Hometown Hero: Larry McKenna

By Bobbi Booker | Photo by Melissa Gilstrap

Hailed as one of the world’s finest jazz saxophone players, Larry McKenna is firmly rooted in his Philadelphia birthplace where he has spent over six decades showcasing a gorgeous tenor saxophone sound.

Aside from being a frequent guest on recordings by other top jazz players, Larry has released three other records under his name to critical acclaim. His partnership with longtime friend and fellow Philly tenor player, Robert “Bootsie” Barnes, resulted in their well received CD, “The More I See You” (Cellar Live 2018).

“Bootsie has been a big influence on me and also a good friend,” recalled Larry. “He’s among many of the really great musicians that come from this town, and I saw them when I was younger. I have been here all this time and seen a lot of people pass through and a lot of them have gone on to different places—and some of them have stayed here.”

Beyond his international reputation as a masterful jazz improviser, Larry is one of the most sought-out saxophone and jazz theory teachers in the region. The instrumentalist has kept a finger on the pulse of music trends by engaging with students at the University of the Arts, Temple University School of Music, West Chester University, Widener University, and Community College of Philadelphia.

“As a jazz musician, you have to keep your ears open to what’s going on at all different times,” he explained. “So if you’re just stuck in one groove, and you say, ‘Oh, well, this is the way I play, and I’m not going to change,’ you’re doing yourself a disservice. If I play with somebody, and I hear them doing something, I let myself open to be influenced by it, because I think that brings out something in me that maybe hasn’t come out before. It’s important to listen to what’s going on around you, and feel free to let it be an influence on you.”

One Comment on “Hometown Hero: Larry McKenna

  1. Hi Larry, I appreciate your comments. I remember playing with you and realizing what a great sound you had. I have been trying to improve mine since then with some success. It’s a work in progress.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

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