Chicago jazz pianist Ken Chaney remembered as one of 'the best'

Versatility marked Chaney's style.

December 24, 2012

Ken Chaney, a long-standing Chicago jazz musician and educator, died last Wednesday at the age of 73.

Chaney's reputation among his fellow musicians is stellar: Everyone praises his musicianship and attitude.  

"Ken Chaney was one of the best musicians I ever worked with. And Chaney was cool," said drummer Isaac "Red" Holt.

Holt hired Chaney to play in his group Young-Holt Unlimited in the late 1960s. They had a hit with the song "Soulful Strut."

Chaney was born in Edmonton, Alberta and came to Chicago in the mid-1950s. After leaving Holt’s group in the 1970s, he went on to form and lead his own ensembles, including The Awakening.  

Holt said Chaney's musical talents were all over the map.

"Later on he was known as a bebop player because he had the bebop brass around him. But Ken Chaney was a versatile piano player. He could play whatever you wanted to play," Holt said.

Pianist Miguel de la Cerna took Chaney's chair when he left Young-Holt Unlimited. He said Chaney’s other great legacy is as a teacher of musicians ranging from countless Chicago music students to vocalist Dee Alexander and current Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones. 

"For our town, he’s sort of like what Art Blakely became which is almost a school, you know you had to come through Ken Chaney school," de la Cerna said.

Chaney also had a rare view of the jazz profession.

"Ken taught me this was a business. We had to act like businessmen, instead of the traditional musician stereotypes. There was a way you had to dress, a way you had to act. And those lessons were invaluable to me. I don't know who I'm going to call now to know how to act," de la Cerna said.

Family, friends, and fellow musicians will remember Chaney at a memorial in Hyde Park this Saturday.