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Kenny Poole, Guitarist

James Brown with David Matthews - keyboards; Kenny Poole - guitar; Michael Moore - bass; Jimmy Madison - drums

My article in Cincinnati Magazine’s April issue covered lots of ground—decades, actually, but the connecting thread was a band that in 1968 started performing at a club in Mt Adams six nights a week and remained at that location for about a year. The name of that band was the Sound Museum, and it was led by saxophonist Jimmy McGary. After the Sound Museum crossed paths with James Brown, a spinoff of that group became Grodeck Whipperjenny, and that same band recorded an album that is credited to James Brown even though his contribution was minimal.

In the article I discuss three albums that were recorded by Cincinnati Musicians during that period. Although it wasn’t released until 1980, the Sound Museum’s jazz recording Two Tone Poems was recorded at Jewel Recording Studio in 1968. More rock-oriented, the eponymous Grodeck Whipperjenny is a 1970 release, and the funkier James Brown release Sho is Funky Down Here came out in 1971. There’s a lot of overlap in personnel on these records, which is intriguing because the scope of the music is so broad. As David Matthews explains in the Cincinnati Magazine article, with Grodeck Whipperjenny he was (due to James Brown’s prompting) exploring what was for him a different style of music. So there was an element of naiveté—but when you combine that with brilliance, interesting things can happen.

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to those three records, and one of the things I came away with—and couldn’t fully explore in what was already a lengthy article—was the depth of talent in the city during that period. In the article I said a lot about the talents of Jimmy McGary and David Matthews, but I should say more about the other musicians. Other than David Matthews, there’s one musician who appears on all three albums. Guitarist Kenny Poole is the epitome of lyricism on Two Tone Poems, where he has a dry tone you’d associate with the jazz tradition that was his foundation. He sounds much dirtier on Grodeck Whipperjenny and Sho is Funky Down Here; here his playing ranges from straight-up in your face rock and funk to wide-open improv (as on “Evidence for Existence of Unconscious”). Many people in Cincinnati love Kenny’s playing but who aren’t aware of these recordings, and I hope that some of them will be able to enjoy the same sense of discovery that I experienced when I first listened to these albums. (I should mention here that  Grodeck Whipperjenny and Sho Is Funky Down Here are both widely available. You can also hear them on youtube, and representative tracks from all three records appear at the bottom of Cincinnati Magazine’s link to my article.)

I first saw Kenny Poole one of the first times I went to the Blue Wisp (the old one in O’Bryonville), where he sat in the whole evening with Tal Farlow, one of the most important guitarists in the history of jazz. I caught Kenny a few times after that, but then there came a long period where he wasn’t playing the clubs as much (turns out private parties and corporate affairs were more lucrative and probably less of a hassle). Then one night Jim Hall performed at Xavier’s jazz guitar series, and Kenny was in attendance. At intermission I asked what he thought of the music. That question launched what turned out to be an amazing soliloquy. Kenny raved about Jim Hall in the most unbridled fashion. He listed Bartok and Stravinsky as influences, and he also threw in a bunch of other names that I can’t remember anymore. “He sounds like so many people,” Kenny said, “and none of them are guitarists!” I loved the Jim Hall concert, but on that evening I got as much pleasure from listening to a fellow guitarist gush about one of his heroes.

I got to see Kenny Poole one more time, this time by chance. Occasionally I would drop by Awakening Coffee House in Hyde Park to hear jazz, and one night Kenny Poole happened to be filling in for the regular guitarist. Kenny was a great bebop player—in fact, I remember a rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” that burned—but this evening he was more in more a bossa nova mode. Among the highlights that evening was a beautiful rendition of Bacharach’s “The Look of Love.” Kenny passed away not too longer after that, and I feel lucky to have a chance to at least have a glimpse of how his art was still evolving near the end of his career.

Kenny Poole was, like Jimmy McGary, a Cincinnati jazz musician who stayed here. He recorded at different points of his career, however, and word got out. In fact, the video that I posted here has almost 90,000 hits and long string of very positive comments. Way back in the day Kenny was performing with the likes of David Matthews, James Brown, Michael Moore, Grover Mooney and Jimmy Madison. For this solo performance decades later he was playing music that’s similar to what he performed at Awakenings the last time I saw him. As with Jim Hall at Xavier, this solo guitar music is characterized by warmth, subtlety and richness. The song, by the way, is “Brazil;” if you want to hear it sung, look up Antonio Carlos Jobim’s version on youtube.