Kenny Kirkland, 1991.
|Birth name||Kenneth David Kirkland|
|Born||September 28, 1955|
|Origin||Brooklyn, New York|
|Died||November 12, 1998(aged 43)|
|Genres||Classical jazz, jazz fusion, big band, neo-bop|
Kenneth David "Kenny" Kirkland (September 28, 1955 – November 12, 1998) was an American pianist/keyboardist. He is most often associated with Sting, Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, and Kenny Garrett.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1955, Kirkland was six when he first sat down at a piano keyboard. After years of Catholic schooling, Kirkland enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied classical piano performance, classical theory and composition. His first professional work came with Polish fusion violinist Michal Urbaniak, touring throughout Europe with his group in 1977 and recording the albums Urbaniak and Daybreak. Coincidentally, Kirkland's next high-profile gig was with another Eastern European jazz émigré, Miroslav Vitous. Kirkland is featured on Vitous' ECM recordings First Meeting and Miroslav Vitous Group.
In his more than twenty-year career, Kirkland worked, performed or recorded with such artists as Don Alias, Bob Berg, Art Blakey, Carla Bley, Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell, Terence Blanchard, Michael Brecker, Tony Bunn, Gary Burton, Ron Carter, Lonnie Cavers, Stanley Clarke, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Urszula Dudziak, George Duke, Cornell Dupree, Kevin Eubanks, Gil Evans, Charles Fambrough, Sonny Fortune, Frank Foster and the Loud Minority, Chico Freeman, Steve Gadd, Kenny Garrett, Dizzy Gillespie, Mark Gray[disambiguation needed], Abdullah Ibrahim, Elvin Jones, Stanley Jordan, Rodney Jones, Pat LaBarbera, Hubert Laws, Mike Mainieri, Cecil McBee, Marcus Miller, Bob Mintzer, T. S. Monk, Airto Moreira, Teruo Nakamura, Jaco Pastorius, Tito Puente, Arturo Sandoval, Pharoah Sanders, John Scofield, Tom Scott, Sting, John Stubblefield, Lew Tabakin, Ernie Watts, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Mark Whitfield, and Reggie Workman. Throughout his career, Kirkland also played with a variety of non-jazz artists, from soul singers Ben E. King and Angela Bofill, to Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour and Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo, to classic-rockers Stephen Stills and David Crosby, to folk singer Joni Mitchell.
One of Kirkland's closest friends on the New York jazz scene was Chinese-Jamaican documentary filmmaker Lee Lew-Lee (now a tech industry CEO). Between 1973 and 1980, Lew-Lee, then a music industry manager/documentary photographer, introduced Kirkland to several musicians whom he ended up befriending personally or professionally. These included: Al Anderson (Bob Marley & The Wailers), Bob Berg, South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, Ron Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Mark Gray, Art Gore, Herbie Hancock, Carter Jefferson, Kraig Kilby (The Whispers, Etta James), Geoff Lee, Raphe Malik, Rene McLean, Bob Mintzer, Nobuku Miyamoto, Jaco Pastorius, Sun Ra, Dewey Redman, Sam Rivers, Lady Jane Robertson, Glenn Spearman, Cecil Taylor, Harry Whitaker, Benny Yee; as well as New York-based Japanese expatriates, acoustic double bassist and Rising Sun group leader Teruo Nakamura, pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, drummer Keiji Kishida, electric jazz guitarist Shiro Mori, trumpeter Shunzo Ono, percussionist Nobu Urushiyama, electric guitarist Masuo Yoshiyaki, and trumpeter Terumasa Hino.
In 1980, while Kirkland was on tour in Japan with Hino, he met Wynton Marsalis, which began their long association. On Marsalis's self-titled debut album, Kirkland shared the piano duties with one of his musical influences, Hancock, but was the sole pianist on Marsalis's subsequent releases Think Of One, Hothouse Flowers and Black Codes (From the Underground). After his association with Wynton Marsalis, Kirkland joined Branford Marsalis's band. He is featured on the albums Royal Garden Blues, Renaissance, Random Abstract, Crazy People Music, I Heard You Twice the First Time and the eponymously titled album from Marsalis's funk band Buckshot Lefonque. When Branford Marsalis assumed the high-visibility role of bandleader for NBC TV's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Kirkland became the band's pianist. But his time on the Los Angeles-based The Tonight Show was short-lived, for while he finally received well desereved fame and publicity, he felt he was not making "real music", and thus returned to the East Coast and more creative work after two years as The Tonight Show's pianist.
As opposed to many piano "purists", Kirkland was never shy of electric keyboards and synthesizers, although he is considered one of the finest, classically trained, jazz pianists of his era.
He also ran contrary to jazz orthodoxy when he left Wynton Marsalis's acoustic traditional jazz combo to join Branford Marsalis, accompanying ex-Police pop star Sting. Kirkland appears on Sting albums The Dream of the Blue Turtles, Bring On the Night (and in Michael Apted's 1985 documentary film by the same name), ...Nothing Like the Sun, The Soul Cages and Mercury Falling.
In 1991, he released his debut as a leader, Kenny Kirkland, on GRP Records. An album on Sunnyside Records, Thunder And Rainbows/J.F.K., is also credited to him.
Leading up to and on June 1–3, 1998, Kirkland worked with long-time associate Jeff "Tain" Watts on the drummer's debut recording Citizen Tain. According to producer Delfeayo Marsalis, "He was clearly not in good shape." When asked about going to the doctor, Kirkland responded, "After the session. If I go now, they'll make me check into a hospital." On June 4, doctors told Kirkland he had a congestive heart condition that required an operation. However, due to 20 years of road work without adequate vacations and a lack of physical exercise for many years, his chances of surviving any surgery were deemed 50/50 or less. Fearful of going under the blade, Kirkland accepted his fate and was soon on the road with Branford Marsalis again. On November 7, 1998, Kirkland attended Marsalis's wedding in his home town of New Rochelle, New York. Though Kirkland appeared in good spirits (or perhaps resolute), he was found deceased in his Queens apartment on Friday, November 13, 1998.
The official doctor's report listed his death as due to congestive heart failure. He was survived by his mother, a brother and two sisters.
- 1991 Kenny Kirkland
With Carla Bley
- 1984 Heavy Heart (Watt, 1984)
With Michael Brecker
- 1987 Michael Brecker
With Chico Freeman
- Peaceful Heart, Gentle Spirit (Contemporary, 1980)
With Kenny Garrett
- 1997 Songbook
- 1992 Black Hope
With Dizzy Gillespie
With Robert Hurst
- 1994 "One for Namesake"
With Elvin Jones
- Earth Jones (Palo Alto, 1982)
- Brother John (1982) with Reggie Workman, Pat LaBarbera (Palo Alto Records)
With Wynton Marsalis
- 1981 Wynton Marsalis
- 1983 Think of One
- 1984 Hot House Flowers
- 1985 Black Codes (From the Underground)
With Branford Marsalis
- 1983 Scenes in the City
- 1985 Royal Garden Blues
- 1986 Renaissance
- 1987 Random Abstract
- 1990 Crazy People Music
- 1992 I Heard You Twice the First Time
- 1999 Requiem
With Delfeayo Marsalis
- 1992 Pontius Pilate's Decision
With Lew Soloff
- 1987 But Beautiful
- 1985 The Dream of the Blue Turtles
- 1986 Bring on the Night
- 1987 ...Nothing Like the Sun
- 1990 Englishman in New York
- 1991 The Soul Cages
- 1996 Mercury Falling
With Miroslav Vitous
With Jeff “Tain” Watts
- 1991 Megawatts
- 1999 Citizen Tain