Saxophonist, flutist, compser and arranger Kenny Garrett, a five-time GRAMMY Award-nominee and 2010 GRAMMY Award-winner (as a member of Chick Corea’s and John McLaughlin’s co-led Five Peace Band), and the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music in 2011 is going to perform wit his quartet at Nisville 2018, at August 9th. His distinguished credits extend from starting with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (under son Mercer Ellington) to Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Donald Byrd and Miles Davis (with whom he ascended to international stardom); to contemporary stars Marcus Miller, Sting, Meshell Ndegeocello, Q-Tip and funkateers Cameo. Kenny Garrett was born in Detroit, Michigan, on October 9, 1960; he is a 1978 graduate of Mackenzie High School. His father was a carpenter who played tenor saxophone as a hobby. Garrett’s own career as a saxophonist took off when he joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1978, then led by Duke’s son, Mercer Ellington. A few years later he performed in the Mel Lewis Orchestra, playing the music of Thad Jones, and also the Dannie Richmond Quartet, focusing on Charles Mingus’s music. In 1984, he recorded his first album as a bandleader, Introducing Kenny Garrett, on the CrissCross label. He then recorded two albums with Atlantic Records: Prisoner of Love and African Exchange Student. Since 1990 the majority of Garrett albums are co-produced by pianist/composer Donald Brown Garrett signed to the Warner Bros. Records label, and beginning with Black Hope in 1992, he has continued to record with them. Among his recordings on Warner Bros. are Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane, recorded in 1996, and Songbook, his first album made up entirely of his own compositions, recorded in 1997 and nominated for a Grammy Award. During his career, Garrett has performed and recorded with many jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, Brad Mehldau, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Brian Blade, Marcus Miller, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson, Ron Carter, Elvin Jones, and Mulgrew Miller. Garrett’s music sometimes exhibits Asian influences, an aspect which is especially prevalent in his 2006 Grammy-nominated recording, Beyond the Wall. Garrett is best known in many circles for the five years he spent playing with Miles Davis during Davis’s electric period, and has stated that he has become accustomed to this association: I was in Miles’ band for about five years. I think that tag will always be there. That is five years of my life. That’s the only musical situation that I was there longer than a year. It was a good five years. I have gotten used to that. Some people became aware of me through Miles and then they would come to my concerts. I think that is part of my history and I am proud of that. I am still trying to carve out my own name and my own music. I just look at it as a part of history and it is going to be there. Every time they mention Kenny Garrett, there will probably be some association with Miles Davis, but at the same time, when they mention Herbie Hancock, they always mention Miles Davis, or Wayne Shorter. You get used to it after a while. (allaboutjazz.com) Garrett’s live album Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium, featuring Pharoah Sanders, was released on September 23, 2008. On his website, KennyGarrett.com he stated that his band at the time consisted of electric bass and organ. Garrett performed in a world tour in 2008–2009 with Corea, McLaughlin, Christian McBride and Blade/Vinnie Colaiuta as the “Five Peace Band”. The CD Five Peace Band – Live won a Grammy Award in 2010. In 2011, Garrett was presented with an Honorary Doctorate in Music from Berklee College of Music, Boston, Massachusetts. Garrett also was the Commencement Speaker for graduates. In 2012, Garrett received a Soul Train Award nomination for his 2012 studio album Seeds from the Underground in the Best Traditional Jazz Artist/Group category. Also in 2012, Grammy nominations for Seeds from the Underground followed in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo categories, and Seeds From The Underground received a NAACP Image Award nomination in the Outstanding Jazz Album category. In 2013, Garrett won an Echo Award in the Saxophonist of the Year category. On September 17, 2013, Garrett released his second studio album for Mack Avenue Records, Pushing the World Away. The album received a Grammy nomination in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category that year. Garrett also won the 2013 Down Beat Readers Poll for the second consecutive year, which brought his total number of wins in the alto saxophone category to 8. More than any other artist in traditional jazz today, saxophonist/composer/arranger Kenny Garrett and his band are known to entice audiences to want to get up and groove. Be it in Spain where a man from Cameroon leaped up and broke out some African moves then was joined by a young break-dancer, or in Germany where a clearly classically trained ballet dancer was brought to his feet; in Poland where a fan literally jumped from the balcony onto the stage to dance, or at a festival in Barbados where music lovers got on up and grooved in the rain to “Happy People,” the spectacle is always the same: the spirit takes over and the movements come naturally. It is this spirit that Garrett has instigated and witnessed from stages around the world that fills Do Your Dance!–the saxophonist’s fourth for Mack Avenue Records. “I look out and see people waiting for the songs that they can party to and express themselves,” confirms Garrett, the nine-time winner of DownBeat’s Reader’s Poll for Alto Saxophonist of the Year. “Do Your Dance! was inspired by audiences moved to rise from their seats and ‘lift a foot!’ Some are reluctant to participate because they think that others are better than they are. I tell them, ‘Do your dance.’ That means even if you have to ‘stay pocket,’ do the Funky Four Corners or the Nae-Nae, don’t worry about what the other person is doing. Let it all hang out and ‘do your dance!’ On the title track we combine the spirit of a `70s-style beach get down with just a touch of hip-hop-ever in search of the link between the two. I had it playing while I was talking to my daughter on FaceTime. When it got to the end with that new vibe, she smiled and I thought, ‘Uh huh–gotcha!'” Do Your Dance! is a travelogue of rhythm from the melodic lilt of “Calypso Chant” and the soothing, Brazil-inspired “Bossa” to the summer barbecue spirit of “Backyard Groove” and “Philly.” Garrett elaborates, “‘Philly’ was inspired by people at an outdoor festival we played down the street from Temple University. That older generation was going in–dancing to hard bop, funkafied fire and calypso…anything we threw at them! That’s how people used to dance to jazz.”
It was inspiration in liquefied form that resulted in the novel “Wheatgrass Shot (Straight to the Head),” one of two tracks featuring rapper Mista Enz (Donald Brown, Jr.) of Knoxville, Tennessee. Recalling the tune’s circuitous origin, Garrett explains, “A nurse friend told me about the health benefits of wheatgrass. You can cut it with honey or fruit juice but I took it straight to the head, and the bitterness sent my body into contortions (another form of dance). Later, I was at the piano messing with this minor 2nd interval. I recognized it as a musical metaphor for that wheatgrass going upside my head! As the music took shape, I felt it needed a rap.” Garrett reached out to several sources, then co-producer Donald Brown gently intervened, offering, “My son raps.” Enter Mista Enz.
“The first track Kenny emailed me sounded like they turned on a tape recorder mid-session,” Enz confesses. “I thought it was gonna be impossible to write to, but it was an honor for Kenny to consider me, so I had to make it work. I didn’t have time to try the wheatgrass, so I typed it in on the Internet. Kenny told me the effect it had on him was like a ‘shot to the brain.’ I equated that to euphoria…the way a woman makes you feel. I did part of it freestyle and part of it written to stay on subject. Kenny called back and said it was exactly what he was looking for.”
Rounding out Do Your Dance! are “Persian Steps” (built from the ground up with just Ronald Bruner, Jr. on drums and Garrett on piano, later adding flute, a chant and shruti box-an Indian accordion he discovered in Germany) and “Chasing the Wind” (Garrett composing a piece at top speed in the tradition of bop standards that jazz musicians challenge themselves with by playing at triple time). Garrett dedicated “Waltz (3 Sisters)” to his fairer siblings. “My sisters have always been my support system in every way. Wherever I show up, they’re the first ones there. Sometimes you take it for granted because that’s family…but it doesn’t have to be that way. So I wrote one for them.”
Aside from Bruner–who, since gigging with Garrett, has played with artists from Stevie Wonder to Kamasi Washington–the saxophonist is joined by another drummer, McClenty Hunter, who was first documented with Garrett on his last album, Pushing the World Away. Also returning from the previous album is bassist Corcoran Holt whom Garrett first encountered four years ago at Blues Alley in DC.
Percussionist Rudy Bird goes back with Garrett to a 1983 tour of Sophisticated Ladies, and has since played with Michael Jackson and Lauryn Hill. Then there’s notoriously obtuse pianist Vernell Brown, Jr. who has played with the saxophonist since 2002’s Happy People and its follow-up Standard of Language. Finally, there is Garrett’s longtime co-producer Donald Brown, an old friend from days when, as a pianist, he shared the bandstand in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and his right-hand man on sessions off and on since Garrett’s highest Billboard Jazz chart-topper to date, African Exchange Student, in 1990.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Garrett concludes. “Records and concerts are about me taking people on the ride I want to take them on. It can be pretty ballads, some intensity, and then we can party! When they leave, I hope they feel like we took them on a journey. And when they come back to see us or put that CD in the player years later, I hope people have a deeper perspective on the music than the first time.”
“…one of the most admired alto saxophonists in jazz…”
– The New York Times
“He may play in the roaring language of Coltrane, but if there’s
a currently-active alto player who brings Bird’s verve and
animation to the table, it’s Kenny Garrett.” – Village Voice