“Kurt Rosenwinkel is a genius – he really is,” says Eric Clapton concisely. Guitarist and composer Kurt Rosenwinkel is considered one of the most influential and significant voices of his generation. An artist who is among those that define anew and set the course for the future, who is both a brilliant performer and a pioneering and original composer.
Rosenwinkel (48) was born in Philadelphia to musical parents and from an early age preferred to express himself through music. He started playing the piano first, and wrote and performed his first original song when he was nine years old. At the age of 12, as he explored the guitar, his love for jazz began. He honed his skills in local Jam sessions in the Philadelphia area alongside musicians such as Al Jackson, Eddie Green, Tyrone Brown, and his musical father figure, saxophonist Tony Williams. From these musicians, who played alongside legendary artists such as Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins and Bill Evans, he absorbed the deeply rooted American jazz tradition. “I would sit in with them and that’s when I first discovered what it feels like when the whole house is on their feet, and you’re playing and swinging. That feeling, it just got me,” he admits.
He studied at Berklee College of Music, but left school to go on tour with his teacher, Gary Burton. He then moved to Brooklyn and began performing with Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, Joe Henderson, and Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band. During that period, he began to establish his status as a leading musician of his generation, the 1990s generation of New York City jazz. In small jazz clubs around Greenwich Village, a distinct sound was beginning to develop, the sound that will shape the musical landscape of his generation that includes fellow artists Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner, Joshua Redman, Chris Potter, Aaron Goldberg, Jeff Ballard, and others. Rosenwinkel released his debut album as a bandleader at the age of 26, and altogether 13 albums to date, as well as the 5 album releases as co-bandleader, and more than 70 recordings as a contributing artist.
“Mr. Rosenwinkel has always been a jazz guitarist of glowing lyricism and graceful exposition,” says the New York Times. Indeed, he features a clean and warm sound, perfect technical ability, ingenuity demonstrated through his multi-layered guitar approach, and a unique understanding of harmony. Since the very beginning, he developed his skills as both performer and composer. As a performer, after experiencing a crisis, he decided to challenge his musical knowledge, as he thought it interferes with the sheer joy of art. He, then, flipped the keys in the tuning pegs of his guitar, completely obliterating what he knew before. The process resulted in a creative breakthrough, which produced one of his most seminal recordings, The Next Step, featuring the modern classic, Zhivago. As a composer, he describes a profound and spiritual creative process, “I can’t really control what comes out of me. In fact, it’s kind of like I’m discovering things that are already there when I’m writing so the process of composition is more about having a blank slate in my mind and then seeing what comes and then discovering things. So I feel like it’s less of a function of will than it is a function of just listening.” As both a performer and composer, he emphasizes the essence of listening, “What my music is about in general…has to do with the relationship that we each have with the universe at large and how we use our intuition to listen to what it is telling us.”
Rosenwinkel remains grounded throughout his transcendental journey, and his magnificent design of sound landscapes is drawn from a variety of musical genres and influences. He is exceptionally fluent in the Bebop dialect and at the same time appreciates hip-hop artists such as The Notorious B.I.G. and Q-TIP, with whom he also collaborated. For example, his interpretation to Fall, the classic standard by Wayne Shorter, is a homage to hip-hop as he uses Q-Tip’s hit song Vivrant Thing as the rhythmic foundation. His original compositions are challenging in both harmony and rhythm so he insists on recruiting extraordinary drummers. “I’m very particular about the drums, because my music has roots in a lot of different musical styles and so I need for the people in my band and especially the drummer to understand how all of that relates to each other, and understands them in a way that’s not stylistically separated from each other,” he explains. He also notes that a trio is “a context that you can really grow a lot in” since it gives him the “freedom to create that space for myself, and also…to develop the techniques to do that.” This setting enables “taking care of the harmony and the melody at the same time,” he says.
With a fruitful career of nearly 25 years, Rosenwinkel’s all-embracing influence extends towards generations to come. His performance is a real treat for musicians and a joyous adventure for music lovers. Anchored in the rich and deep traditions of jazz, he is able to elevate his art to new heights, developing its expression in a unique and fascinating way. The Chicago Tribune appropriately concludes, “Kurt Rosenwinkel’s music is the future of jazz – just like bebop once was.”
Alexander Claffy Bass
Greg Hutchinson Drums
Photo credit :Kurt Rosenwinkel