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.
After graduating from the Manhattan School of Music in 1977, Kirkland toured with Michal Urbaniak, and joined Miroslav Vitous in 1979. But it was with Wynton Marsalis (1981-85) that he gained his reputation as a skillful Herbie Hancock-influenced pianist, and he has since been in demand from a host of bandleaders including Branford Marsalis and Chico Freeman. His work with Sting, and the resulting 1985 DREAM OF THE BLUE TURTLES, helped widen Kirkland's audience.
From the UK's "The Independent" newspaper.
"Beginning his career as a teacher of classical music, Kenny Kirkland next became a jazz musician. Later he emerged from his jazz chrysalis as a practitioner of exotic pop/rock music and finally shed his wings to follow the mundane but financially more stable profession of studio musician.
In the middle part of his career Kirkland was an associate of Wynton Marsalis. Some musicians and writers now regard Marsalis as the greatest trumpeter that jazz has produced. It is not surprising therefore that the five years Kirkland spent working for him (1981-85) should have been such a powerful influence on him.
The enthusiasm and urgency Kirkland applied to his piano lessons when he was six confirmed that his life was to be devoted to music, "although it wasn't until I was 13 that it actually caught on for me," he remembered. He began by studying classical music, but distracted by the radio, he soon became interested in rhythm and blues. He absorbed the sounds of James Brown, Sly Stone and the Temptations. "I tried to learn something "from everyone."
He studied classical piano performance at the Manhattan School of Music for 18 months and then classical theory and composition before graduating as a teacher. A month before he was due to graduate he broke both his legs, his jaw, his wrist and one hip. On his recovery, Kirkland moved into one of New York's celebrated lofts and it turned out to be one that musicians used to turn up to after work to play at all-night jam sessions. This was not conducive to the germination of pedagogy and at the instigation of three jazz pianists who became his friends - Larry Willis of Blood, Sweat and Tears, Herbie Hancock and Kenny Barron - he threw himself into the world of jazz, playing electric keyboards and acoustic piano.
Initially Hancock's playing had the most effect on his work but he was eclectic and developed his own style, becoming particularly effective in the difficult role of accompanist. He joined the band of another friend the violinist Michael Urbaniak playing electric keyboards when he toured Europe with the group in 1977. He worked with other bands and in 1979 recorded a fusion album, What It Is, with the saxophonist Dave Liebman.
The same year Kirkland joined Miroslav Vitous, the bassist who had become famous with Weather Report. By 1981 the pianist was working in a band led by the drummer Elvin Jones and moved from there to join the trumpeter Terumase Hino, one of Japan's outstanding musicians. It was while on tour with Hino in Japan that Wynton Marsalis, also on tour at the time, first heard Kirkland. Marsalis persuaded him to leave Hino and the longest association of Kirkland's life began.
While his work with the trumpeter's quintet opened Kirkland's horizons, the pianist also reciprocated with some of the finest accompanying work Marsalis had ever had. He had a part to play in all of Marsalis's projects and took a major role in the albums that first made the trumpeter's name. He also benefited from the exposure he got on Marsalis's ceaseless international tours.
Spending some time with the Marsalis brothers and Kirkland in the early Eighties at the Nice Jazz Festival I was awestruck by the experience that these young men had already aquired and by the powerful intellects with which they were able to interpret it. Although they were then new upon the European scene, it appeared to be obvious that the future of jazz was in their hands.
Wynton Marsalls made no bones about his scorn when Kirkland left his band in extraordinary circumstances in 1985. The pianist and Marsalis's brother, the saxophone-playing Branford, changed idiom to play rock music with Sting. While with the pop star they recorded the album The Dream of The Blue Turtles (1985) and joined him for a lengthy term of international touring. At this time Kirkland played piano on Dizzy Gillespie's New Faces album (1984), but despite the good Gillespie material used, the session produced lacklustre performances as the trumpeter was coming to the end of his career as an instrumentalist.
Kirkland became a session musician in the
early Nineties and joined the show band of the American television programme
"Tonight" when Branford Marsalis directed the band. Kirkland recorded under his
own name in 1991 for the GRP label and also worked in the all-star big band sessions
recorded for the company at the same period. In 1993 he was the subject of one of Marian
McPartlands distinguished Piano Jazz programmes for American public radio.~STEVE
(This obituary was submitted by Wendy and Dave of Stingchronicity)