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Updated 10:00 AM March 5, 2007




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Spotlight: Jazz musician brings tunes to hospital ward

Years before Gregory McKinney became a jazz musician and a nurse aide with the U-M Health System, he got the nickname Super G "because everything I tried I was good at it," he says. "The only thing is that I couldn't fly."
(Photo courtesy Gregory McKinney)

But even Superman—his childhood idol—would be put to the test trying to keep up with McKinney, who is also a softball umpire in summer and a basketball referee in winter.

When McKinney isn't doing sports or music, he is taking care of patients coming in and out of intensive care at U-M Hospital. He checks vitals, takes blood pressure, performs pregnancy tests, takes temperatures and shaves the areas required before surgery, then gets patients ready to go home from the recovery room.

"There's nothing really bad about the job. I wouldn't have been here for 30 years if I didn't like the job," says McKinney, who grew up in Twin Lake near Muskegon. He now lives in Ypsilanti.

When not working, McKinney maintains a love affair with music, as he performs with his own jazz trio. That love for music spills over to his work hours, as it's not unusual for McKinney to be heard humming his favorite tunes. He says patients sometimes ask if they're "getting free entertainment to go along with my surgery."

"No, the surgery is free—the entertainment is what you're paying for," McKinney responds.

He first was exposed to music at home growing up. His mother played piano and sang and his father was in a gospel group. In school, a piano-playing classmate who now works for the music department at Michigan State University taught McKinney the basics.

He also was inspired by jazz organists, including Charles Earland and Toni Monaco. McKinney says they are great musicians because of their attitudes. "I have never liked stuck-up musicians," he says.

During the Motown Era, McKinney played for a lot of what he calls "Motown wannabes. Back then everybody was trying to be the next Four Tops." McKinney says he loves Motown but enjoys playing a wide range of music, adding he is tickled when people request songs from different genres, such as country or polka. He says that one of his favorite things about music is that there are so many different styles.

McKinney says he realizes hip-hop is the music of today's youth, and adds he likes the songs "as long as they're clean." McKinney says young musicians know the business better than those who came before—evidenced by artists including Jay-Z and Puff Daddy, who own their own record companies.

His advice to hip-hop artists focused on East Coast-West Coast rivalries: "When you look up in the sky and see a billion stars you better see darkness, too." His point is that rappers need to know they aren't the only stars in the sky, and that darkness means there's plenty of room for more.

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