At this point in time, jazz piano playing spans a dizzyingly eclectic assortment of schools, styles, and influences. This inherent depth of riches is, to some extent, a result of a multitude of factors (artistic, social, economic, geographic) that have coexisted or converged for more than a century, with originality, virtuosity, and depth of feeling being some of the primary constituents shared by the best players.
As such, few pianists on the scene today evidence these elements as strikingly as Kenny Barron, the Philadelphia native whose prodigious talents clearly manifest his reverence for jazz piano tradition and his well-deserved reputation as a modern master of the art.
One of barely a handful of instrumentalists performing solo jazz piano who can consistently manage to fill concert halls AND effortlessly engage his audience from start to finish, Barron’s playing is deeply personal and unquestionably authentic - the net result of years spent honing his craft as a sideman (in the bands of James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Yusef Lateef, and Stan Getz, to name just a few!), and as a leader (Barron’s trio and quintet appearances and recordings have consistently garnered both popular and critical acclaim, and placed him at the top of more than a few polls!).
His recent solo piano concert at The Kumble Theater on Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus served as both indisputable evidence of the sterling craft that he has perfected over many decades, and the fresh, forward-looking vision of a consummate artist who is still very much in his prime.
This particular evening found Barron in top form as he presented a seamless mixture of standards, a Monk tune, and a handful of his original compositions (a few of which displayed the pianist’s affinity for Latin-Caribbean grooves). At home with both ballads and up-tempo offerings, he swung effortlessly and clearly communicated the joy he felt in bringing his music to his audience.
During the course of a post-performance conversation, Kenny Barron spoke of his firm roots in Brooklyn, both as a resident and a musician. His playing, devoid of the narcissistic self-absorption that marks the work of so many who perform solo piano, was clearly informed by his humility and his humanity.
Ricardo Burke is a Brooklyn, NY based writer and lover of jazz, cinema and art.