Book: Song for Someone: The Musical Life of Kenny Wheeler
Chapter: The Long Waiting: (2005-2014)
The final chapter of this book, covering the last decade of Kenny’s life, begins with his 75th birthday tour and a new suite for big band. A period of illness brought a new frailty to his playing and affected his ability to travel comfortably. A particularly difficult week at the Blue Note in New York with pianist Kenny Werner’s band saw his career as a sideman draw to a close, increasing the necessity to play only his own music. Nevertheless, and in some ways against considerable odds, this remained a hugely productive period of composing and playing for Kenny, marked by several CAM Jazz recordings with old friends (including John Taylor and Dave Holland) and new musical partners, including Chris Potter. Renewed interest in recording his large ensemble music followed his 80th birthday celebration, resulting in the release of The Long Waiting (for big band) and Mirrors (for vocal ensemble, rhythm section, and soloists). During this period, Kenny becomes, with his usual reluctance, recognised as an elder statesman of contemporary jazz, and was awarded several honours. Of most significance for him was the 2011 Festival of New Trumpet Music, designated a “Kenny Wheeler Celebration”, curated in New York by Dave Douglas. Despite his deteriorating mobility, Kenny’s big band played two more concerts together at the end of 2012 and his quintet performed up until the end of 2013 – culminating in what would be his last solo recording: a poignant reunion with ECM. Throughout 2014 Kenny’s health declined, leading to his being placed alternately in a nursing facility and hospital. Kenny Wheeler died in Whipps Cross University Hospital, on September 18, 2014.