Fuller Up, The Dead Musician Directory
Pianist Kenny Kirkland Found Dead
11/15/98 by Drew Wheeler
Kenny Kirkland, who gained fans and critical raves the world over from his dazzling piano performances with such artists as Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Garrett and Sting, was found dead in his Queens, New York apartment the morning of Nov. 13. He was 43.
According to New York Police Dept. spokeswoman Carmen Melendez, the 105th Precinct in Queens received a call at around 9:00 PM Nov. 12 from neighbors reporting "a foul odor." Police gained entry to Kirkland's apartment in Queens' Springfield Gardens section shortly after 2:00 AM on Nov. 13 and discovered his body.
Police raised the possibility that his death was drug-related, but as yet had no
confirmation, pending the Medical Examiner's
report. According to a report in the New York Daily News, police found drug
paraphernalia at the scene. Kirkland's friends and colleagues were said to have been
long concerned with his reputed substance abuse and poor health.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1955, Kenneth David Kirkland was only six when he first sat down at a piano keyboard. After years of Catholic schooling, Kirkland enrolled at the Manhattan School Of Music, where he studied classical piano performance, classical theory and composition. His first professional work came with Polish fusion violinist Michal Urbaniak, touring throughout Europe with a his group in 1977 and recording the albums Urbaniak and Daybreak. Coincidentally, Kirkland's next high-profile gig was with another Eastern European jazz émigré, Miroslav Vitous. Kirkland is featured on Vitous' ECM recordings First Meeting and Miroslav Vitous Group. In his more than twenty-year career, Kirkland performed or recorded with such artists as Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, John Scofield, Kenny Garrett, Carla Bley, Michael Brecker, Stanley Jordan, Kevin Eubanks, Arturo Sandoval, Don Alias, Tom Scott, Ernie Watts and Mark Whitfield.
In the early 1980s, Kirkland was on tour in Japan with trumpeter Terumasa Hino, when he was said to have met Wynton Marsalis, which began their long association. On Marsalis' self-titled debut album, Kirkland shared the piano duties with one of his musical influences, Herbie Hancock, but was the sole pianist on Marsalis' subsequent releases Think Of One, Hothouse Flowers and Black Codes (From the Underground). After his association with Wynton Marsalis, Kirkland joined Branford Marsalis' band. He is featured on the albums Royal Garden Blues, Renaissance, Random Arrest, Crazy People Music, I Heard You Twice The First Time and the eponymously-titled album from Marsalis' funk band Buckshot Lefonque. When Branford Marsalis assumed the high-visibility role of bandleader for NBC TV's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Kirkland became the band's pianist. But his time on a Los Angeles-based television show would be short-lived, and he returned to the East coast and session work.
Throughout his career, Kirkland offered his talents to a variety of non-jazz artists, from soul singers Ben E. King and Angela Bofill, to Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour, to classic-rockers Stephen Stills and David Crosby. As opposed to many piano "purists," Kirkland was never shy of electric keyboards and synthesizers. He has inspired many to take piano classes and has influenced the genre you hear today. He also ran contrary to jazz orthodoxy when he left Wynton Marsalis' acoustic traditional jazz combo to join Branford Marsalis accompanying ex-Police pop star Sting. Kirkland appears on Sting albums Dream Of The Blue Turtles, Bring On The Night, Soul Cages and Mercury Falling.
In 1991, he released his debut as a leader, Kenny Kirkland, on GRP Records. An album on Sunnyside Records, Thunder And Rainbows/J.F.K., is also credited to him.
Kirkland is survived by his mother, a brother and a sister.
NEW YORK (AP) - Kenny Kirkland, a jazz pianist who played with Sting and Branford Marsalis, has died at age 43.
Kirkland's body was found early Friday after neighbors called police about a foul odor coming from his Queens home.
Drug paraphernalia was found nearby, the Daily News reported Sunday, but the cause of death wasn't clear, according to a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office.
Kirkland was born and raised in Brooklyn, began playing piano at age 6, and studied at the Manhattan School of Music. He played everything from classical to rock to blues.
Kirkland met Wynton Marsalis at jam sessions in New York, joined Sting's band in 1985 and played with Branford Marsalis' band on Jay Leno's ``Tonight Show.''
He performed on a number of albums, did concert tours with Sting, and played often in Manhattan jazz clubs.
from Music Central '96
b. 28 September 1955, New York City, New York, USA.