A living bridge between multiple generations of jazz, 65-year-old Kenny Barron is still consistently recognized as one of the most talented all-around pianists in New York. He brings a quartet of young musicians downtown to the Village Vanguard for a live performance broadcast on air by WBGO and online at NPR Music.
As a pianist, Barron sums a wide range of interests into his palette: driving bebop, delicate ballads, bounding calypso and rhythms from across Brazil. He brought them all to bear at the Vanguard, with pretty harmonies and fast-flying chops alike. Barron called an uptempo take on "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" as an opener — as he began his 2001 duet album Freefallwith violinist Regina Carter. He then launched into swaying Brazilian-inflected numbers ("Um Beijo," "New Samba"), a lyrical ballad ("Blame It On My Youth"), underheard Monk repertoire ("Shuffle Boil") and a favorite hard-swinging original ("And Then Again," a blues). Along the way, excellent young sidemen complemented him: The smoky-toned saxophonist Dayna Stephens, the versatile, sensitive bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and the rhythmically adroit drummer Francisco Mela.
Now a mentor to young musicians, Kenny Barron was once the talented protege, accompanying his saxophone-playing brother Bill Barron (over 16 years his elder), and being tapped to join Dizzy Gillespie's combo before his 20th birthday. Over the next 45-odd years, Barron continued to work with the finest players from every era; highlights include co-founding the group Sphere, which interpreted music of Thelonious Monk, and collaborating with Stan Getz over the course of several albums.
Many of New York's finest young jazz musicians know Barron both as a pianist and a teacher. Under the encouragement of multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef, Barron pursued a college education and earned a degree while touring. In 1973, he began teaching at Rutgers University; he continues to mentor top talent at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard.
Having recorded over 40 albums as a leader alone, Barron is still producing fresh, original music. His latest record The Traveler arrives the week of his appearance at the Vanguard.