Honored by The National Endowment for the Arts as a Jazz Master, Kenny Barron has an unmatched ability to mesmerize audiences with his elegant playing, sensitive melodies and infectious rhythms. The Los Angeles Times named him "one of the top jazz pianists in the world” and Jazz Weekly calls him “the most lyrical piano player of our time.”
Kenny was born in Philadelphia in 1943 and while a teenager, started playing professionally with Mel Melvin’s orchestra. This local band also featured Barron’s brother Bill, the late tenor saxophonist. While still in high school, Kenny worked with drummer Philly Joe Jones and at age 19, he moved to New York City and freelanced with Roy Haynes, Lee Morgan and James Moody, after the tenor saxophonist heard him play at the Five Spot. Upon Moody’s recommendation Dizzy Gillespie hired Barron in 1962 without even hearing him play a note. It was in Dizzy’s band where Kenny developed an appreciation for Latin and Caribbean rhythms. After five years with Dizzy, Barron played with Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Milt Jackson, and Buddy Rich. The early seventies found Kenny working with Yusef Lateef who Kenny credits as a key influence in his art for improvisation. Encouraged by Lateef to pursue a college education, Barron balanced touring with studies and earned his B.A. in Music from Empire State College. By 1973 Kenny joined the faculty at Rutgers University as professor of music. He held this tenure until 2000, mentoring many of today’s young talents including David Sanchez, Terence Blanchard and Regina Bell. In 1974 Kenny recorded his first album as a leader for the Muse label, entitled “Sunset To Dawn.” This was to be the first in over 40 recordings (and still counting!) as a leader.
Following stints with Ron Carter in the late seventies, Kenny formed a trio with Buster Williams and Ben Riley, which also worked alongside of Eddie "Lockjaw” Davis, Eddie Harris, Sonny Stitt and Harry “Sweets” Edison. Throughout the 80’s Barron collaborated with the great tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, touring with his quartet and recording several legendary albums including “Anniversary”, “Serenity” and the Grammy nominated “People Time”. Also during the 80’s, he co-founded the quartet “Sphere,” along with Buster Williams, Ben Riley and Charlie Rouse. This band focused on the music of Thelonious Monk and original compositions inspired by him. Sphere recorded several outstanding projects for the Polygram label, among them “Four For All” and “Bird Songs.” After the death of Charlie Rouse, the band took a 15-year hiatus and reunited, replacing Rouse with alto saxophonist Gary Bartz. This reunion made its debut recording for Verve Records in 1998.
After a series of successful duo concerts with bassist Dave Holland, the two masters decided to record The Art of Conversation (impulse!) released in October 2014. “You can almost hear the wheels of their collective imagination turning, and then the next burst of ear-opening brilliance is upon you.” (Something Else Reviews). In 2016 Mr. Barron released the long awaited trio album, Book of Intuition (impulse!) featuring his band mates Kiyoshi Kitagawa and Johnathan Blake.
Kenny has earned eleven GRAMMY™ nods beginning in 1992 for Best Jazz Album with “People Time,” an outstanding duet with Stan Getz, and most recently in 2017 for Best Jazz instrumental Album. He consistently wins the jazz critics and readers polls, including 2016 Downbeat Critics Poll, Jazz Times and Jazziz magazines. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from his alma mater SUNY Empire State in 2013 and from Berklee College of Music in 2011. In 2009 he was inducted into the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the Living Legacy Award from Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. In 2005 he was inducted into the American Jazz Hall of Fame and won a MAC Lifetime Achievement Award. He was named Best Pianist in 2017 by the Jazz Journalists Association a record seven times.
Whether he is playing solo, trio or quintet, Kenny Barron is recognized the world over as a master of performance and composition.