Kenny Barron: Piano Legend

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A resounding roll of thunder clashed like cymbals against the dark gray sky as I spoke with pianist, Kenny Barron, about his upcoming Piano Masters Salute to Piano Legends, sponsored by the JVC Jazz Festival and Jazz Forum Arts.  The Salute is to be held at the Rose Theater within Frederick P. Rose Hall, housed within Jazz at Lincoln Center, located at 60th Street and Broadway.  The event is a tribute to the music of Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk. “This will be my first time playing at the Rose Theater, although, I have played at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola,â€? stated Kenny.  “However, for the Piano Masters Salute, I will be performing with pianists Geri Allen, Uri Caine and Randy Weston on Wednesday, June 15th.  The concert starts at 8:00 p.m. We will be performing and celebrating the music of Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk. Some of the music will be solo, some duet and some with a rhythm section,â€? declared the world-renowned musician and composer.

Born in Philadelphia, Kenny Barron, who is recognized as one of the giants of modern mainstream piano, is the younger brother of the late saxophonist Bill Barron.  “I listened to a lot of jazz in my youth and had my first gig when I was 14.  I continued playing throughout high school and when I graduated, I moved to New York.  That was in 1961.  I started working with James Moody and then I worked with Roy Haynes.  I also worked with Lee Morgan and Lou Donaldson. My older brother, Bill, who has now passed, played sax.  He already knew these musicians and introduced me to many of them,â€? stated Barron. “However, it was it was James Moody who introduced me to Dizzy Gillespie.  It was a fantastic experience working with Gillespie who was a very generous man. 

Working with Dizzy was like going to school.  He knew a lot and was very generous with his knowledge. I learned a lot from him,â€? claimed the seven-time Grammy nominee.  Barron spent four years (1962-1966) playing and recording with Gillespie. “I started working with Freddie Hubbard after Dizzy.  I worked with Freddie on and off for about 3 years.  I worked with quite a few people, among them Stanley Turrentine and Yusef Lateef,â€? reminisced the talented pianist. Barron also formed a relationship with Ron Carter's two-bass quartet.  He performed with them from 1976-1980. Barron was a co-leader of the group Sphere in the 1980s, and went on to lead his own trios.  Barron also worked with Stan Getz. “I worked with Stan Getz toward the end of his life, the last 4 or 5 years of his life in fact. Getz was a very lyrical player.  We had that in common. 

I am lyrical myself so it was a big thrill for me to play with him.  The very last time we played together we did a live duet performance in Copenhagen.  The recording is called “People Time.â€? This was Stan Getz’s last recording before his death.  Married and the father of 2, Kenny likes to cook and read.  He also teaches at Juilliard.  Mr. Barron’s latest recording is entitled: “Imagesâ€? which he recorded on Sunnyside and released in 2004.  Barron recently returned from a tour in Japan.  “The Japanese are a great audience.  Everything is usually first class with them and they are well versed in jazz.  I always enjoy playing before the Japanese audience. I am in Europe a lot, too.  I have been in Germany, Italy, and Spain and plan to go back to Rome in another two weeks.  I have even been to Africa.  That was great, too.  The Africans love jazz and even recognize that it developed from their [continent].  When I decided to visit Africa, I was playing a gig in Rome with Yusef Lateef at the time.

We had a few days off so we decided to visit Tunis, Tunisia, in North Africa.  It turned out we experienced a surprise while there.  While walking down the street in Tunis, I heard someone call my name and when I turned around, I saw it was Percy Heath. Percy recently passed. But at that time, it turned out, there was a big jazz festival going on there in the ruins of Carthage. The Mighty Jazz Quartet was there, trumpeter Roy Eldridge was there and Dizzy Gillespie was there.  So, I ended up attending the jazz festival. That was a wonderful experience and I had a great timeâ€? reflected Barron. “In terms of my craft, I try to be better today than I was yesterday.  So, I hope people will turn out to see me at the Rose Theatre for the Piano Masters Salute to Piano Legends on Wednesday, June 15th.  It’s sure to be a great show.â€?

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