Kenny Garrett still brings it

In the past week I’ve done two things that brought normalcy a little closer to reality.

One: played a gig. Two, saw somebody else play a gig.

Not too much to report about my own gig. Yup, still know how to play the piano.

You know who else knows how to play the piano, like, really well?

Kenny Garrett.

And that’s not even his main instrument!

Saturday evening I had the pleasure of seeing legendary saxophonist Kenny Garrett and his quintet take the stage at Keystone Korner in Baltimore, now doing in-person live shows again in addition to livestreaming its shows.

(Never went for the streaming option. I appreciated their effort, trying to make do in the COVID era, but come on, who wants to watch an empty jazz club?)

Keystone Korner is one of what I’d call a few remaining “real” jazz clubs around. And real jazz musicians know it. That’s why the little club can pull in big-name talent every single weekend.

Kenny Garrett has been a big name for over 40 years. Still trying to place him? Ever hear of Miles Davis or the Duke Ellington Orchestra? Yeah, that was Kenny playing the sax with them.

I saw Kenny Garrett play at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 2008. I know that jazz in a chamber hall is basically jazz on a golf course. (Quiet, please.) Listen, applaud, repeat. That’s what I was expecting that night in ’08.

Not what I got.

I’ve often described that evening as life altering, and it really was. I’d never thought “jazz” could behave like that. Or rather, that we could behave like that, the artists and the audience, listening to jazz. It was a jazz concert with the intensity of a rock concert, to take the easy analogy, and I remember thinking that symphony hall would never look the same.

That experience changed the way I viewed “jazz,” and the way I played jazz as well. A friend of mine reminded me recently that the way we grow as musicians is not to retreat to some isolated cabin and produce a great record. Our capacity to produce is highest when we consume, taking ideas from others and putting our own touches on them in a sort of unplanned collaboration each of us has with one another.

My only disappointment Saturday night is that I knew what was coming. I knew it was going to rock. I knew it was going to be intense. I knew Kenny was going to put down his saxophone, chant a little in the mic, then walk over and bang out a few chords on the piano before picking up the horn again. His alto floats over the changes like a jam band’s guitar, and every once in a while he quotes Coltrane or Sonny Rollins, just to show he can.

Yeah, I would have loved to go in fresh.

But the second time was pretty sweet too.

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About moc

My name is Mike O'Connell. I am 40 years old and live in Northern Virginia. I am a teacher, a musician, and an enthusiast of all things American.

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