John McKellen, MCA Music Exec and Jazz Expert, Dies at 85

Veteran music executive John McKellen died March 15 after a short illness in New York City. He was 85.

A jazz aficionado, McKellen was particularly inclined toward bebop, and he became an authority on the works of Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. McKellen took an administrative position with Leeds Music in 1958, and stayed on with MCA after the company acquired Leeds Music in the early 1960s. He was appointed vice president of MCA Music Publishing in 1973, senior VP in 1982 and global president in 1992. He retired at the age of 65 in 1995.

McKellen also served on the boards of ASCAP and the National Music Publishers Association.

Born in London, he was evacuated to the country during World War II, along with many other young children at that time. Considered a member of the “lower classes,” he was sent to trade school rather than an academic high school, and became a bricklayer and plasterer. However, a lifelong love of music led to his emigration to the U.S. in 1952 to study the tenor saxophone with Lennie Tristano and eventually to his career as an executive in the music business.

He is survived by his wife, Tess McKellen; his daughter, Matilda; a grandson; and many nieces and nephews.

Donations may be sent to either the National Jazz Museum in Harlem or the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.

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