Home » Jazz Musicians » Kirk Lightsey

Kirk Lightsey

Kirk Lightsey’s profound pianisms originate from the Motor City. Kirk LIGHTSEY was born into Detroit 's rich music scene on February 15, 1937. He grew up in a town known for its jazz pianists, which included Hugh Lawson, Sir Roland Hanna, Barry Harris, Hank Jones and Tommy Flanigan, whose brother gave Lightsey his first piano lessons at the age of six. He then took lessons with Glady's Wade Dillard, who also taught pianists Barry Harris, Alice McCloud and Tommy Flanagan.

At Cass Technical High School Hugh Lawson and Paul Chambers introduced Kirk to playing jazz. They all performed in the school orchestra, which included Ron Carter and Kiane Zawadi. Late afternoons were often spent at Barry Harris' house where Lightsey would jam with Ira Jackson, Lonnie Hilliard and Charles McPherson. Under the tutelage of Harris they honed their improvisational skills. Kirk also learned about music by listening to his mother's record collection, and he went to hear all the Swing Era Stars who came to Detroit.

In 1954 Lightsey was awarded a music scholarship to Wayne University to study the clarinet, but at age 18 he quickly chose to play professionally. His first real gig was with the Harold "Beans" Bowles Sextet, which included Albert Aarons and Joe Henderson. He toured with Arthur Bragg's Rhythm and Blues Show which included Della Reese, T. Bone Walker and the Four Tops. During this time he also worked with Yusef Lateef, Melba Liston and Ernestine Anderson. In 1960 Kirk was drafted. He played clarinet two years in the Fort Knox Army Band, and the bassoon for the Louisville Civic Orchestra. He also added flute to his repertoire.

When Lightsey was discharged from the army, he went back to Detroit with fellow Army Band member, Cecil McBee. They formed a jazz duo and played Detroit clubs. Kirk also played for Motown hit recording sessions, and made time to study with classical pianist Boris Maximovich. Lightsey's main influences however, are piano masters Hank Jones and Tommy Flannagan. He defines himself as a Detroit pianist incorporating "...a Bud Powell awareness, an Art Tatum styling, a bebop feeling and a pianistic approach."

In the ‘60’s, Lightsey’s first recordings as a sideman were on trumpeter Chet Baker’s Prestige sessions. Ironically, Baker’s last performances before his death in 1988 were with the pianist in Bradley’s. Lightsey also performed and recorded with George Coleman, Sonny Stitt, David Murray, Sonny Fortune, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Harold Land.

Read more



Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

I Will Never Stop...

Jojo Records





Sapphire Dreams

Pao Records



Balance Point Acoustics


Nights Of Bradley's

Sunnyside Records



Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.