Kenny Barron

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
You do have to go out there and hustle. You can't just sit by the phone; so sometimes you have to create opportunities for yourself. Going to a club that doesn't have music, for instance, and trying to start something, which has happened.
By Amanda Monaco

From his first gigs with Dizzy Gillespie to his current ensembles featuring some of today's emerging young artists, Kenny Barron is a continuously creative spirit and one of the warmest people you'll ever meet. AAJ-New York spoke with him on the occasion of his upcoming debut at Carnegie Hall's new concert space, Zankel Hall, to discuss his past, present, future and the wisdom he's picked up along the way.

All About Jazz: Let's begin by talking about your gig at Carnegie Hall, and the band you're working with?

Kenny Barron: It's a band of young people, one of which was actually my piano student who plays flute. Her name is Ann Drummond, and she just graduated from Manhattan School of Music, as a jazz piano major. She's playing flute with me. And the drummer is a young woman who also just graduated from Manhattan - fantastic - who is 22 years old also. Her name is Kim Thompson. On vibes, I'm sure you know Stefon Harris, and a bassist from Japan who's been in New York for the last 15 years, named Kiyoshi Kitagawa.

AAJ: Is Thompson and Kitagawa a new trio of yours?

KB: One of my trios; I still have the trio with Ben Riley and Ray Drummond. So basically that's the band that's going to be at Carnegie Hall. We'll be doing some original music and some standards. It's a very exciting band, a lot of energy; I'm really enjoying playing with them. The band has not been working that long; a few months ago, I received a commission to write some music for the University of Michigan, so I wrote it for that particular band. That was our first gig. We have some other things coming up, and I hope to record in October.

AAJ: When you get commissioned to write pieces, do you usually put specific ensembles together for them?

KB: Well, that was my first commission; I decided I wanted to write for a particular instrumentation, and I had particular people in mind. So hopefully there will be other commissions, which may involve larger ensembles. It is something I'd like to do more of. It's very challenging to write a certain number of minutes worth of music without it being totally improvised.

AAJ: Did you study composition formally?

KB: No, never formally, but you listen and you observe, and you learn things, and you try and apply them, utilize what you've learned into composition.

AAJ: Did you end up teaching composition at Rutgers before your tenure there was through?

KB: Yes, that was one of the last things I taught there, jazz composition and arranging, for the last four or five years I was there. It was a really interesting and nice course.

AAJ: Is that usually a class in arranging for big bands?

KB: Yes, but what I did was have the students write for the instruments that were in the class. We wrote music every week and they got a chance to hear it every week. I figured that was a better way to go, so that you could deal with the colors that were in the classroom. And they brought their instruments to class. It would have been very difficult for them to hear their music had they been writing for big band. I figured that would be a better way for them to hear what they had written.

AAJ: What was it like coming to New York in the '60s?

KB: Oh wow. That was definitely incredible coming from Philadelphia. There was a lot of music, so many clubs around in Brooklyn, in Manhattan, in the Bronx, coffee shops. My first experience—I came to visit my brother [Bill Barron], who was a saxophonist and moved here before me. And I just couldn't believe it. The first thing that got me was just that there were so many people on the street. In Philadelphia at midnight there was nobody on the streets, there's nobody out at that time. So to see all of these people on the streets—I walked up to Birdland, I can't remember who was playing, but I just remember seeing people like Kenny Dorham and Max Roach in the audience. There were all these coffee shops, some of which are still there: I first saw Cecil Taylor play at the Café Wha in 1961. I moved to the Lower East Side, to East 6th Street at that time. Of course, there were no Indian restaurants there at that time—I could walk to the Five Spot, which was on 2nd or 3rd and the Bowery. The same people owned a club called the Jazz Gallery, and I could walk to all these coffee shops, and there were some other musicians who lived down there who had lofts, it was kind of the beginning of the loft scene also. We'd have jam sessions. For me, it was a great, great experience coming to New York at that time. There was a lot more music then than there is now. There was music everywhere.

AAJ: These days, musicians go to hustle for a gig, and the club is either not interested or they already have a band. It sounds like people were a lot more open to the music back then.

KB: Yeah, they were a lot more open, and one of the things you could do at that time, people like Monk, they would work at the Five Spot for months at a time! I remember when I left Dizzy Gillespie in '66, one of the first gigs I had was working with Stanley Turrentine at Minton's, and we were there for like five weeks. You could have gigs like that back then. That doesn't happen now. Every August when I was with Dizzy, for instance - we would always do four weeks at the Village Gate. Any gig we did in New York was at least two weeks - sometimes three. We'd work at Birdland for two, three weeks. That's what gigs were back then.


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Aaron Parks: Rising To The Challenge Interview Aaron Parks: Rising To The Challenge
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: June 21, 2017
Read Generation Next: Four Voices From Seattle Interview Generation Next: Four Voices From Seattle
by Paul Rauch
Published: June 19, 2017
Read Miles Mosley Gets Down! Interview Miles Mosley Gets Down!
by Andrea Murgia
Published: June 16, 2017
Read Eri Yamamoto: The Poet’s Touch Interview Eri Yamamoto: The Poet’s Touch
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: May 20, 2017
Read "Remembering Art Farmer" Interview Remembering Art Farmer
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 19, 2017
Read "Jack Wilkins: Playing What He's Preaching" Interview Jack Wilkins: Playing What He's Preaching
by Rob Rosenblum
Published: December 29, 2016
Read "Ralph Towner: The Accidental Guitarist" Interview Ralph Towner: The Accidental Guitarist
by Mario Calvitti
Published: May 16, 2017
Read "Rudy Van Gelder" Interview Rudy Van Gelder
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: August 26, 2016
Read "Eri Yamamoto: The Poet’s Touch" Interview Eri Yamamoto: The Poet’s Touch
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: May 20, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.