Jimmy Knepper, jazz trombonist best known for his volatile relationship with composer Charles Mingus, died Saturday June 14 from complications of Parkinson’s disease in Triadelphia, W.Va. He was 75.
L.A. native learned trombone as a child and went on to play with big bands in the 1940s led by Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet, Woody Herman and Claude Thornhill. In the 1950s, he teamed with Mingus, his versatile sound considered an important part of Mingus’ most popular albums, including “The Clown” and “Tijuana Moods.”
Knepper stayed with Mingus’ band for five years but also occasionally worked with Stan Kenton, Herbie Mann, and others; he toured Russia with Goodman.
While preparing for a 1962 performance, Mingus struck Knepper in the mouth as the two argued. The blow affected Knepper’s range on the trombone, and Mingus was convicted of assault. His relationship with Knepper was severed for several years until the two worked together again on four albums through the 1970s and at Mingus’ Carnegie Hall concert in 1976. Mingus died in 1979.
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Knepper started a long musical relationship with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra in the ’70s, and he was a member of the Lee Konitz nine-piece orchestra. He made several records under his own name, including “Cunningbird,” which featured jazz musicians Al Cohn, Roland Hanna, and Richard Davis.
He spent much of the 1980s with the Mingus Dynasty, a band made up largely of former Mingus sidemen. Through the 1990s, he toured Europe as a freelance soloist.
He is survived by wife Maxine, a daughter and four grandchildren. A son died in 1991.