Kenny Kirkland

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Kenny Kirkland
Kenny Kirkland, 1991.
Kenny Kirkland, 1991.
Background information
Birth nameKenneth David Kirkland
Born(1955-09-28)September 28, 1955
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
DiedNovember 12, 1998(1998-11-12) (aged 43)
Queens, New York City, U.S.
GenresClassical jazz, jazz fusion, big band, neo-bop
InstrumentsPiano, keyboards
Years active1973–98
LabelsA&M Records, GRP Records

Kenneth David Kirkland (September 28, 1955 – November 12, 1998)[1] was an American pianist/keyboardist.


Early life[edit]

Born in Brooklyn, New York, United States,[1] 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.


Kirkland's first professional work came with Polish fusion violinist Michal Urbaniak, touring throughout Europe with his group in 1977.[2] Coincidentally, his next high-profile gig was with another Eastern European jazz émigré, Miroslav Vitous. Kirkland is featured on Vitous' ECM recordings First Meeting[3] and Miroslav Vitous Group.[4]

In 1980, while Kirkland was on tour in Japan with Terumasa Hino, he met Wynton Marsalis, which began his long association with both Wynton and his older brother Branford.[1] On Wynton’s self-titled debut album, Kirkland shared the piano duties with one of his musical influences, Herbie Hancock,[5] but was the sole pianist on Marsalis's subsequent releases Think of One,[6] Hot House Flowers[7] and Black Codes (From the Underground).[8] After his time in Wynton’s group, Kirkland joined Branford's quartet.[9] He is also featured on Branford’s funk band album Buckshot Lefonque.[10] 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.[11]

In 1991, he released his debut as a leader, Kenny Kirkland, on GRP Records. Thunder And Rainbows (1991, Sunnyside Records), by "Jazz from Keystone", is a trio album with Kirkland, Charles Fambrough, and Jeff "Tain" Watts.[12]

Leading up to and on June 1–3, 1998, Kirkland worked with long-time associate "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. He attributed his poor health to twenty years of touring without adequate vacations and exercise, and deemed his chances of surviving any surgery 50/50 or less. Fearful of having a cardiac procedure, Kirkland accepted his fate and was soon on the road with Branford Marsalis again. On November 7, 1998, Kirkland attended Marsalis's wedding in New Rochelle, New York. Kirkland was found dead in his Queens apartment on Friday, November 13, 1998.[13]

The official doctor's report listed his death as due to congestive heart failure.[14] He was survived by his mother, brother and two sisters.


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Chico Freeman

With Kenny Garrett

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Elvin Jones

With Rodney Jones

  • Articulation' (Timeless Muse, 1979)
  • Dreams and Stories' (Savant, 2005)

With Wynton Marsalis

With Branford Marsalis

With Sting

With Miroslav Vitous

With Jeff "Tain" Watts

  • Megawatts (Sunnyside, 1991)
  • Citizen Tain (Columbia, 1999)

With others


  1. ^ a b c "Obituary: Kenny Kirkland". The Independent. November 18, 1998. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  2. ^ "Michał Urbaniak - Urbaniak". Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  3. ^ "First Meeting - Miroslav Vitous | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  4. ^ "Miroslav Vitous Group - Miroslav Vitous Group". Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  5. ^ "Wynton Marsalis". Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  6. ^ "Think of One - Wynton Marsalis | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  7. ^ "Hot House Flowers - Wynton Marsalis | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  8. ^ "Black Codes (From the Underground) - Wynton Marsalis | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  9. ^ "Requiem for a Heavyweight: Marsalis Bids Kirkland Farewell". April 5, 1999. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  10. ^ "Buckshot LeFonque - Buckshot LeFonque | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  11. ^ Watrous, Peter (May 3, 1992). "Here's Branford". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  12. ^ "Thunder and Rainbows [Sunnyside] - Jazz from Keystone | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
  13. ^ Christian, Nichole M. (November 15, 1998). "Body of Jazz Pianist Is Found; Police Seek Cause of Death". The New York Times. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
  14. ^ "Kenny Kirkland's Unanswered Promise". Retrieved July 29, 2021.

External links[edit]