and Norma Winstone). In 1997 Wheeler received widespread critical praise for his album Angel Song, which featured an unusual "drummerless" quartet of Bill Frisell (guitar), Dave Holland (bass) and Lee Konitz (alto sax).


As leader

  • 1968: Windmill Tilter (Fontana) with The John Dankworth Orchestra
  • 1973: Song for Someone (Incus)
  • 1975: Gnu High (ECM)
  • 1976: Ensemble Fusionaire (CBC)
  • 1977: Deer Wan (ECM)
  • 1980: Around 6 (ECM)
  • 1984: Double, Double You (ECM)
  • 1988: Flutter By, Butterfly (Soul Note)
  • 1988: Visions (Justin Time)
  • 1990: Music for Large & Small Ensembles (ECM)
  • 1990: The Widow in the Window (ECM)
  • 1992: Kayak (Ah Um)
  • 1993: All the More (Soul Note, released 1997)
  • 1997: Angel Song (ECM)
  • 1999: A Long Time Ago (ECM)
  • 2003: Dream Sequence (PSI, recorded 1995-2003)
  • 2005: What Now? (CAM Jazz)
  • 2006: It Takes Two! (CAM Jazz)
  • 2008: Other People (CAM Jazz) with Hugo Wolf String Quartet featuring John Taylor
  • 2011: One of Many (CAM Jazz) with John Taylor and Steve Swallow
  • 2012: The Long Waiting (CAM Jazz)
  • 2013: Mirrors (EDITION RECORDS)