Local jazz guitarist is dead at 59
By Rick Bird
Post staff reporter
Kenny Poole is being remembered by friends and fellow musicians as a "guitarist's guitarist" and "a quiet genius," a nationally-known player that some called Cincinnati's "best kept jazz secret."
Poole, died Saturday at the age of 59 after a bout with cancer.
"He played like nobody else - especially the sweet yearning rhythms of the bossa nova. He was changing chords constantly, something I've never seen anybody else do," said bluegrass singer Katie
Laur, a long-time friend.
"He wasn't necessarily showy, he would rather lay in these beautiful chords than flashy single-line solos. But he was harmonically perfect," said musician Larry
Nager, a former music writer for The Post and the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"His finger style had that big full-bodied guitar sound. Always playing five- and six-note chords all the time with his big hands," said bass player Mike
Poole, who took up guitar at 14, was self-taught, heavily influenced by Chet Atkins' finger-style guitar. Like many jazz musicians Poole would do it all over his career - rock 'n' roll, R&B, session work, TV studio bands, the cocktail hour jazz gigs and the showcase jazz concerts.
There probably isn't a local jazz player that hadn't played with Poole, who some say may have been the best pure player to come out of the area in 20 years.
"He was my favorite musician in Cincinnati. He was the most sensitive of all," said Ron McCurdy, a 50-year veteran drummer on the local scene, now retired in Texas. "When the big names came here - like Herb Ellis, Joe Pass - they would all look up Kenny and sit in with him. He was the consummate guitarists' guitarist."
It wasn't until late in his career that Poole would record, thanks to Cincinnati- based J Curve Records, which released three CDs in the late '90s: "East Meets West," a duo set with Gene
Bertoncini, "Su's Four" a duo with Cal Collins, and "For George" a salute to late guitar great George Van
Eps, a friend and mentor of Poole.
The releases were well-received and helped put Poole on the national map.
"You have a well-kept secret in Cincinnati," said Ed Benson, editor of Just Jazz Guitar magazine, which put Poole on its cover in 1998. "He's very melodic He doesn't need a million notes. He's a classy player. No ego. A fabulous player."
"He had this incredible sense of swing and his timing was perfect. You could set your clock to him," said Dale
Rabiner, J Curve president.
Many thought Poole could have made a bigger national splash, but Rabiner said that kind of self-promotion was never his style.
As Poole once told an interviewer: "If you want to become a big star, you have to appeal to more people and unfortunately the musical taste of most people is not a taste that I am interested in appealing to. I realize that's a mild slap in the face to some portion of the general public, but I never worry about that."
Poole, a Cincinnati native, started out to be an accountant, but the business school he was attending was next to a Wurlitzer music store. Poole has said, "Eventually I was cutting classes spending the entire day in the music store. I started getting some jobs and that was the end of my accounting career."
One of his first big paying gigs was a member of James Brown's back-up band from 1970-74, but he soon drifted away from popular music toward jazz, saying to one interviewer, "I was more interested in musical content than impressing the girlies."
Poole would play with the jazz greats such as Pass and Ellis, Chuck Mangione, Jack
McDuff, Jerry Mulligan, Jack Wilkins and Sonny Stitt.
Over the years, Poole fell in love with Brazilian music and his melodic intricate style was perfect for the genre. Any one who heard Poole's bossa nova selections remembered being in the presence of a genius.
"He discovered the Latin things like we all did. He took to it like nobody else," said pianist Wayne Yeager, a teenage friend of Poole's since the mid '60s. "He loved the gentleness of that music, the purity of it."
"I have nothing but love for the man for his grasp of what the essence of music was about," said McCurdy. "He was not into being gaudy, being popular. He couldn't stand BS."
Kenny Poole is survived by his brother, Pete, of Cincinnati. No services are planned. Local musicians may organize a concert in his memory. Memorials may be made to Hospice of Cincinnati.
Publication date: 05-31-2006