Jack McVea, a tenor saxophonist and bandleader who was a writer of the
1947 novelty hit "Open the Door, Richard," died on Dec. 27 in Los Angeles. He
Mr. McVea started out playing ukulele in a band led by his father, the
banjoist Isaac (Satchel) McVea, who was the first black radio host in Los Angeles, with an
early-1920's show on KNX called "The Optimistic Doughnut."
Jack McVea graduated from Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, which at
the time was producing a number of important jazz musicians, including Dexter Gordon,
Melba Liston and Ernie Royal.
He worked in the house band at the Club Alabam on Central Avenue in Los
Angeles, where jazz sizzled in the 1940's, played with Eddie Barefield's big band, and by
1940 had begun a three-year stint with Lionel Hampton as a baritone saxophonist. In 1944
he took part in the first presentation of Jazz at the Philharmonic, the popular touring
revue produced by the impresario Norman Granz.
Mr. McVea's place in the history of American music was determined largely
by two events, one popular and one obscure. One was his role in creating "Open the
Door, Richard," a song based on a comedy routine by the entertainers Dusty Fletcher
and John Mason, who performed it in black theaters in the 1930's. Mr. McVea, along with
Fletcher, Mason and Dan Howell, changed the words of the routine to eliminate racial
stereotyping and set them to a rhythm-and-blues melody.
Mr. McVea had the first hit version of the song in 1947. Other recordings
followed almost immediately: by Fletcher, by Count Basie and finally by Louis Jordan and
his Tympany Five.
The success of the song ensured Mr. McVea work with his band around the
country for the next several years, after which he became a sideman for hire, working
briefly for MGM and leading a band in Las Vegas.
The other milestone in his career was his participation in a slight but
memorable studio jam-session track, "Slim's Jam," recorded with Slim Gaillard
and Charlie Parker, when Parker was playing on the West Coast in 1945.
In the record's jokey routine released under Gaillard's name on the
small Bel-Tone label but reissued regularly since because of the evergreen interest in
Parker Gaillard, with his loopy sense of humor, introduced Mr. McVea as "Jack
MacVouty," and Mr. McVea proceeded to play a sweet, economical and archetypal
In 1966 he started working at Disneyland, hired by Walt Disney himself,
playing clarinet with the Royal Street Bachelors band in the theme park's New Orleans
Square. He kept the job for 27 years, retiring in 1992.
Mr. McVea is survived by two daughters, Lyta McVea-Abdullah of Los Angeles
and Jacqueline Grant of Rolling Hills, Calif.; a son, Robert L. McVea of Hawthorne,
Calif.; 10 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.