If you were to ask the average jazz fan who the biggest names in jazz are, it is a sure bet that Kurt Rosenwinkel would be among them with 15 letters. Compare that to Sun Ra, or even Al Hirt, and you can see just how big a name that is.
Yet another in the long line of great jazz musicians from Philadelphia (#357 of 500. Collect the whole set), Rosenwinkel was born in 1970, 200 years after the Boston Massacre. In 1990, this fact would lead him to leave Boston's Berklee School of Music after only 2 years because you never know when something like that might happen again.
Kurt had the fortune of growing up in a musical home. His parents frequently played twin grand pianos like Ferrante and Teicher, both giving young Kurt a solid musical background and allowing an eager lad from the mountains of Virginia to someday realize his lifelong dream of successfully executing a rare Ferrante and Teicher gag.
Taking up the guitar as a teenager, and aspiring to more than just growing a mullet and playing "Crazy Train" until it no longer impressed vo-tech chicks, Kurt found his inroad to jazz in Philly's WRTI radio station. Soon, he and several likeminded pals were jamming regularly at the Blue Note club (not that one, the other one. No, the other one). It was this experience that would propel the burgeoning talent to Berklee, and we already know how that turned out.
Joining Gary Burton's band, and a distinguished fraternity of guitarists (Gamma Delta Chi) that includes Pat Metheny and rush chairman Larry Coryell, Kurt cut his teeth with the venerable vibraphonist (who himself had worked with virtuoso violinist Stephane Grappelli, and thus exhausted the entire V section of alliterations in the Jazz Writer's Handbook).
Moving to Brooklyn in hopes of acquiring a cool Bugs Bunny accent, Kurt continued his growth with such groups as Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band and the Joe Henderson Group. Upon reaching his current height of 6'2" (6'5" in heels), he decided it was time to strike out on his own and seek his fortunes as a leader.
Winning awards in 1995 from the National Endowment for the Arts for comportment and penmanship, Kurt recorded his first solo album entitled East Coast Love Affair, which was released on the Spanish Fresh Sound New Talent label (beware of a similarly-titled release on the spurious Spanish Fly Nude Talent Label).
Working with drummer Jorge Rossy, later of Martini and Rossy fame, Kurt began gigging heavily and honing his abilities, all the while working towards that elusive major label contract he hoped would one day net him enough to realize his dream of owning an entire hat.
That chance came when Kurt signed with the well-known Impulse! Label, fittingly, on the spur-of-the-moment. Recording an album entitled Under It All for the label, Kurt experimented with a guitar synthesizer he picked up from A Flock of Seagulls' garage sale. Unfortunately, that album has never seen the light of day as the Impulse! Label was picked up by Universal and Kurt was traded to Verve Records in return for a utility keyboardist and a saxophonist to be named later (D'Brickashaw Ferguson, 6'5" 297lbs, Virginia).
Settling in at Verve, Kurt at first had to battle the higher-ups to make his next album, 2001's The Next Step. Verve originally wanted the album to be a tribute to El Kabong entitled The Hits Just Keep Coming. Once the munchies and the inevitable cottonmouth passed, however, Verve execs came around to Kurt's vision for the album and gave him carte blanche to make the album he wanted.
2003 saw Kurt release Heartcore, an essentially self-produced recording that saw the guitarist spend thousands of hours over 2 years recording the project virtually singlehandedly. What took so long? Have you ever tried to hit "play" and "record" at the same time while holding a guitar?
I thought as much.
Since Kurt's ascendance as a solo artist, his sound has evolved into a distinct entity that is a voice unto itself in jazz. Crediting both his smooth, practiced rhythmic fluidity in combination with a flowing legato line, and his preference for Polytone amps (for a coveted Genius endorsement, send my complementary amp C/O the Provisional Geniusdome, Christiansburg, VA) and Boss EQ units (ditto), Kurt's sound has become as instantly recognizable to the jazz fan as Barry Bonds' whine is to baseball fans.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.