Happy 77th birthday to Kenny Barron, one of the last giants of jazz piano. Barron must be one of the most-recorded pianists of his generation; he’s also gigged constantly since hitting the scene in the ’60s. Not a year has gone my during my time in New York where I didn’t get to see Mr. Barron at least once.
Seven moments off the top of my head:
1) A casual performance at the Artist’s Quarter with a local rhythm section, maybe Tom Hubbard and Kenny Horst. One of the very first jazz gigs I ever saw! Very fast “Back Home Again in Indiana” and a solo version of Barron’s heartfelt tribute “Song for Abdullah.”
2) “Song for Abdullah” is on Scratch with Dave Holland and Daniel Humair. This set has some of the freest Barron I’ve heard, for example the wild blues solo on “And Then Again.”
3) More straight up is the lovely LP of duos with Ron Carter and Michael Moore, 1+1+1. The brisk “The Man I Love” is fabulous.
4) I ended up listening to Scratch and 1+1+1 a lot in my high school years, but the first Barron LP I ever got was the moody electric Innocence, with a long version of Barron’s “Sunshower” with a great Sonny Fortune solo. The final time I saw Fortune live was one tune at a gala event with Barron, Ray Drummond, and Billy Hart, where they played “Sunshower.” I myself played “Sunshower” with a Barron-worthy rhythm section, David Williams and Victor Lewis, that was memorable.
5) The first time I saw Barron in NYC he was with Joe Henderson, Rufus Reid, and Victor Lewis at Fat Tuesday’s. The piano’s high “C” was notably out of tune; Barron built a significant statement on “Body and Soul” that highlighted that “wrong” note.
6) The YouTube era has been kind to Barron fans. Bootleg audios of Sphere are phenomenal, while videos of Barron with Yusef Lateef’s ’70s quartet and Dizzy Gillespie’s 60’s band may argue more forcefully for those eras than the related LPs.
7) And this morning a true find surfaced, Kenny Barron at Boomer’s in 1976 with Bob Berg, Charles Fambrough, and Al Foster. Wow! Great to hear this muscular ’70s style captured “in the wild.” Perfect.