Kenny Kirkland

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Kenny Kirkland
Kenny Kirkland.jpg
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 "Kenny" Kirkland (September 28, 1955 – November 12, 1998) was an American pianist/keyboardist.


Early life[edit]

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.


Kirkland's first professional work came with Polish fusion violinist Michal Urbaniak, touring throughout Europe with his group in 1977.[1] Coincidentally, his next high-profile gig was with another Eastern European jazz émigré, Miroslav Vitous. Kirkland is featured on Vitous' ECM recordings First Meeting[2] and Miroslav Vitous Group.[3]

In 1980, while Kirkland was on tour in Japan with Hino, he met Wynton Marsalis, which began their long association.[4] On Marsalis'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] Hothouse Flowers[7] and Black Codes.[8] After his association with Wynton Marsalis, Kirkland joined Branford Marsalis's band.[9] He is also on Marsalis'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 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, 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. 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. He was survived by his mother, a brother and two sisters.


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Franco Ambrosetti

With Carla Bley

With Michael Brecker

With Chico Freeman

With Kenny Garrett

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Billy Hart

  • Rah (Gramavision, 1988)

With Jay Hoggard

With Robert Hurst

  • One for Namesake (1994)

With Elvin Jones

With David Liebman

  • What It Is (CBS/Sony Inc 1980)

With Wynton Marsalis

With Branford Marsalis

With Delfeayo Marsalis

  • Pontius Pilate's Decision (1992)

With Lew Soloff

  • But Beautiful (1987)

With Sting

With Miroslav Vitous

With Jeff "Tain" Watts

  • Megawatts (1991)
  • Citizen Tain (1999)

With John Scofield

With Arturo Sandoval

With Terence Blanchard

  • Jazz in Film (1999)

With Hiram Bullock

  • From All Sides (1986)


  1. ^ "Michał Urbaniak - Urbaniak". Discogs. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  2. ^ "First Meeting - Miroslav Vitous | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  3. ^ "Miroslav Vitous Group - Miroslav Vitous Group". Discogs. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  4. ^ "Obituary: Kenny Kirkland". The Independent. November 18, 1998. 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". Observer. 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.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  12. ^ Allmusic
  13. ^ NYtimes obituary

External links[edit]