Frank Kimbrough’s musical and personal legacy lives on

Jon W poses

As I prepare to submit this column for your reading pleasure, I am listening to the late pianist Frank Kimbrough’s version of “You Only Live Twice”, which appears on his “Volume I: Lullabluebye” (Palmetto)a trio session with bassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson.

While the opening notes and intro to his “version” of “You Only Live Twice” are easily recognizable from his namesake James Bond movie, I had to double-check the CD credits just to be sure. I saw inclusion as an atypical repertoire for the fairly imaginative and impeccably improvised pianist.

Again, historically speaking, many jazz musicians – perhaps Sonny Rollins is the best example – have exploited everything from show tunes, musicals and Broadway hits to movie themes and the Great American Songbook, embracing this material with a sense of duty, responsibility and purpose. . They honor and respect both the origins of the work on the one hand and appropriate the rendering.

That’s exactly what Kimbrough, Allison and Wilson are doing here. It also happens to be the only non-Kimbrough original on this 10-selection disc, except for “Ben’s Tune”, an Allison composition.

“Lullabluebye” is the first of a remixed and remastered two-CD Kimbrough set, soon to be reissued and titled: “2003-2006.” His companion, “Volume II: Play”, is also a threesome date. Released three years after its predecessor, also as a 10-selection recording, it features the work of bassist Masa Kamaguchi and one of the pianist’s influencers, drummer Paul Motian, who joins Kimbrough for this excursion. musical.

Unsurprisingly, Volume II is made up of all the originals except for the title track, which was composed by Motian.

Although both recordings are clear demonstrations of the classic piano-bass-drums trio setup, each recording stands on its own. After listening to each several times, I came away with the feeling that Volume I explores more expansive and outgoing material while Volume II feels quieter; the piano-led trio spend more time looking and searching within.

There are certainly similarities between the two records. Kimbrough has spent a lot of time with Thelonious Monk’s music. In fact, his last release – in 2018 – is “Monk’s Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk” (Sunnyside); it’s nothing short of comprehensive and masterful as Kimbrough, working as a quartet with multi-reed player Scott Robinson, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Billy Drummond, recorded every known Composition of Monk, who completed six CDs.

Monk’s imprint can be heard at various intermittent points on both records. The same can be said for Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Herbie Nichols who, like Monk, served as the catalyst for a Kimbrough “musical chapter” and several releases under the ensemble known as The Herbie Nichols Project.

I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Kimbrough live many times and in a variety of settings – from his trio to his tenure as pianist for over 25 years of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, which made his only appearance at Columbia in March 2008. He heard on virtually every Schneider release from 1996 to 2020.

We are fortunate that Kimbrough was quite prolific and left the world a dozen or more recordings under his own name, while contributing perhaps 100 more entries to support the efforts of his many colleagues.

Kimbrough died in December 2020, aged 64. A native of North Carolina, who took up the piano essentially as a child, he first moved to Washington DC in 1980 and then to New York a year later. Kimbrough’s passing had a huge impact on many people.

Shortly after his death, the website published an article titled “Frank Kimbrough: From Now to Always – A Memory.” In part, Brooklyn-based Ludovico Granvassu, editor of the site’s Italian edition, offered a compressed biographical snapshot of Kimbrough.

Wisely, however, AAJ also decided to include extensive first-person commentary from musicians. Here are some condensed selections of notes from musicians. The article and full commentary are available online.

Palmetto Records founder Matt Balitsaris said, “Kimbrough was what a musician should aspire to, but very few are. He played without ego, in service to whatever the music and the situation demanded of him.”

“Although he was incredibly knowledgeable, his artistry was driven by a kind of incredible confidence in what each moment would bring to the music,” said Schneider, a longtime cohort. “Over the years I’ve heard him invent hundreds of intros to this magical place, on the fly, that were as sophisticated as any Debussy prelude.”

Saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins was a student of Kimbrough at Juilliard and said: “He was like an uncle to me and cared deeply about all of his students. He often believed in me at times when I felt like an outsider, and he was a wealth of knowledge. … When I look back on our relationship, I think of the boundless support he gave me in all aspects of my life. I hope I will continue to make him proud.

Drummer Wilson said that “in addition to our strong musical ties, we shared another interest, talking. Frank and I loved visiting and telling stories. We would delve into the music, the teaching, the life, and then share an anecdote who would have us bursting out laughing.His stories flowed just like the beautiful music he offered us.

Jon W. Poses is executive director of the “We Always Swing” jazz series. Contact him at [email protected]