Jack Arthur McCray, an iconic figure in Charleston and jazz impresario who did more than anyone to assert the cultural significance of the music he loved, was found dead Wednesday evening in his Coming Street apartment. He was 64.
He died of natural causes, probably Monday night, according to the Charleston County Coroner’s office.
He had been coping with some health problems in recent months, friends and colleagues said, and complained recently of a cough and some numbness in a leg. On Oct. 30, his birthday, he was forced to cancel a family gathering because of sudden back pain.
“We tried to get him to see a doctor, but he wouldn’t go,” said Leah Suarez, executive director of Jazz Artists of Charleston, a presenting organization McCray helped found in 2008.
With a tendency toward self-effacement, McCray was an untiring advocate of jazz and helped create a “scene” in which local musicians could thrive. In recent years, he played a key role in establishing the Charleston Jazz Initiative, in partnership with College of Charleston arts management professor Karen Chandler.
The program, started in 2003, is just one method of institutionalizing and legitimizing a dynamic music history unique to South Carolina. The initiative has succeeded in archiving thousands of images, documents and recordings that, together, reveal the rich and important legacy of the area.
Jazz Artists of Charleston was formed by Suarez and other local musicians, with McCray serving as a rallying point. In late 2007, after years of promoting the growth of live performance in the area, McCray thought that the time was ripe for an institution that could formalize the presentation of jazz and capitalize on the jazz culture he had celebrated for so long, Suarez said.
A long-time writer at The Post and Courier, McCray began his journalism career in 1985 as a copy editor and writer on the sports desk, became an editor of the neighborhood editions, then turned his attention to arts and culture. He retired from the newspaper in 2008, accepting a buy-out, then went on to become a freelance jazz columnist for the newspaper’s weekly entertainment magazine, Charleston Scene.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Harleston-Boags Funeral Home.
Read more in Friday's editions of The Post and Courier