Cliff McKay

Cliff (John Clifford) McKay. Clarinetist, saxophonist, danceband leader, b Seaforth, near Stratford, Ont, 1909, d Niksic, Yugoslavia, 26 Mar 1987. His father, Archie McKay, was a noted fiddler in Guelph, Ont.

McKay, Cliff

Cliff (John Clifford) McKay. Clarinetist, saxophonist, danceband leader, b Seaforth, near Stratford, Ont, 1909, d Niksic, Yugoslavia, 26 Mar 1987. His father, Archie McKay, was a noted fiddler in Guelph, Ont. The younger McKay studied piano there at 10 and began playing saxophone at 15 before moving in 1926 to Toronto to work with Harry Rich's orchestra, the Versatile Canadians. After playing in Joe DeCourcy's dance band in Ottawa and leading his own orchestra at the Seigniory Club, Montebello, Que, and in Bermuda, he returned in 1935 to Toronto, where he worked in radio, theatre, and hotel orchestras under Percy Faith, Horace Lapp, Rex Battle, and others, and played in local jazz clubs.

A soloist 1941-52 on CBC radio's 'The Happy Gang', McKay also performed 1948-52 on 'Starlight Moods' and was music director and host musician 1952-8 for CBC TV's 'Holiday Ranch'. He was heard frequently as a soloist on 'Jazz Unlimited' and other shows and in 1958, with several Toronto jazzmen, including Hagood Hardy, made the LP The Other Side of Cliff McKay (Sparton SP-208). After returning briefly to The Happy Gang in 1959, McKay led orchestras and small groups in Toronto nightclubs and in the late 1960s played Grandpa Schnitzel on CHCH (Hamilton, Ont) TV's children's show 'Schnitzel-house'.

Like Trump Davidson, with whom he made several appearances in the early 1970s, McKay came to be recognized as a pioneering figure in jazz in Canada. Reviewing a performance at Toronto's Bourbon Street in 1973, Peter Goddard observed that McKay - whether playing clarinet or soprano - 'develops a warm, round tone which is used with little fuss and few frills. He seems to avoid complexity as much as many other players develop it' (Toronto Star, 11 Jan 1973). At the time of his death in an automobile accident McKay had taught music in Toronto separate schools for many years.


Further Reading

  • McKay, Cliff. 'I ain't no hillbilly on TV's "Holiday Ranch",' Liberty, Feb 1956

    Sangster, Dorothy. 'The most baffling show on television,' Maclean's, 9 Jun 1956

    Lancashire, David. 'Happy Cliff McKay: "Comeback? I call it a resurrection",' Toronto Globe and Mail, 11 Aug 1979