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Jazz Pianist Kenny Barron At Oshman

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CONVERSATIONAL KEYS: Acclaimed pianist Kenny Barron says playing jazz is like speaking a language. Photo by Philippe Lévy-Stab.

CONVERSATIONAL KEYS: Acclaimed pianist Kenny Barron says playing jazz is like speaking a language. Photo by Philippe Lévy-Stab.

When he was 19 years old, pianist Kenny Barron got a call from Dizzy Gillespie. Based on myriad recommendations, the legendary band leader wanted Barron to join his ensemble, even though he’d never heard him play a note. On the taxicab ride over, Gillespie’s bass player gave a snap rehearsal, demonstrating the chords and rhythms that Barron half-knew anyway. He possessed a precocious calm as he had been performing by that time for five years.

“When we finally got to the gig, it all fell into place,” Barron recalls. “It’s one of the great things about jazz: you take people who have never played together before and you can make great music because there’s a shared language that we all know. So just like in English, we can have interesting conversations.”

This sort of no-matter-what dependability has characterized the career of the now 74-year-old, widely regarded within jazz circles as among the greatest, most influential living pianists. Barron has appeared on hundreds of recordings—both as a bandleader and an accompanist to such names as Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz. He has also contributed to the scores of Spike Lee films, including Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing.

Renowned for his finesse on the keys, Barron credits his chief influences: Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones—the former tinkled away as Marilyn Monroe sang her famously steamy birthday song to John F. Kennedy. While playing, Barron never seems rushed, moving his fingers at the whimsy of his emotions and instincts while executing with technical perfection.

“It’s not my desire to be bombastic and play as fast as I can and be like, ‘Watch me,’” he says. “No, that’s not what I’m into. Hopefully, I want to play a ballad to make you cry.”

This week, Barron will play with his eponymous trio—featuring bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Justin Faulkner—both of whom are a handful of decades shy of their 70s. But Barron, like Gillespie before him, values what youth can bring to a group.

“They definitely keep me on my toes,” he says. “I tend to want to play with younger people. You play with older people, it’s different. The sound may be smoother, but when you play with younger guys, they kind of kick you in the butt, which is a good thing. It’s an adventure every time we sit down to play.”

Kenny Barron Trio
Sep 14, 8pm, $53+
Oshman Family JCC, Palo Alto

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