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Kurt Rosenwinkel: Latitude

John Kelman By

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For me what [music] is all about is containing some kind of fascination, or mood, or some kind of aesthetic quality that's pleasing to the ear. I'm only a conceptualist insofar as it translates to actual sound. —Kurt Rosenwinkel
Of the new wave of players that has emerged in the past decade including Adam Rogers, Jacob Young and Jeff Parker, the one most seen to be representing the future of jazz guitar is Kurt Rosenwinkel—a player who is rightfully taking his place alongside other significant contemporary figures like Pat Metheny, John Scofield, John Abercrombie and Bill Frisell. While his body of work as a leader is only beginning to develop, he's worked with a cross-generational who's who of players including drummer Paul Motian, vibraphonist Gary Burton, saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Brian Blade and trumpeter Tim Hagans.

And in a time where major labels appear fixated on finding the next big thing Rosenwinkel has, for the past five years, maintained the kind of relationship with Verve Records that most artists only dream about. With four releases since '00 ranging from the more strictly-composed The Enemies of Energy and the electronica Heartcore to two albums that are decidedly more mainstream—The Next Step and this year's Deep Song—but all equally representing his diversified interests and distinctive emergent voice, Rosenwinkel has had an almost unprecedented (at least in these times) latitude for a young, less-established artist on a label more closely associated with legacy artists including Wayne Shorter and John Scofield as well as mega-sellers like Diana Krall. Clearly Verve recognize Rosenwinkel's potential; and with Deep Song charting on Jazzweek's Radio Chart since its release in March, so, apparently, are an increasing number of fans.

Chapter Index

Beginnings
Gary Burton and Paul Motian—Formative Experiences
East Coast Love Affair and Intuit
The Enemies of Energy, the Lost Album and Signing with Verve
The Next Step and Heartcore
Sound and Musical Conception
Deep Song
Future Songs
Kurt Rosenwinkel Discography


Beginnings

Rosenwinkel grew up in Philadelphia, and came from a musical family although not, by any means, with any great exposure to jazz. "My mother and father both play piano," says Rosenwinkel. "My mother is classically trained, she was actually studying to be a classical pianist—a concert pianist—while my father is a gifted improviser and also classically trained, but less so than my mother. So there was a lot of music going on in my family. Growing up I played piano, had a band with my best friend Gordon and we discovered music and kept playing together all through our high school years. When I was about twelve I got into guitar, after hearing the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's.

"There wasn't really jazz going on in my house," Rosenwinkel continues, "I discovered it through the radio in early high school. Philly has a great jazz scene and it has a great jazz radio station, WRTI, so I used to listen to that all the time. Some of my fellow students were into jazz so that's how I got into it. And there was a weekly jam session at this neighbourhood club called the Blue Note—which isn't affiliated in any way with any of the other Blue Notes. It was just a neighbourhood club and they had a weekly jam session with some really great older players there who really presided over this Monday night jam session. There was a real community spirit kind of thing and from going to that I really grew to love and appreciate the community spirit of jazz.

"After traveling the world and seeing so many different places," concludes Rosenwinkel, "places where people love music but don't have that kind of experience, I look back and I feel really grateful that I happened to be where I was, because that kind of thing is really rare and it's getting rarer and rarer all the time. I really value and cherish the fact that I had the opportunity to be a part of that oral jazz tradition; it was great."


Gary Burton and Paul Motian—Formative Experiences

Rosenwinkel would ultimately end up studying at Boston's Berklee School of Music, but dropped out in '92 when Gary Burton asked him to join his band. "Gary's band," Rosenwinkel explains, "was the first really professional sideman gig that I had—it was the first international touring experience, it was the first kind of high profile scenario, so I really felt that it was a big break. It was a great experience from a professional point of view in terms of gaining experience and an entry into the world of what it means to be a jazz musician, what life is like as a jazz musician. Gary's a master musician, so listening to him play his solo pieces every night was the most musically inspiring experience for me in that band. He's a true master of the vibraphone."

The same year, Rosenwinkel joined drummer Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band, beginning a relationship that, as opposed to his relatively short stay with Burton, would last for the next decade. "Paul's totally different," Rosenwinkel says. "In Gary's band the parameters of the music were very specific, very specified, very controlled. In Paul's band some of them were set; there were some basic premises, like we're going to play bebop tunes, and this is going to be the arrangement—we're going to play the head and I'd take a chorus and Brad [Shepik, guitarist] would take two choruses and Josh [Redman, saxophonist] would take half a chorus. But beyond that there wasn't any musical guidance. So they had very different approaches as bandleaders. The Electric Bebop Band was a great experience playing with Paul, being alongside his incredible feeling of swing and rhythm. That was, for me, what I think I got the most out of it musically—just internalizing his feel on the drums and for music as a whole. That's what I come away with after having some perspective on it and years have gone by, that's really what I'm left with—a distillation of the entire experience for me was about absorbing his time feel and his feel for music."

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