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.
First time I met Lee Konitz, my mentor who completely changed my life, in 1992. He was giving a masterclass at the Cologne Conservatory (Germany) where I was a freshmen (with playing experience around three years total)
First time I met Lee Konitz, my mentor who completely changed my life, in 1992. He was giving a masterclass at the Cologne Conservatory (Germany) where I was a freshmen (with playing experience around three years total). He saw an alto sax on my neck and said: Hey, how about you there, would you like to play something for us? I played a piece with the piano. OK, said Lee, how about you play something unaccompanied? Oh yeah! I was deep into transcribing Sonny Stitt and pretty much into playing as fast as possible as many right notes as possible. So I played Oleo in about 300 beats per minute and was very proud of myself. Lee was tapping his foot all the way through. Hmm, he said, that was in time and all that... (I thought - yeah, of course, haha!) and then he said, You've got a lot of quantity, how about quality? It took me 15 years to realize what he meant.