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Jazz Philadelphia's Hometown Heroes: Spotlight on Tenor Saxophonist Larry McKenna

Melissa Gilstrap
Larry McKenna

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 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 2018 album, The More I See You.


“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's Boyer School of Music and Dance, West Chester University, Widener University, and Community College of Philadelphia.

Watch the Larry McKenna Jazz Orchestra perform "Don't Redux the Reflux" in the WRTI Performance Studio.

“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 be 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.”


Bobbi I. Booker is an award-winning Philadelphia-based, multi-media journalist and radio personality whose velvety voice has been a mainstay in the Delaware Valley for over two decades. In 1981, Bobbi launched her professional broadcast career with WRTI as a news reporter, and in 1999 was named co-host of Ovations.