Cellar Music Group and SmallsLIVE Living Masters Series Announce the Release of Kirk Lightsey Live at Smalls Jazz Club, Out November 4, 2022

On Kirk Lightsey Live at Smalls Jazz Club, produced by Cellar Music Group and the SmallsLIVE Living Masters Series, revered pianist Kirk Lightsey steps into the spotlight to lead an extraordinary band through a spirited program at the iconic Smalls Jazz Club. For nearly seventy years, Detroit native Lightsey has astounded audiences with inventive original compositions and imaginative renditions of classic jazz standards. ‘Live at Smalls Jazz Club’ captures Lightsey at what will perhaps be known as his musical peak. The release features the visionary pianist alongside guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist Santi Debriano and drummer Victor Lewis.

So often, we as a listening community celebrate our jazz greats whose stellar creative output and potent beginnings were cut short by tragedy – but what of the jazz musicians who have ceaselessly acted as forces of creation since their arrival on the scene – who have dedicated their lives to promoting and furthering the vibrancy of the jazz artform? These musicians are often overlooked. Such is the case with the unsung hero of jazz piano, Mr. Kirk Lightsey – the master pianist whose hallmark sound can be heard on iconic recordings by Chet Baker, Kenny Burrell, Clifford Jordan and Sonny Stitt, as well as on his countless ground-breaking recordings as a bandleader.

With Kirk Lightsey Live at Smalls, Cellar Music Group and SmallsLIVE Foundation have documented the stellar work of veteran jazz-great Kirk Lightsey as part of their critically-acclaimed “SmallsLIVE Living Masters Series. SmallsLIVE Foundation founder Spike Wilner recalls his early moments with the piano great: “When I was a young man (21 or 22) I’d put on a jacket and tie and go to Bradley’s. I was terrified. I remember sitting in the corner of the bar, silent and awestruck. A fly on the wall, I saw Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Mulgrew Miller, Ronnie Matthews, Barry Harris, Larry Willis and slews of other pianists play there, duet in the corner of the room. The king of them all, for me, was Kirk Lightsey. He always came in with Santi Debriano (his main man) and these guys lit up the club. Kirk’s smile was a beacon in the darkness and his vibe so warm and generous. I eventually got the courage to go up and meet my hero. I shook his hand and complimented him on the music. I asked him; “how do I get chord voicings like that?” and he responded; “it takes a lifetime!” These words still ring in my head and still ring true.”

A legend among us, Lightsey still bursts at the seams with the same imaginative spark that fueled early recordings such as “Habiba” and “Lightsey 1” Lightsey’s creativity and power flows through the tracks of Kirk Lightsey Live at Smalls and is only amplified by his company – Whitfield’s stunning melodicism sits perfectly atop Lightsey’s lush voicings and longtime associate Debriano’s pulse alongside Lewis’ rhythmic invention provides just the right bounce to underpin Lightsey’s supple harmonic jabs and fiery lyrical refrains. 

On tracks like “In Your Own Sweet Way”, “Lament” and “Blues on the Corner”, the pianist pays homage to fallen jazz legends, putting his own unique flair to their classic compositions – every ardent phrase released from his muscular right-hand espousing the greatness passed down through the lineage of jazz to his own fingers. Lightsey’s composition “Heaven Dance” provides a joyful vehicle for the quartet to explore. The track, first recorded in 1988 with Lightsey’s trio ‘The Leaders’ featuring Cecil McBee on bass and Don Moye on drums, is performed here with an ardent urgency, featuring stunning solos from Lightsey and Whitfield.

Spike Wilner remarks “Fast forward a lifetime and now as the owner of Smalls I can present my friend Kirk Lightsey to our overjoyed crowd. The smile is still luminous as is the spirit. He is still the king. Ageless and effusive, Kirk Lightsey is a phenomenon. Now I am proud to call him a friend. It is with great pleasure that we could give him this SmallsLIVE Living Masters Award and document him with this great band. Kirk stands out in the pantheon of New York jazz piano greats and he is still among us.”

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Track Listing

  1. In Your Own Sweet Way 10:01
    Brubeck (Derry Music Company – BMI))
  2. Freedom Jazz Dance 12:01
    Harris (Seventh House Ltd. – BMI)
  3. Pee Wee 8:57
    T. Williams (Tillmon Music Co. – BMI)
  4. Heaven Dance 4:09
    K. Lightsey
  5. Lament 13:06
    J.J. Johnson (Screen Gems-EMI Muic Inc. – BMI)
  6. Blues On The Corner 8:17
    M. Tyner (Aisha Music Company – BMI) 

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