Blue plaque unveiled for Kenny Wheeler

The London-based trumpeter and composer, who died last year, has been commemorated with a new blue plaque at his home in Leytonstone

A blue plaque celebrating the life and music of trumpeter/composer Kenny Wheeler has been erected at his home in Leystonstone, as a joint venture between the National Jazz Archives and the London Borough of Waltham Forest.

Bearing the words “one of the most influential jazz musicians of the late 20th century”, the plaque was unveiled on 20 January, where it had been planned to appear since before Wheeler’s death aged 84 in September 2014.

Born in Canada but moving to the UK in 1952, Kenny Wheeler lived for over 60 years in Leytonstone, east London and was a prominent figure in the UK jazz scene from the 1960s onwards.

Wheeler was a regular player with the likes of Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth and Tubby Hayes and was instrumental in the pioneering free improvisation movement. His recordings for small ensembles in the 1970s such as Gnu High and Deer Wan gained him critical attention, as well as his albums in the 1990s including Music For Large And Small Ensembles, Kayak and Angel Song. Wheeler was also the founding patron of the Junior Jazz programme at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

The plaque is part of the Blue Plaque scheme run by the National Jazz Archive in conjunction with the London Borough of Waltham Forest, with other plaques already on display in the borough in commemoration of John Dankworth, Dave Shepherd and Jackie Free.

Nick Smart, Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music and a colleague of Wheeler’s, said of the late trumpeter: “It is hard to express just how large a contribution he made to the music in this country and around the world, and how deeply he touched the musicians that had the honour of working alongside him.

“Famously self-deprecating, Kenny was always modest and humble about his own musical achievements. But the truth is, he was a genius walking amongst us, and it was the most tremendous privilege to have been able to consider him a dear colleague and friend.”

Sally Evans-Darby

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