Dorham, McKinley Howard [Kenny] (1924–1972)

By: Bradley Shreve

Type: Biography

Published: November 21, 2006

Updated: July 31, 2020

Trumpet player McKinley Howard (Kenny) Dorham was born in Fairfield, Texas, on August 30, 1924. Dorham, considered one of the finest trumpet players of his era, played with numerous East Coast jazz giants, including Charlie "Bird" Parker. He grew up in a musically inclined family and learned the piano at a young age. He attended high school in Austin, where he learned the saxophone and later the trumpet. At Wiley College he studied chemistry and physics before joining the United States Army.

After his discharge in 1942 Dorham pursued a career in music that led him to Los Angeles, where he played in a band led by Russell Jacquet, and then to New York City. Upon his arrival in New York he began playing with the big bands of Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton. In 1948 he replaced Miles Davis in the Charlie Parker Quintet and helped define the emerging bebop or bop jazz style. Characterized by fast tempos, complex arrangements, driving rhythms, and experimental solos, bebop took New York by storm in the early 1950s.

Dorham was not one to stick with a single band. Through the 1950s he floated about the New York bop scene and played with Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Art Blakey. In 1954 Dorham, Blakey, and Horace Silver formed the Jazz Messengers, from which emerged Dorham's side project, the Jazz Prophets. Dorham also played with the Max Roach quintet before forming his own combos in the late 1950s and 1960s. Featuring, at one time or another, the great Cannonball Adderley and Joe Henderson, Dorham's various combos recorded several albums, including Whistle Stop (1961), considered by many to be his finest work. Through the 1960s he split his time between playing and attending graduate classes in music at New York University. He also traveled extensively in Europe, taught part-time, and worked as a journalist for Down Beat magazine. Though lauded by his musical contemporaries and critics, his popularity was overshadowed by such players as Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. In 1966 Dorham was honored at the Longhorn Jazz Festival in Austin. His last few years were spent in relative seclusion because of declining health. He died on December 5, 1972. In 2008 the City of Austin honored Dorham as one of the inaugural inductees of the Austin Music Memorial.

“Austin Music Memorial,” Texas Music Office (, accessed November 1, 2015. Down Beat, February 1, 1973. Len Lyons and Don Perlo, Jazz Portraits: The Lives and Music of the Jazz Masters (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1989). Kenny Dorham (, accessed February 20, 2008. Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996). Dave Oliphant, "Texas Bebop Messengers to the World: Kenny Dorham and Leo Wright," Journal of Texas Music History 1 (Spring 2001). David H. Rosenthal, Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955–1965 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).


  • Music
  • Genres (Jazz)
  • Peoples
  • African Americans

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Bradley Shreve, “Dorham, McKinley Howard [Kenny],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 27, 2021,

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November 21, 2006
July 31, 2020

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