Music

Kurt Rosenwinkel Tears It Up With The Roots On 'Jimmy Fallon' (You Heard Us)

Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.

Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel is not your ordinary jazz guitarist, in a few different ways. Nevertheless, he made it to Jimmy Fallon's show last night. Word Of Mouth Music hide caption

itoggle caption Word Of Mouth Music

Note: Patrick Jarenwattananon is the master of ceremonies and poobah nerd over at NPR's charming jazz blog, A Blog Supreme. As part of our continuing efforts to eliminate cultural separations by brow (high, middle, low), we are mixing our jazz into our pop culture today, as we may be mixing some pop culture into the jazz over there in the future — stay tuned for possible future experiments in which Patrick attempts to make me jazz-literate. — Linda Holmes

If you were watching NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallonlast night, you may have noticed the presence of another guitarist in the house band. Save for an afterthought of a shout-out before Miranda Lambert's performance, he wasn't prominently featured on screen. His name is Kurt Rosenwinkel, and he is good at music.

Many of us jazz folk hold Kurt Rosenwinkel in high esteem. He's something of a people's champion; he's easily the most influential guitarist of his generation. (Which is X, if you're wondering.) His dedicated following is legion — they're the kind who transcribe his solos and post them on the Internet, the kind who care enough to shout down haters in YouTube comment sections. Put it this way — he's big-time enough to be pranked, Sacha-Baron-Cohen-style, by a (seemingly cut-rate) French performance artist.

Come on, you know you want to see the video. And also hear more about this "Kurt Rosenwinkel." After the jump.

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You probably don't know who Kurt Rosenwinkel is. Admittedly, he does play that noodliest of instruments, the jazz guitar. There's also the issue of his name. Top jazz guitarists of their generations used to be named Freddie Green, Wes Montgomery, "Blood" Ulmer. This guy: a skinny white dude named "Kurt Rosenwinkel."

But his music, man. Rosenwinkel is a guitar hero's guitar hero; he can shred like nobody's business, but he always keeps it lyrical and emotionally gripping. At the risk of spouting a jazz cliche, he sounds like nobody else before him. Hear for yourself: download two complete live sets of his band live in concert this January, courtesy of NPR Music.

He's earned the cosign of Q-Tip, anyway — you know, of A Tribe Called Quest — whose last two records employ Rosenwinkel's talents. And he went to the same Philadelphia arts magnet school as ?uestlove, of The Roots. If Twitter is to be believed, Questo randomly happened upon Kurt playing at New York's famed Village Vanguard this week. So impressed was he with his "Friggin uber incredibad" high-school friend that he invited the guitarist to sit in with The Roots crew on their regular Jimmy Fallon gig.

Now, to string this out even further, let's make it clear: Kurt Rosenwinkel is of the hip-hop generation. I present to you this clip, where public radio producer Josh Jackson goes through Kurt's iPod with him:

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Two things. One, that Kurt refers to "The Notorious 'Big'" — as in large. Ooh. But that's all mitigated by the fact that he knows the lyrics by heart. A 39-year-old bespectacled jazz guitarist, father of two, and current resident of Berlin, Germany knows a posthumous Biggie Smalls non-hit.

The point is that Kurt Rosenwinkel embodies a lot about where jazz is today. He's loved by jazz critics, and even more so by fellow musicians and fans. But because he does have this incredible musicianship — and sincere interest in things other than jazz — he can easily navigate between different musical worlds. Modern jazz is a constellation of many different interests, filtered through some of the most talented instrumentalists on the planet. And it certainly wouldn't mind being seen more on the talk show circuit — even if one of its primary exponents is named Kurt Rosenwinkel.

That, and he sounds all right taking a big solo fill in the opening credits of Late Night:

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