Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Barron, Kenneth "Kenny"

Barron, Kenneth "Kenny", piano; b. Philadelphia, June 9, 1943. His father William was a quiet man who worked in construction and at a steel factory. The youngest of five children, Kenny's mother Rella was responsible for the music in the family.  She had studied piano as a youth and expected all of her children to do the same. His brother Bill Barron, Jr. (1927-1989) also studied piano, but switched to saxophone before Kenny was born. The other siblings are Herbert (deceased), and sisters Barbara and Francis. Kenny first took piano lessons with his Bill's girlfriend, Ruth Issaks, when he was six years old.  He remembers using the William Matthew method books when first learning.  After a few years, when he was eleven or twelve, he took piano lessons with Vera Bryant (now Vera Eubanks), pianist Ray Bryant's sister and eventually, at age sixteen, he stopped taking classical piano lessons. 

Bill got Kenny involved in jazz.  Kenny listened to Bill's 78s at home and to a jazz radio station. One of his first jazz memories is of running to the corner juke joint in 1957 to listen on the jukebox to Horace Silver's Senor Blues). He eventually started to experiment on the piano using some blues chords and jazz harmony. Bill, who had a day job at the Frankford Arsenal, got Kenny hired for his first gig with Mel Melvin's band when Kenny was 14. The first gig paid about $10-$15 and was at the Elk's Lodge in South Philadelphia.  It was a cabaret, and the shows would consist of singers, dancers, comedians, and strippers.

Soon Kenny became influenced by Tommy Flanagan. Other influences, later, were Hank Jones and Wynton Kelly. When he was bout 16 years old he also met McCoy Tyner in Philadelphia. Thelonious Monk's influence came first compositionally, and then later through his piano style. Bill Barron showed Kenny his unique ideas on how to voice chords on the piano and used not only the circle to represent diminished chords, and the triangle to represent major seventh chords, but used a square to represent chords that didn't specify major or minor, or simply no third at all.  Bill utilized colors harmonically, and composed tunes that wouldn't use ii-V progressions.  He also used twelve tone methods and studied out of several composition books including Schillinger's. After Bill moved to New York, Philly Joe Jones was playing in Philadelphia in 1959, and pianist Dick Katz couldn't make the gig.  Kenny got the gig through his brother had been playing with Philly Joe. That summer of 1959, Kenny became associated with Jimmy Heath through a saxophonist he was working with named Sam Reed. Next Yusef Lateef arrived in Philadelphia without a piano player, and Heath recommended Kenny for Lateef's gig at the Showboat.  A couple of months later Lateef called Kenny again for a gig in Detroit. His recording career began with writing two arrangements for Lateef's LP  The Centaur And The Phoenix  in 1960. Soon he recorded as pianist  with Bill.

Right after high school, Barron began studies at the Philadelphia Musical Academy, but only stayed about two months. In 1961 he moved to 314 E 6th St. in Manhattan, between 1st and 2nd avenues.  He lived next door to Bill and downstairs from Elvin Jones and Pepper Adams. Ted Curson lived down the street with his wife.  Across the street, Lee Morgan, Tootie Heath, Spanky DeBrest and Reggie Workman shared an apartment. At the nearby Five Spot he saw Freddie Hubbard, Aretha Franklin, and sat in with James Moody. He began working with Moody, and through him got hired by Dizzy Gillespie on November 13, 1962, staying for exactly four years until November 13, 1966. Kenny, recently married, wasn't working regularly and he went to Birdland, where Gillespie hired him to start with a gig in Cincinnati. After about three years bassist Chris White left and Gillespie hired an electric bass player who was difficult to play with. Soon Barron left the band, also because his wife was pregnant with his second child.  In late 1966 into 1967 he played for seven or eight weeks with Stanley Turrentine, and then joined Freddie Hubbard's band in 1967 and played in groups led by Hubbbard through 1970. In 1971 he took a composition course with Lateef at Borough Of Manhattan Community College, as well as liberal arts courses there. For Lateef's course he wrote, among other things, a string quartet using 12-tone techniques. Soon he was gigging with Lateef again, but would continue his courses by bringing homework with him; he made the Dean's list twice.

Kenny briefly took Chick Corea's place in the Stan Getz quartet of 1972 or '73 that included Stanley Clarke and Tony Williams. From 1974 to 1975 he worked in Ron Carter's group with Buster Williams and Ben Riley. Once Ron Carter's group broke up, the  rhythm section in the group, at, first, decided to work together as a unit.  So when some people would come into town, such as Eddie Harris, Sonny Stitt,  Harry Sweets Edison, and Lockjaw Davis, they would  hire the rhythm section.  Soon the idea came about that they should put their own group together. Riley suggested that they hire saxophonist Charlie Rouse (1924-1988), so in 1979 they got a gig, hired Rouse and tried it out. At first when Kenny came up with the name Sphere, he didn't know that it was Monk's middle name, but soon the group decided to make Monk's music a cornerstone of their repertoire. Sphere did their last gig  with Charlie Rouse at the Village Vanguard in 1988; he quit shortly before he died. Sphere reunited in 1997 with Gary Bartz. The first gig was in Athens, Greece in July of 1997. During the late 1980s through 1991, Barron also worked and toured with Stan Getz. He also worked with Joe Henderson over many years.

He began teaching music theory and keyboard harmony in 1973 at Livingston College, now a part Rutgers University, New Jersey.  When the music department was incorporated into the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, he taught piano lessons, keyboard harmony, and jazz composition and arranging. He retired from Rutgers University in the Spring of 1999 to concentrate on touring and recording. Barron continues to be one of the most admired pianists in jazz. He travels consistently all over Europe with his working trio at least twice every year.

Selected Discography (Barron has been on several hundred recordings; a complete listing is at http://www.jazzdiscography.com/Artists/Barron/)

As leader or co-leader:
Jimmy Owens & Kenny Barron: You Had Better Listen (c. 1967); Kenny Barron: Sunset To Dawn (1973), Peruvian Blue (1974); Kenny Barron & Ted Dunbar: In Tandem (1975;
Kenny Barron: Lucifer (1975), Innocence (c. 1978), Golden Lotus
(1980), At The Piano (1981), Spiral (1982), Green Chimneys
(1983, 1987), 1 + 1 + 1 (1984), Landscape (1984), Scratch (1985), What If? (1986), The Only One ( 1990), Live At Maybeck Recital Hall (1990), Invitation (1990), Lemuria Seascape 1991), Quickstep (1991), The Moment (1991), Sambao (1992), Other Places (1993), Wanton Spirit (1994), Things Unseen (1995), Freefall (2000); Tommy Flanagan & Kenny Barron: Together (1978);
Sphere: Four In One (1982), Flight Path (1983), On Tour (1985), Live At Umbria Jazz (1986), Four for All (1987), Bird Songs (1988)
Kenny Barron & Buster Williams: Two As One 1986.

As sideperson:
Bill Barron: The Tenor Stylings Of Bill Barron (1961), Modern Windows (1961), The Leopard (1962), West Side Story Bossa Nova (1963), Jazz Caper (1978), Next Plateau (1987); Bill Barron & Booker Ervin: The Hot Line (1962); Perry Robinson: Funk Dumpling (1962); Dave Burns: Dave Burns (1962); Dizzy Gillespie: Something Old, Something New (1963), Live At Newport (1963), Goes Hollywood (1963), And The Double Six Of Paris(1963), Music From The Cool World (1964), Jambo Caribe (1964), Charlie Parker Memorial Concert (1965; and other artists), No More Blues (c. 1960 and 1965), In Europe (1965); Curtis Amy: Mustang (c. 1966); Joe Henderson: The Kicker (1967); Freddie Hubbard: High Blues Pressure (1968), A Soul Experiment (1968-9), The Black Angel (1969), Sing Me A Song Of Songmy (1970), Outpost (1981), Live At Fat Tuesdays (1988); Yusef Lateef: Part Of The Search (1971-3), Gentle Giant (1972); Ron Carter: Yellow And Green (1976), Pastels (1976), Piccolo (1977), Peg Leg (1977), Song For You (1978), Pick 'em (1978), New York Slick (1979), Patrao (1980); Buster Williams: Crystal Reflections  (1976), Tokudo (1978), Heartbeat (1978), Dreams Come True (1978); Stan Getz: Voyage (1986), Anniversary (1987), Serenity (1987); Stan Getz & Kenny Barron: People Time (1991; duets)

Videos/TV broadcasts:
Benny Carter: Jazz At The Smithsonian (1982)
Stan Getz: Live At Munich Summer Piano Festival (1990)
Kenny Barron: Club Date (La Jolla,CA with Charles McPherson) (1990)
ChicoFreeman: At Ronnie Scott's (1986)

Unissued Recordings and Radio Broadcasts:
Marian McPartland 's Piano Jazz: NPR broadcast, ca. 1986
Barron,K, and John Hicks: Bdcst, Riverside Park, NY    9/3/89
Getz,Stan+K.Barron: Bdcst, MarciacJazzFest       b9/92
Sphere: Cnct, Northsea Fest            7/8/83
Johnson, JJ & Getz: Bdcst, Chicago Fest            8/30/88
Marsalis, Wynton: Cnct, LincCntr, NYC            6/22/91
Dameron,Tadd: tribute, Bdcst,Tully, NYC            ca.1992
Dizzy Gillespie: Newport festival 1965 and 1966;
Barron quintet: radio bdcst, Iridium, NYC, 9/25/96; also North Sea Jazz Festival (1994), with Gary Bartz in Laren (1994).
Stan Getz concerts in Yugoslavia 1988, Royal Festival Hall (1990)

Bibliography:
Laurent Journo: Kenny Barron. Coup de Chapeau, in: So What, #13 (Jan.1997)
Valerie Wilmer: Kenny's a Pianist for All Seasons, in: Melody Maker, 20 (Feb.1971)
Kenneth Barron, in: Yusef Lateef: Something Else. Writings of the Yusef Lateef Quartet, New York (1973 [book] poems/short stories)
Jeff Lorber: Pro Session. Kenny Barron's Solo on Swamp Demon," in: Down Beat, 47/5 (May 1980; transcription)
Becca Pulliam: Kenny Barron's "Song for Abdullah", in: Jazz & Keyboard Workshop (Feb.1988; transcription)
Sjoerd van Aelst & Tom Beetz: Pianist Kenny Barron. 'Het belangrijkste is dat ik mijn eigen composities speel', in: Jazz Nu, #140 (Jul.1990)
Becca Pulliam: Tips for Playing Kenny Barron's "Sunshower", in: The Piano Stylist & Jazz Workshop (Aug/Sep.1990; transcription)
Fred Bouchard: Blindfold Test. Kenny Barron, in: Down Beat, 58/1 (Jan.1991)
Kenny Barron: Ballade pour Stan, in: Jazz Magazine, #411 (Jan.1992)
Thierry Peremarti: Piano en trois dimensions. Kenny Barron, in: Jazz Hot, #494 (Nov.1992)
Ottar Skagen: Langspilleren, in: Jazznytt, (May 1993)
Mauricio Franco: Kenny Barron, l'attualita basata sulla tradizione, in: Musica Jazz, 50/11 (Nov.1994)
Mariana Montalvo: Kenny Barron. Correspondencia con una sobrina, in: Cuadernos de Jazz, #35 (Jul/Aug.1996)
Philippe Carles: Ainsi parle Kenny Barron, in: Jazz Actuel, #5 (Oct.1996)
Romain Grosman: Kenny Barron/Mino Cinelu, in: Jazz Magazine, #466 (Jan.1997)
Reinhard Koechl: Kenny Barron. Entdeckung eines Entdeckers, in: Jazz Thing, #21 (Nov.1997)
Bloom, Steve. "Kenny Barron: Pianist's Progress." Down Beat (June 1980)
Bouchard, Fred. "Sideman Steps Out. Challenger On Call: Kenny Barron." Down Beat (March 1992)
Tesser, Neil.  "Kenny Barron: Communicating With His Keys."  Down Beat (November 1975)
Woodard, Josef. "Kenny Barron: The Big Picture."  Jazz Times (February 1997)
Birnbaum, Larry.  "Blindfold Test: Kenny Barron"  Down Beat (April 1997)
D'Sousa, Jerry.  "Kenny Barron, Anthony Davis: Two Views." Coda (March/April 1997)
Gourse, Leslie.  "Kenny Barron: Anything Musically Possible."  Jazz Times (January 1989)
Kaliss, Jeff. "Kenny Barron: A Gentlemanly Art."  Jazz Times (January/February 1993)

Contact:
http://www.kennybarron.com/

THIS ENTRY BY JOHN CHIN WITH LEWIS PORTER

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