Born on October 9, 1960, in Detroit, MI. Addresses: Record company--Warner Bros. Records Inc., 3300 Warner Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505-4694.
Low-keyed and soft-spoken, Kenny Garrett lets his music do the talking, and he communicates clearly through his post-bop saxophone styles, exuding easy listening from his alto horn. After years of apprenticeship with legendary jazz bands including the Jazz Messengers and the Woody Shaw Quintet, Garrett came to prominence during the 1980s as Miles Davis's sideman. After Davis died, Garrett moved into his own spotlight as the bandleader of the Kenny Garrett Quartet. In addition to his various album releases during the 1990s, he contributed to dozens of works by his fellow jazz musicians. He is an incessant philosopher, an innovator, a composer, and a musical arranger.
Garrett was born in Detroit, Michigan, on October 9, 1960. He was the second of four siblings. Musically, his parents were heterodyne; his mother enjoyed rhythm and blues, while his father listened to jazz. Garrett's father was a professional saxophone player, and as a result, Garrett developed an early interest in music. His father taught him the scales, and Garrett started to play his own saxophone at the age of nine or ten. He enjoyed the instrument and brought it with him to school, playing whenever he found the opportunity. Garrett got his original groove in his hometown of Detroit, where he worked with Marcus Belgrave. Belgrave, well known for his community spirit, mentored Garrett for a time.
In high school, Garrett played gigs around town on the weekends, and predictably each Monday morning he stumbled tardily into the classroom. Despite his youth, he had matured into an old-school jazzman by the time he graduated, maintaining a reserved and skeptical cynicism for academia. In 1978, he gained acceptance to the famous Berklee School of Music. Coincidentally, he received an invitation to join Mercer Ellington on tour. Garrett subsequently chose not to attend Berklee and elected instead to tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Garrett avowed repeatedly that he never regretted the decision to forego school because his experience with the orchestra proved invaluable and contributed to his development as a uniquely skilled musician. From the Ellington Orchestra, Garrett's career led him to stints with Freddie Hubbard's band and with Woody Shaw.
After many months on the road, Garrett moved to New York City in 1980. There he played with a band called Out of the Blue. He cut his debut album on the Criss Cross label as a bandleader with the Kenny Garrett Quintet. The album, released in 1984, was called Introducing Kenny Garrett.Around that same time, Garrett joined with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. In 1986, still with Blakey, Garrett earned a spot as sideman for Miles Davis. He worked with Davis for five years and developed a singular musical rapport with Davis. Additionally, Garrett continued as a bandleader, recording for the Atlantic Jazz label. He released Prisoner of Lovein 1989 and African Exchange Studentin 1990. When Davis passed away in 1981, Garrett stepped full speed into the bandleader's shoes, having apprenticed for nearly 20 years and having worked with the great jazz players of history.
For the duration of the decade, Garrett settled into a quartet with Nat Reeves on bass, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Kenny Kirkland on piano. Garrett recorded a handful of albums on the Warner Brothers label during the remainder of the 1990s, including Black Hopein 1992, Trilogyin 1995, and Pursuance: The Music of John Coltranein 1996. His next two albums--Songbookin 1997 and Simply Said in 1999--were written almost exclusively by Garrett himself. In July of 1997, he and his band spent three days in the Netherlands at the North Sea Jazz Festival at The Hague, and in June of 1998 they performed on the Symphony Space concert ticket at the JVC Jazz Festival along with jazz violinist Regina Carter. Following Kirkland's untimely death late in 1998, the Kenny Garrett Quartet regrouped to include former Toni Braxton drummer Christopher Dave, bassist Nat Reeves, and Shedrick Mitchell on piano. Pianists Nick Smith and Mulgrew Miller also contributed guest performances.
Garrett paid homage openly and often to his predecessors and heroes in American jazz. His 1996 remembrance of John Coltrane, called Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane,featured Pat Metheny on guitar, drummer Brian Blade, and Rodney Whitaker on bass. The recording earned recognition as the Jazz Album of the Year, according to a readers' poll from Down Beat. Garrett himself was named Alto Saxophone Player of the year in the same poll. His self-produced 1999 release, called Simply Said,reflects the influence of his half-decade stint with Miles Davis.
It is Garrett's philosophical attitude that rules his music. He is a paradoxical purist in the juxtaposed arena of jazz and subscribes to an idealistic school of thought and lets the truth resound from his horn. He is a "righteously devoted musician working toward a purpose somewhat higher than mere entertainment," Down Beat'sHoward Mandel said of Garret. "His horn's cries are honest...." Despite his traditional, "hard-knocks" approach to performing jazz, Garrett refuses to discount the validity of other music styles and encourages musicians to experiment with popular music as well as jazz, in a quest for new and stimulating arrangements. "Young musicians shouldn't be afraid to take the opportunity to play popular music . It doesn't mean you have to stay there," he confided to Martin Johnson of Down Beat. Garrett's own compositions often surprise his listeners because his music adheres closely to rhythm and form, in apparent opposition to Garrett's impressive improvisational style and reputation. Billboard's Steve Graybow said that Garrett is "one of the music's most dynamic and adventurous players...." yet he has composed "songs that he hopes will nurture the next generation of jazz musicians." On Songbook, his 1997 Warner Brothers release, Garrett revealed what he called his "softer side," according to Mandel. "I'm trying to tell a story in a different way with the same jazz language my heroes employed... That's why I try to mix my music up [and] play something for everybody," Garrett said.
Evolution is the paradigm that rules Garrett's art. In adherence to his belief that to do is to learn and to further his quest for stimulating new styles, Garrett spent time beyond his years of band apprenticeship working at times with artists from schools of music foreign to modern American jazz. On tour with Sting for Amnesty International, Garrett traveled to Africa, Greece, and Indonesia. While in Indonesia he spent some weeks working with a local saxophone player named Ibu (Ebu) from whom Garrett learned Polynesian rhythms and the Balinese scale. Additionally, he spent time working with vocalist Jano Okiko of Japan and learning Japanese scales. Garrett also plays both the flute and the soprano sax at various times. He has worked with vibraphonist Bobby Hutchinson on Skyline in 1999 and appeared with the Kenny Garrett Quartet at the Montreaux Jazz festival in Switzerland. Also in 1999, Garrett joined Mulgrew Miller and others in contributing to the Urban Dreams album produced by saxophonist Ron Brown's Mankind Records. The non-profit project helped to sponsor a community-based arts program for children in Austin, Texas.
by Gloria Cooksey
Kenny Garrett's Career
Member of Duke Ellington Orchestra, 1978; played with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, and Miles Davis, 1986-91; Kenny Garrett Quartet, 1995--; with Atlantic Records, late 1980s; with Warner Brothers Records, 1991--.
Kenny Garrett's Awards
Album of the Year, Down Beat, 1997; Alto Saxophonist of the Year, Down Beat, 1997.
- Selected discography
- Introducing Kenny Garrett ,Criss Cross, 1984.
- African Exchange Student , Atlantic Jazz, 1990.
- Black Hope , Warner Brothers, 1992.
- Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane , Warner Brothers, 1996
- Trilogy , Warner Brothers, 1995.
- Songbook , Warner Brothers, 1997.
- Simply Said , Warner Brothers, 1999.
- Urban Dreams (contributor), Mankind Records, 1999.
- Billboard, June 12, 1999, p. 32.
- Down Beat, September 1995, p. 16; September 1997, p. 16; December 1997, p. 38; September 1999, p. 14; December 1999, p. 58.
- "Kenny Garrett," AMG All Music Guide, http://allmusic.com/ (February 5, 2000).
- "My Conversation with Kenny Garrett," interview with Fred Jung, June 1999, http://visionx.com/jazz/iviews/Garrett.htm (March 14, 2000).