Elizabeth Bloom
February 12, 2015

The composer and New Kensington native William Thomas ("Tom") McKinley died on Feb. 3 at the age of 76. Born on Dec. 9, 1938, Mr. McKinley is best known for concert music composed in the jazz idiom but had forays into neo-classicism, atonality and electronic music. He attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) in 1956, where he met his longtime friend and colleague David Stock, a local composer and the founder of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, who describes him as "one of our most important Pittsburgh artists of any kind."

His other collaborators included clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, conductor Gerard Schwartz, composer Gunther Schuller, vibraphonist Gary Burton, drummer Roy Haynes and many others. Check out this YouTube playlist of just a handful of his hundreds of works.

Mr. McKinley started to play piano in local clubs when he was 11, said his son, Elliott Miles McKinley. "During his audition [for Carnegie Tech, he] wowed the faculty with his ability to improvise in about any style and was then pulled into composition by then-faculty member, composer Nikolai Lopatnikoff," he said.

"Tom had been a jazz piano prodigy, the youngest member of our musicians union," Mr. Stock wrote.

"Very few composers have been so completely versed in jazz and concert music, completely bi-cultural."

Mr. McKinley's works were commissioned locally by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and PNME, with which Mr. Stock conducted several McKinley premieres. In one biography, he was quoted as saying that he composed from about 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. "Holidays? My life is a holiday! Composing is being alive," he said.

"He will be sorely missed by all of us who knew him, but his enormous catalogue of music will be part of his legacy," Mr. Stock said.

He was living in Reading, Mass., at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife, Marlene Marie McKinley, five sons (Joseph Thomas McKinley, Derrick Scott McKinley, Jory Damon McKinley, Gregory Sean McKinley and Elliott), his sister Karen Lee Ranson of New Kensington and 12 grandchildren.

Source: Measured Words