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A Fireside Chat with Kenny Barron

By Published: November 14, 2003

KB: No, I don't think we have lost sight of it, not at all. The music still is important. In some senses, it has gained even more prestige from some of the things, even though I don't agree with everything he does, some of the things that Wynton Marsalis is doing. He's brought a certain amount of prestige and other groups as well, for instance, the Modern Jazz Quartet. I think the music is safe and the music is in good hands. I feel very good about where the music is. My only complaint again, Fred, which we have talked about is what some people call jazz. I am concerned about that.

FJ: What is jazz to Kenny Barron?

KB: Well, it is certainly music that's challenging. It is music that deals with improvisation, challenging improvisation. Some of the other stuff, for me, it's like bubble gum music. It's children's music. That's a personal opinion.

FJ: Let's touch on your last album for Verve, Things Unseen.

KB: Well, it's basically what was my working quintet at the time. My working quintet was Eddie Henderson on trumpet, John Stubblefield on tenor saxophone, Victor Lewis on drums, and David Williams on bass. Again, it is not a concept record. I don't like that. I just wanted to write some nice music. Most of my albums are kind of, what's the word, eclectic. They have a variety of things. One of the things, there is a violinist on there who I actually heard in Japan, hanging out on night. I went to this little, small club and heard this young lady, Naoko Terai. I was so taken with her playing that I mentioned to her that if the situation should ever come up, I would like to use her on something. Well, the situation came up. I had the record company call her in Japan and she came over. She had never been to New York before. She had never been in a recording studio before. She did very well. Now, she is a star in Japan.

FJ: And your latest, Spirit Song ?

KB: Right, Spirit Song. Well, it is kind of the same thing. It is a very eclectic record. I think each tune kind of stands by itself, tells a story by itself, which is kind of what I like. Each tune is a story in it of itself. But it is another quintet, not necessarily a working quintet, but we will be touring with that band next month.

FJ: Isn't that the heart of this music, telling a story?

KB: Yeah, yeah, I agree, very much so. And I have some great young players to help me tell a story, well, Eddie, Eddie Henderson, Rufus Reid on bass, and Billy Hart, who is certainly one of my favorites, on drums, and David Sanchez, who is a former student of mine, on tenor saxophone, and on a couple of tracks, Regina Carter, and an incredible guitarist, Russell Malone. He knocked me out. So it was a fun record to do and I think it goes a lot of different places.

FJ: Where are you kicking off the tour?

KB: We start at the end of February at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles.

FJ: What are the dates for the Bakery?

KB: OK, the dates are February 29-March 5. It is basically the same band. It is the quintet, so it will be Billy Hart, drums, Rufus Reid, David Sanchez, and myself. Eddie is unavailable, so it will be another young trumpet player named Terrell Stafford. So we will be starting there. We will do there for a week and Yoshi's in Oakland for a week and Jazz Alley in Seattle. We start March 28 at Sweet Basil.

FJ: Sonny Rollins told me that you are one of the players he would like to get an opportunity to play with and a host of other musicians site you as the finest pianist on the scene, you and Tommy Flanagan.

KB: Tommy is certainly one of my heroes.

FJ: Are there any musicians you would like to work with?

KB: Yeah, you mentioned Sonny Rollins. I have never had a chance to work with Sonny Rollins. Hopefully, it will happen. He did call me, I remember, during the '70s. He did call me a couple of times, but I was working. I was working already. I was working with Freddie Hubbard at the time. So I wasn't able to do it. Maybe it will happen eventually.

FJ: What records do you feel are essential to your collection?

KB: There are so many records that have had an impact. One of the records, for instance, is Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic), that particular record. When that record came out, it had a big impact.

FJ: Why did the record make such an impression on you?

KB: I don't know, Fred. It was so different. I actually went out and bought, because it came out on CD, I went and bought the CD last year. One of the things I remember is how melodic it was. I can still hum Ornette's solos, like "Lonely Woman" and some of those tunes. Don Cherry's solos, I can hum those. At the time, people thought this music was so out, but it was so melodic. And then a lot of the things that Miles did, like when he came out with Kind of Blue (Columbia). That was surely a groundbreaking record. The record that Miles did called Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia), that's one of my favorites, Shirley Horn, Here's to Life (Verve).

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