The following obituary was from the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper, 24 Nov. The author's name wasn't included.
KENNY KIRKLAND, the pianist who has died aged 43, was a leading figure in the jazz renaissance of the early 1980s, along with the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Kirkland's technique and musical ingenuity earned him great critical praise and the admiration of musicians of his own and older generations.
He was, however, less set on a purely jazz career than most of his contemporaries, and drew inspiration from many forms of popular music. This caused friction in the self-enclosed jazz community and Kirkland's jazz career never really blossomed as it might have.
Kenneth David Kirkland,was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 28 1955 into a musical family. "Everybody took lessons, but I was the one that stuck out." He attended the Manhattan School of Music, studying piano, composition and theory, with a view to a career in teaching, but began making friends among jazz musicians and taking part in jam sessions.
Two players in particular had a strong influence on him: Kenny Barron inspired his efforts at the acoustic piano, and Herbie Hancock introduced him to the rapidly expanding world of synthesisers and electronic music. He first came to general notice in 1977, with a European tour, playing electric keyboards in the band of the violinist Michael Urbaniak. In 1979 he played on the saxophonist Dave Liebmans fusion-style album "What It Is."
During those early years of his career, Kirkland shuttled happily between electronic fusion music sand acoustic jazz on the conventional pattern. "I didnt grow up listening to jazz," he told Mark Gilbert of Jazz Journal in 1987. "I didnt start listening to it until I was about 30. Id listened more to RnB and rock, and that left me more open to everything. I can appreciate anything."
Eventually, in 1981, he was heard by Wynton Marsalis, a 20 year old prodigy in the process of forming his first band, and hired on the spot. Their five year collaboration produced three remarkable albums, "Think Of One", "Hot House Flowers" and "Black Codes", and inspired a whole new generation of jazz musicians around the world. Marsalis and, by association, the members of his band became musical examplars for a generation. Their evident seriousness, their articulate speech, even their stylish but conservative dress, all marked a distinct change from the two styles - modish or bohemian - in which jazz musicians then tended to present themselves.
Wynton Marsalis takes a high-minded, almost puritanical view of the jazz art. His contemptuous denunciation of contemporary pop modes are much quoted - "Rap is nothing more than a celebration of ignorance and violence."
When, therefore, Kirkland and Branford Marsalis, Wyntons saxophonist brother, announced that they were leaving the band in order to tour with the rock star Sting in 1985, the news was greeted with righteous anger, followed by icy dismissal.
In the event, Kirklands period with Sting seems to have brought him great satisfaction. His piano solo stopped the show and received a standing ovation on at least one occasion. His work on Stings album The Dream Of The Blue Turtles brought offers of studio work rolling in.
He recorded an album under his own name for the GRP label in 1991. When Branford Marsalis was offered the post of musical director on the "Tonight" show, Kirkland became his pianist and right-hand man. He remained with the show until his death from a heart attack.
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