Each decade since the 30s has produced a handful of versatile pianists who can convey the music of a broad array of soloists and composers--e.g., Hank Jones in the 40s, Tommy Flanagan in the 50s, Mulgrew Miller in the 80s. Since such versatility can obscure one's distinctive musical persona, such players often remain under the radar of the casual listener, but in some ways they're the glue that holds together the music of their time. Since joining Dizzy Gillespie's combo at the age of 19, Kenny Barron has easily earned his place in this line, appearing on hundreds of recordings while establishing his reputation as a "musicians' pianist" in Yusef Lateef's band in the 70s and the cooperative group Sphere in the 80s. He finally achieved greater general recognition as Stan Getz's pianist at the end of the saxophonist's life. In the 90s, Barron became enamored of Brazilian music, which seeded several of his high-profile albums; it now finds fruition in his Canta Brasil project, a partnership between Barron and the acoustic Trio da Paz, which stars three spectacular Brazilian-born players: guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Nilson Matta, and drummer-composer Duduka Da Fonseca. Canta Brasil performs for half of this concert; the other half features the Classical Jazz Quartet, in which Barron joins veteran bassist Ron Carter and gifted young vibist Stefon Harris to blur the lines between jazz improvisation and the notated works of Western composers (thus far on disc they've tackled Bach and Tchaikovsky). In so doing, they've positioned themselves as heirs of the Modern Jazz Qartet--a strategy not without pitfalls, but thus far executed with a lot more success than I'd have predicted. Monday, May 5, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.