McKinley Four Grooves (2012) - I07:16

McKinley Four Grooves (2012) - I. Marimba Madness


Elliott Miles McKinley is an American composer and pianist. The son of another American composer and jazz pianist, William Thomas McKinley, he was named after Elliott Carter and Miles Davis. Jazz has remained an integral part of McKinley’s life, both as a performer and composer. Much of his music is influenced by the genre. McKinley completed his composition Four Grooves: A Concerto for Percussion in 2012.  It went on to win Indiana State University’s “Music Now” competition.


The four movements of Four Grooves is as follows:

I.             Marimba Madness

II.           An African Dream

III.          Heavy Metals

IV.         A Different Drummer

It is scored for jazz saxophone quartet, two pianos, and a variety of percussion instruments including an African drum ensemble, steel pan, and vibraphone.  As a whole, the work is a fusion of jazz and modern elements. At times the pianos are both percussive and melodic. Each movement features different “characters” from the percussion family, with the saxophone quartet and pianos providing support.  The first movement features the marimba. In the second movement, west African percussion instruments are at the center of the composition. The third movement centers around the vibraphone and steel pan, hence the name “Heavy Metals”. In the last movement, the snare drum along with cowbells, woodblock and toms are featured.


I compared the compositional style of the elder McKinley with the younger McKinley by listening to Piano Concerto No. 3 by William Thomas McKinley and comparing it with Four Grooves. I can hear the jazz influences in the music of both father and son. The Piano Concerto even has some of the same percussion as Four Grooves, for example, snare drum, woodblocks, and marimba. It is safe to assume that Elliott Miles McKinley’s father has definitely had an impact on his compositional style. However, the differences are also distinct, as each has his own individual style. I found the elder McKinley’s Piano Concerto in keeping with more “traditional”  modern forms that reminded me a little bit of Gershwin, whereas the younger McKinley seems to take more of a contemporary approach.


I enjoyed getting to know the music of both Thomas and Elliott Miles McKinley. These are composers I had little prior knowledge of and I look forward to hearing more from both in the future. I enjoyed Four Grooves for the way it used such an eclectic variety of percussion instruments rarely heard in this context, especially the African Drums and the steel pans, which are some of my favorite percussion instruments. I loved the way it was combined with contemporary compositional techniques. I think it would be interesting to hear this performed live.

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