A Jazz Original

Hailed as one of the top jazz pianists in the world, Kenny Barron brings trio to Stockton PAC Monday

By Jeff Schwachter
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 22, 2009

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Kenny Barron

Despite the fact that the Los Angeles Times named him “one of the top jazz pianists in the world” and Jazz Weekly hailed him as “the most lyrical piano player of our time,” outside of mainly jazz-music circles, Kenny Barron is not a household name.

He has, however, been nominated for a Grammy nine times, earned numerous reader’s choice and jazz writers’ awards and was inducted into the American Jazz Hall of Fame in 2005. Along with all of this, the Jazz Journalists Association has named him Best Pianist six times.

He was born in Philadelphia. At the age of 18, in 1961, he joined jazz great Yusef Lateef’s band and then did a stint for nearly half a decade (1962-‘66) with famed trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s band, worked with Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Henderson and the list of fellow esteemed musicians goes on and on.

Today, Kenny Barron is not only considered by many to be the finest pianist in jazz, the Brooklyn, N.Y., resident — he left Philly for New York when he was 19 — is, as Philadelphia musician and educator Daniel Peterson refers to him, a leader and not a follower.

“In comparison to most of his contemporaries — Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Cecil Taylor — Barron has had a style that features elegance and an egoless professionalism, which has led to historic recordings and performances as a sideman, collaborator and leader,” says Peterson. “And he’s done so without adhering to popular styles of the time like many of his contemporaries did. This may be why he’s less popular.”

Although his name may not be as well recognized as Jarrett’s or Corea’s, Barron’s entire adult life has been devoted to jazz.

The 66-year-old Barron tells Atlantic City Weekly he knew, even at 18, that he wanted to dedicate his life to music. “For me it was sort of a forgone conclusion,” he says. “I wasn’t going to do anything else.”

Barron says he was immersed in classic jazz music while growing up in North Philadelphia and his older brother, the late tenor saxophonist Bill Barron, influenced his path as well. “[Music] was always around. [Bill] had a great record collection,” says Barron, “Old 78s of Bird and Diz, Fats Navarro and people like that. So, I got to hear the music a lot. And then Philly, at the time, had a really great jazz radio station and I listened to it faithfully every day.”

Barron says it was big thrill as a young musician to be working with such tremendously talented artists as Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and Lateef when he was just a young player starting out.

“That was a great school,” he says.

Another influence was the late Oscar Peterson. In a few months (Dec. 3) Barron will be one of three pianists doing a solo set at Carnegie Hall in tribute to Peterson. The concert, according to Barron, is a “remembrance” of the jazz icon who passed away two Decembers ago.

When it comes to thinking about which jazz icon left the biggest mark on him, Barron offers, “Certainly Dizzy and Yusef Lateef. Those are the two who I worked with when I was very young. James Moody was another one.

“And even though I was a little bit older at the time, Stan Getz was one of those people who had a big influence on me.”

Barron toured and recorded with the late tenor giant during the 1980s. “He was a very, very beautiful guy,” says Barron.

While there are many recording dates over the decades that stand out in Barron’s mind as being some of his favorites, if he had to pick one off the top of his head it would be one of his own.

“One of the sessions that I had a lot of fun on was actually one of mine,” says Barron. “It was with [bassist] Charlie Haden and [drummer] Roy Haynes for a CD called Wanton Spirit. It was really a great experience and they actually made me play a different way just by their presence.”

Barron recalls fondly some unforgettable gigs in A.C. “I worked there with Dizzy at a place called the Wonder Garden during the early ’60s,” recalls Barron. “And I remember we started playing at midnight and played till about four. I think we did maybe two or three sets.”

After the show, Barron says, the band headed over to the Club Harlem to check out the revue show there.

“There was a lot of music going on in Atlantic City [at that time],” says Barron.

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