Exclusive Interview - Kenny Barron

Friday, May 4, 2018

With Concentric Circles, jazz legend Kenny Barron not only presents his fantastic new quintet, but also some new original compositions in their first recording. The multi-Grammy nominee introduces a new edition of the Kenny Barron Quintet with this release, featuring saxophonist Dayna Stephens, trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, and drummer Johnathan Blake. This sublime 11-song release marks both Barron's 75th birthday as well as 50 years since his debut recording alongside trumpeter Jimmy Owens.


ArkivJazz: Kenny, tell me about your new Quintet, I know you’ve worked with some of these cats for a while. This band really has some great momentum. How did you get this band together?

Kenny Barron: I’ve worked with them off and on but it’s the first time recording with this quintet. The rhythm section (bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake) has been with me for a while…they’re part of my trio. I met Dayna Stephens when I did a workshop at Stanford University. He was part of the workshop as a student, so this was maybe ten years ago. When he finally moved to New York, I was able to work with him more often. As for Mike Rodriguez, I happened to hear him at the Jazz Standard as part of the Rodriguez Brothers. He’s a great trumpet player, has a beautiful sound, and can sight read anything. He really knows how to negotiate changes and plays some interesting stuff. So, I’m very happy with the band.

AJ: It’s a well-tuned machine, that can change motions and direction very smoothly. Your take on Monk’s “Reflections” is gorgeous. It’s like a little gift at the end of a wonderful record.

KB:  Yeah, that’s a beautiful song, I like that piece. 


AJ: Another cover is Lenny White’s “L’s Bop”. That’s a great tune I don’t think enough people do.

KB: “L’s Bop,” yeah, right. That’s not an easy song to play.

AJ: Right, it has some interesting structural changes.

KB: Yeah, and trying to play that melody on the piano is a real finger buster. But, it’s really fun to play and is a nice piece.

AJ: In contrast to that, “In the Dark” is just a gorgeous piece and really sets up the rest of the record.

KB: Yeah, that’s a song I actually wrote for a film soundtrack. Unfortunately, they didn’t use the music I wrote, but I think the film went straight to video. It was called Another Harvest Moon, starring Ernest Borgnine and Doris Roberts.

AJ: It really sits nicely in the middle of the disc. Especially after “Von Hangman.”

KB: Yes, “Von Hangman” is actually a phrase that came from back when I played with trumpeter Eddie Henderson quite a few years ago. Whenever there was a difficult passage or something that was tricky to execute on the trumpet, Eddie would say, “Ahhh, Von Hangman.”

AJ:  Well, it’s a fabulous tune. Also, you certainly chose a great Brazilian tune in “Aquele Frevo Axé.”

KB: You know, a recording of that song is on my iPod. I always keep it on shuffle and kept hearing it. It kept coming up, and I thought it was a pretty song and you know, that I’d like to play it. So, I transcribed it and we’ve been playing it ever since.

AJ: It really works on the CD for sure. You also have “A Short Journey,” which sounds Coltrane-esque…

KB: Well, that one’s kind of ad-libbed…it’s something that I wrote at the studio. I just wanted something that was kind of loose and would create a certain atmosphere.

AJ: Well, to just knock that off, I have my hat off to you. Tell me about “Blue Waters.” It’s kind of a slow drag with a beautiful piano break…

KB: Yeah, it’s kind of a 6/8 feeling. I have a Clavinova that I use for writing and when I wrote it, I used the electric piano sound. I actually thought about recording electric piano on it, because it seemed to fit the feeling of the piece, but I decided against it. I like the end result, the way it feels and moves, so it was something I was really happy with. I’m very happy with this record and with the way the band sounds.

AJ: One last tune to bring up is the title piece “Concentric Circles.” The ¾ beat really keeps it spinning…

KB: Yeah, it’s a waltz. I can’t tell you what inspired it. It’s very difficult for me to just say, ok it’s 5:00, time to write music. That just doesn’t work for me. I like to just sit at the piano and see what comes out. Sometimes a lot comes out, sometimes nothing much. Then, sometimes you don’t get everything all at once. You might get a melody or a chordal passage that will lead you to something else. “Concentric Circles” was one that came out that way.

AJ: Tell me about your upcoming dates. You guys are playing this week at the Jazz Standard?

KB: Yeah, we’re at the Standard through Sunday the 6th, then on May 12th we have a concert in Detroit and the Detroit Symphony Hall. Later this summer, we have a short European tour lined up, including a date at the San Sebastian Jazz Festival.


Concentric Circles is available now via Blue Note Records