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The McKinleys | Just Us

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Jazz: Chamber Jazz Easy Listening: American Popular Song Moods: Type: Acoustic
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Just Us

by The McKinleys

This unique acoustic instrumental recording of jazz classics by father and son plectrum banjo duo John and Craig McKinley from Portland, Oregon, features a tasty blend of single-string improvisation and harmonic accompaniment.
Genre: Jazz: Chamber Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. The Lady Is a Tramp
4:14 $0.99
2. A Foggy Day
4:28 $0.99
3. Just in Time
3:22 $0.99
4. I Can't Get Started
5:44 $0.99
5. Too Close for Comfort
4:45 $0.99
6. How High the Moon
4:42 $0.99
7. Sunday
4:10 $0.99
8. Limehouse Blues
4:18 $0.99
9. Satin Doll
3:56 $0.99
10. 's Wonderful
3:05 $0.99
11. Our Love Is Here to Stay
4:29 $0.99
12. What Is This Thing Called Love?
4:49 $0.99
13. Out of Nowhere
4:23 $0.99
14. I'll See You in My Dreams
5:07 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
The McKinleys: A father and son banjo duo, playing together for 50 years!

John and Craig McKinley performed extensively as the “The McKinleys” on stage shows and for private and corporate events on the West Coast during the 1970s and 1980s. They were an opening act for a number of nationally known artists, including Ginger Rogers, Sid Caesar, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Helen Reddy, Pearl Bailey, Burl Ives, and performers on the Lawrence Welk Show. They performed at some of the most iconic venues in San Francisco, Napa Valley, Palm Springs, Portland, Seattle, Sun Valley, Idaho, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When not traveling, John and Craig played local engagements and did radio and television appearances in the Portland, Oregon area. For years, John and Craig were guest-featured artists with the Norman Leyden-led Oregon Symphony Pops Series – including a tour throughout the state of Oregon during the Bicentennial – and the Seattle Symphony Pops Orchestra. During this time, John led his own bands and performed with other prominent Portland-based jazz and Dixieland bands, which Craig would join on occasion. John’s recent musical activity centers on his studio teaching, writing, and recording. Craig plays with several jazz ensembles in the Portland area and regularly has sessions with his dad to play and work on new arrangements.

“Just Us” is “The McKinleys’ ” second studio album. Their first album, “Just Banjos”, was released in 1980. The new recording is a departure from their first album that featured a mix of ragtime and single-string pieces primarily written for piano (Black and White Rag, Maple Leaf Rag, Nola), jazz standards (Summertime, Liza [All the Clouds’ll Roll Away]), and up-tempo and syncopated numbers in the style of legendary banjoists Eddie Peabody (Alabamy Bound, Caravan, My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms) and Harry Reser (Pickin’s). “Just Us” is predominately an album of jazz classics written by some of the greatest American composers of their era, including George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Edward “Duke” Ellington, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, and Johnny Green. These songs are favorites of John and Craig because of their great melodic lines and chord progressions that lend well to extemporaneous expression. Through the years, their playing style has evolved with more improvisational single-string work by John, which is not typically played on the plectrum banjo by the nature of its tuning but is more commonly heard on guitar. Craig complements John’s single-string work and elegant phrasing with sophisticated harmonic accompaniment and chordal solos, creating a truly unique sound by two banjoists. “Just Us” encapsulates the evolution of the duo’s style since their first recording and further demonstrates their musical versatility.

John’s parents wanted their son to play an American musical instrument. In 1941, at age 5, they arranged for him to study banjo with Ray Wilkinson, a former vaudeville performer and talented banjoist with George Olsen’s Orchestra in Portland, Oregon. After a few years of lessons, John won first prize at a county fair talent contest, performing Harry Reser’s banjo tour de force, “Pickin’s”. Then, in 1945, at age 9, John’s parents took him to meet and hear Eddie Peabody, the “King of the Banjo” and showman extraordinaire, who was appearing at Portland’s Clover Club. This event marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the musicians, and today John calls Peabody “a significant influence on my early style.”

As a young boy, John was busy playing banjo throughout the area. In 1949, at age 13, he was hired as a full time member in Gordon Elstoen's dance band throughout his high school years. Soon, he was called upon to join Portland’s famous Castle Jazz Band led by Monte Ballou. On Saturday nights there was a live feed to a local radio station for broadcasts throughout the city. In the early 1950’s, John was a frequent performer on live television on many local stations, as well as with their live studio bands. John was first call on banjo as a studio musician for contractors/conductors in Portland and did the orchestra pit work for shows playing Portland, including the Oregon Symphony and Portland Opera orchestras. In 1952, John passed audition and joined the 234th Army Band, where he played banjo, guitar, and tuba. This organization was the official military band of the State of Oregon. John formed his own band, John McKinley’s Gaslighters, in the early 1960s.

In 1967, John gave six-year-old Craig the option of learning to play either the piano or banjo. Naturally, Craig chose the banjo to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Coincidentally, his older sister, Cindy, began banjo lessons, as well, but went on to become an accomplished ragtime pianist. Craig’s first lesson was with renowned banjoist and family friend, Eddie Peabody. After two years of lessons from John, eight-year-old Craig played his first public performance with his dad.

John left a successful career in the river transportation industry in 1972 to pursue music full time. The move proved timely as the banjo was making a comeback due in part to the film “Deliverance” with its hit song “Dueling Banjos”. There was also renewed popularity in traditional and Dixieland jazz. In addition to leading his own band (that later became the John McKinley Jazz Band), John performed regularly with other prominent Portland based jazz and Dixieland bands, including with former Disney studio orchestra musician, Don Kinch and his Conductors Ragtime Band (that released a self-titled recording in 1975), the Jim Beatty Jazz Band, and the Johnny Reitz Orchestra.

When he was 12 years old, Craig began playing in his dad’s band and rehearsals of the Conductors Ragtime Band. John and Craig were featured as a father and son banjo duo at band performances, an act which became very popular with audiences. John booked the banjo duo at local private and public engagements that ultimately led to forming the stage show act, “The McKinleys”. Ironically, “Dueling Banjos” would become one of their most popular numbers with audiences, despite neither playing the 5-string banjo or guitar, but mimicking with 4-string plectrum banjos!

In 1976, John played the American premier of Ernst Krenek’s “The Life of Orestes” with the Portland Opera Association Orchestra under the direction of internationally acclaimed conductor, Stefan Minde, and the Stephen Foster Series with the Joffrey Ballet, handling the banjo work in the orchestra. John has recorded a number of jingles with bands for local radio and TV commercials, including former Disney composer/arranger, George Bruns. He has taught the plectrum banjo in his studio for over 50 years and has tutored his grandson, Jonathan Fessler, who represents the third generation of the McKinley family to play the banjo. Through his teaching/performing career, he has written a vast library of solos for plectrum banjo. He has been commissioned by other professional banjoists to write solos with an ad lib style. John has also collected banjos through the years and at one point had one of best collections of rare plectrum banjos in the country.

When Craig graduated from high school in 1979 at age 17, he began playing Friday and Saturday nights with the Jim Beatty Jazz Band at a popular Portland jazz club. This became his summer job for three years, while he attended college, played in his dad’s band, and performed with “The McKinleys”. Craig also played with John Bennett’s Swipesy Cakewalk Ragtime Band through the mid-1980s. Beginning in the 1990s, Craig led his own jazz quartet. He also performed with a number of other local and West Coast Dixieland and traditional jazz bands and artists, including Kit Johnson’s Black Swan Classic Jazz Band, Pat O’Neal’s Riverboat Jazz Band, Ed Zimbrick’s 10th Avenue Band, and famous classic jazz cornetist Ernie Carson.

Today, Craig continues to play with several of these bands. He has performed at a number of jazz and ragtime festivals in the Northwest and across the country, including on the historic Goldenrod Showboat at the National Ragtime Festival in St. Louis, Missouri; Vancouver Classic Jazz Band Ball in British Columbia; Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival held on the banks of the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa; and most recently at the 2015 Siletz Bay Music Festival at the Oregon Coast in an ensemble with legendary jazz artists Dick Hyman and Ken Peplowski.

When not playing banjo and spending time with family, John enjoys working in his beautiful yard (he still uses a push lawn mower!), collecting antique nautical items, boat modeling, pen and ink drawings and oil paintings of historic Columbia River tugboats, and watching Major League Baseball. In addition to enjoying time with family and friends, Craig is an avid sports fan, enjoys biking, attending classic car shows, and visiting the Hawaiian Islands.

Produced By: Mac2 Recordings
Recording: Fast Buck Studios, Portland, Oregon, February 2015 to August 2016
Recording & Mixing Engineer: Kit Johnson
Cover Design & Graphic Art: Joy Kodani
Liner Notes: Kit Johnson, John McKinley, Craig McKinley; Ann Granning Bennett, editor
Cover Photography: Cameron Huber, Yuen Lui Studios, Beaverton, Oregon



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