Kenneth Vincent John Wheeler, "Kenny," jazz trumpeter, flugelhorn player and composer (born 14 January 1930 in Toronto, ON; died 18 September 2014 in London, England). He began his career in St Catharines, Ont, and studied at the ROYAL CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC in Toronto before moving in 1952 to London, England. There, he worked at first in dance bands, then played from 1959 to 1965 with the popular John Dankworth Orchestra.
To this point a trumpeter of the bebop persuasion, he began working in freely improvised settings in the mid-1960s and emerged as one of the leading figures in the European avant- garde by the early 1970s - playing, for example, with the German orchestra Globe Unity. He nevertheless continued to work in more conventional, though still contemporary, contexts, including the London-based big bands of fellow expatriate Canadians John Warren and Maynard FERGUSON. He also led his own big band occasionally during this period, as heard on his first two albums, Windmill Tilter (1967) and Song for Someone (1973).
Wheeler's profile in North America was enhanced by work from 1971 to 1976 with the American saxophonist Anthony Braxton and from 1983 to 1989 with the US-based British bassist Dave Holland. Wheeler's own small-band recordings for the German ECM label were also well-received, particularly Gnu High (1975), Deer Wan (1977) and Double, Double You (1983), as was the later Angel Song (1995) and A Long Time Ago (1999).
Wheeler himself was a reluctant bandleader outside the recording studio. Although he took his big band on a 60th-birthday tour of Europe and recorded the 2-CD Music for Large and Small Ensembles (1990), he more typically worked as a featured composer and/or soloist with other orchestras, appearing on CDs in the 1990s, for example, with the Upper Austrian jazz Orchestra and 2 Italian groups, the European Music Orchestra and the Kaos Ensemble.
He renewed his connection to Canada as an instructor from 1983 to 1998 at the Banff Centre for the Arts Jazz Workshop, concurrently entering into a variety of collaborations with other Canadian musicians, including recordings for the Montréal company Justin Time with Tim BRADY (Visions, 1985), Sonny GREENWICH (Kenny Wheeler and Sonny Greenwich Live at the Montreal Bistro, 1993-97), Paul BLEY ([touché], 1996), and the Maritime Jazz Orchestra (Siren's Song, 1996). Here, no less than abroad, Wheeler was widely admired among a generation of younger jazz musicians for the warmth and distinctively quirky lyricism of both his compositions and his trumpet and flugelhorn solos.