Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Nurock, Kirk

Nurock, Kirk, composer, pianist; b. Camden, NJ, 28 February 1948.

Nurock was raised in Trenton, NJ. He has led a distinguished career spanning 30 years in the music world.  Known for his offbeat piano style and unorthodox compositional bent, Nurock has created a body of works blending jazz improvisation, theater music, texts from classical poetry, scat singing, live animals, and sophisticated, contemporary orchestration. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by Dizzy Gillespie, The Brecker Bros., Jane Ira Bloom, Marty Ehrlich, and numerous others. His music can be heard on ABC Paramount, Capitol, Columbia Masterworks, Impulse, Koch, and Sunnyside records.  A creative and insightful teacher, Nurock was Jazz Professor at Berlin's Hochschule der Kunste and taught arranging and composing at the New School Jazz Program.  His teachers were Manny Albam, Johnny Richards and Vincent Persichetti.  Nurock holds a Master's degree in composition from the Juilliard School. A child prodigy, Nurock was honored at age 16 with the first annual Duke Ellington Scholarship to the Eastman School of Music (Summer Arrangers Lab).He was selected for the award by both Ellington and Strayhorn and presented the award by Ellington.  Nurock now holds a Master's degree in Composition from the Juilliard School, where his teachers were Vincent Persichetti and Roger Sessions.  Additional studies in jazz arranging/composing were with Johnny Richards, Manny Albam and Rayburn Wright. As a jazz pianist Nurock has performed with groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Phil Woods and Donald Byrd.  Nurock's compositions and arrangements have been performed and/or recorded by such diverse artists as Ashford & Simpson, Jane Ira Bloom, the Brecker Bros, Jay Clayton, Judy Collins, Eddie Daniels, Marty Ehrlich, Kevin Eubanks, David Friedman, Dizzy Gillespie, Jerry Granelli, Tom Harrell, Fred Hersch, Shelley Hirsch, Dick Hyman, Donald Joyce, Arnie Lawrence, Bette Midler, Judy Niemack, Tom Pierson, Bobby Previte, Jeanfrancois Prins, Jim Pugh, Rufus Reid, Ned Rothenberg, 'Doc' Severinsen, Harvie Swartz, Nurit Tilles, Bennie Wallace, Kenny Werner, and the animals of the Bronx Zoo. Recordings of music composed, arranged or performed by Nurock can be heard on ABC Paramount, Adamo, Angel, Capitol, Channel Crossings, Columbia Masterworks, Digital Music Products (DMP), Earplay, Environments, Freelance, Fusion, Impulse, Jazz4ever, Koch Jazz, Labor, Newport Classics, Pool, Saturndisc, Sunnyside, Traumton, United Artists and Wergo records and cd's. Always inclined toward the irreverent, in 1971 Nurock founded the Natural Sound Workshop. Called "an inspired creation" by the New York Times, Natural Sound was an innovative vocal technique that explored the myriad sound possibilities of untrained voices.  Nurock's chorus of 25 toured and performed his carefully layered works which featured cakles, sighs, moans and gibberish.  The music had a kind of neo-primitive esthetic and the performances were both educational and entertain-ing.  Often featured were specialized jazz-scat soloists, Jay Clayton, Shelley Hirsch and Jon DeRobertis. In the early 1980's, Nurock began exploring the musical possiblities of cross-species communication, incorporating live animals in the performance of concert works.  These included Howl (1980), The Bronx Zoo Events (1981), Sonata for Piano and Dog (1983) and Expedition (1984) for Jazz Trio and Siberian Husky.  Nurock's pioneering "Instruments and Animals" series combined distinguished improvisers Jane Ira Bloom, Ned Rothenberg and Robert Dick, with canines, guinea pigs and birds.  An extensive video-documentary, "Animalsong," produced and directed by Burrill Crohn, chronicles the above works.  Nurock's animal-related pieces appeared in national press and television (including Letterman, Koppel and the Today Show) and toured extensively in the US and Canada. In 1985, Nurock composed a jazz musical combining many of his prior interests. Mowgli, based on Kipling's Jungle Books, was written in collaboration with legendary theater director, Tom O'Horgan and lyricist C. J. Ellis.  The score montages jazz harmonies, scat singing, animal sounds, lyrical Broadway melodies and world-music elements.  Mowgli was produced at the American Music-Theater Festival in Philadelphia and the Judith Anderson Theater in New York. Another large-scale work was Listening Back (1988) for Orchestra, Chorus, Narrator, four Canines and eight Guinea Pigs.   The piece has a text by playwright Sheldon Rosen and was written on a Composition Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.  It was Nurock's last work featuring live animals.

In 1990, Nurock became interested again in performing as a jazz pianist.  He formed a jazz duo with contemporary vocalist Theo Bleckmann.  "Theo & Kirk," as they were known, enjoyed tremendous success in the US and Europe.  Tip magazine referred to them as "genius in tandem."  The repertoire was mostly Nurock compositions, and Bleckmann's remarkable talents as both balladeer and contemporary sound-explorer blended deeply with Nurock's rich composing style. Two recent CD's document their work together ("Theo & Kirk" and  "Looking Glass River"), now available in the US. In 1994 Nurock was appointed Professor in Jazz Composition at the Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin.  In Europe he performed, recorded and toured extensively as pianist in various groups, and conducted numerous Big Bands in concerts of his own works and those of other composers. Among his most frequent collaborators in Europe were vibraphonist David Friedman, vocalist/lyricist Judy Niemack and Belgian guitarist Jeanfrancois Prins. In earlier years, Nurock taught Arranging and Composition at the New School Jazz Program in New York.  He has led workshops or held residencies at The Julliard School, Yale University, New York University, City College of New York, S.U.N.Y. Purchase, Albany, Plattsburgh, U. of Rhode Island, U. of New Mexico, U. of Minnesota, American Association of Music Therapists, American Dance Festival, Eugene O'Neill Theater Center and Hanns Eisler Hochschule fur Musik.  He is an experienced and dedicated educator and clinician. In 1998, Nurock returned to New York.  He currently performs as a solo pianist and is forming an 18-piece Big Band.  His most recent CD is on Koch Jazz. Entitled "remembering tree friends," it is a trio record, featuring Bobby Previte on drums, Harvie Swartz on bass and Nurock, piano. Also in earlier years (c. 1970-85), Nurock arranged and conducted the Broadway productions of  Two Gentlemen of Verona, Hair, Working, Shelter, Salvation, Madwoman of Central Park West and Three Musketeers.  These included music by Leonard Bernstein, Martin Charnin, Cryer and Ford, Micki Grant, Galt MacDermot, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim and James Taylor.  He orchestrated the Kennedy Center production of Nat and Cannonball Adderley's Shout Up A Morning.  His arrangements accompanied pop artists, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow and Judy Collins, and appeared in the Woody Allen film Stardust Memories. Interviews and articles about Nurock's work have appeared in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of American Composers, The World Book Encyclopedia, Ear Magazine, Keyboard Magazine, Downbeat Magazine, New York Magazine, New York Times, Village Voice, Tip magazine and the Journal of Music and Healing. He has been interviewed by Studs Terkel, Leonard Altman and the Voice of America.

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