Kirk Lightsey Live at Smalls Jazz Club
Release date: November 4, 2022
Label: Cellar Music Group
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.”
I Will Never Stop Loving You
Release date: September 3, 2021
Label: Jojo Records
Heralded pianist Kirk Lightsey's new solo studio recording I Will Never Stop Loving You comes three and a half decades after the artist’s highly acclaimed solo recordings from the mid-eighties Lightsey I, Lightsey II and Lightsey Live!. Lightsey returns with a solo flight that retrospects an illustrious career as a distinctive and singular voice in jazz piano. I Will Never Stop Loving You is an intimate album made by a mature musician firm in his element. Capturing the close intimacy between Kirk and his dearest instrument, alongside the lightest of touches of the pedal and faint traces of his own breath, it retains the listener’s fascination from beginning to end.
A member of the eminent Detroit school of jazz piano, Kirk is a sophisticated improviser who plays complex chords with a personal and subtle touch. Possessing a distinct sound of his own, his idiosyncratic delivery is usually recognizable from the very first notes. The New York Times sketches Lightsey as “An 82 year old pianist with a diaphanous harmonic sensibility and a redoubtable résumé (he toured and/or recorded with Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker and Woody Shaw, among countless others).”
The Detroit born pianist saw his rise in prominence in the mid 1960s when he moved to New York and recorded with Chet Baker and George Coleman on their iconic Prestige sessions. Lightsey then ventured West to California at the end of the decade to perform with such jazz luminaries as Pharoah Sanders and Bobby Hutcherson. This innovative era laid the groundwork for decades of musical output which finally landed on his 1982 debut as a single leader on Lightsey I, regarded to this day as a seminal pianistic masterwork. In 1988, Lightsey was voted among the top pianists in the world by the Downbeat International Critics’ Poll and in 1989, he was chosen as one of Steinway’s preferred artists. The artist defines himself as incorporating “a Bud Powell awareness, an Art Tatum styling, a bebop feeling and a pianist approach.”
“Patience. A lesson in patience. My whole life seems to be about the lesson of patience. Patience with myself,” Lightsey proclaims. On the topic of patience, I Will Never Stop Loving You appears to be a study of just that – a revisiting of classic compositions frequented by the pianist throughout a long and brilliant career, chronicling a ceaseless and persistent exploration for new sonacy and timbre.
Revisiting some of the most cherished compositions in his repertoire, on I Will Never Stop Loving You, Lightsey applies his singular touch and unique storytelling to a selection of beloved standards, some of which are even more identified with him than with the musicians who wrote them. Such are Tony Williams’ “Pee Wee” and Phil Woods’ “Goodbye Mr. Evans”, while Coltrane’s iconic and highly technical “Giant Steps” receives an extremely irregular interpretation, with almost no single notes. Wayne Shorter’s music, a constant presence in Kirk’s musical path, appears with 3 compositions from Shorter’s classic Blue Note recording Speak No Evil, further intertwining a long relationship which dates back to Kirk’s first gigs in NYC upon his arrival to the city in the mid 1960s.
The album’s title track “I Will Never Stop Loving You”, a lesser-known composition conveyed by the pianist, was a specific request from Jojo Records founder and the album’s producer, Simon Belelty. A masterwork of grace and nuance, the tender piece begins the album and sets the tone for an album wrife with evocative arrangements, and exquisite exploration.
for Kirk Lightsey: Live at Smalls Jazz Club
"Live At Smalls is a treasure and a recording that the concert loving public is lucky to have." Read the full review in the February 2023 issue of DownBeat Magazine.
"Lightsey’s piano playing is as bright as his legendary smile.." Read the review here.
"For subtlety and consummate, classic, mainstream, touch you will be hard pushed to find anything close in terms of live piano recordings this year." Read the review here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"..a historic recording by four jazz legends that represent the beauty, legacy and bountifulness of Kirk Lightsey and his inimitable quartet." Read the review here.
THE BIG TAKEOVER
"..his harmonic sophistication and distinctive chord voices take responsibility for the shape and feel of each tune.." Read the review here.
BEBOP SPOKEN HERE
"..upon repeated playing they are all favourite tracks." Read the review here.
"This new entry in the SmallsLIVE Living Masters series finds him foregrounding a loose, almost jam-session atmosphere.” Read the review in the February 2023 print issue.
"Pianist Kirk Lightsey is caught in concert with an impressive team.." Read the review here.
"Now 85 years old, pianist Kirk Lightsey is one of the most respected of musicians.." Read the review here.
for I Will Never Stop Loving You
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Lightsey molds each complex piece so that there's nothing in the way of the simple heart." Read this review here.
This intimate recording showcases the renowned pianist’s characteristic sophisticated improvisations and nuanced delivery, as he revisits some of the most cherished compositions in his repertoire. Read this announcement here.
"The album’s title number is the sole original—and it sounds like a classic from the Great American Songbook." Read this review here.
LONDON JAZZ NEWS
"This is a master at work, we’re so lucky to still have him with us." Read this review here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"His imaginative mind speaks to your soul, if you listen hard enough." Read the full review here.
Solo piano is a consecrated calling for Kirk Lightsey, who made his name partly on the strength of a series of albums in that format more than 35 years ago. So it would be accurate in some sense to hail his exquisite new release — I Will Never Stop Loving You, arriving this Friday on Jojo Records — as a return to home truths. Read more here.
"We need to hear more from this wise and underappreciated master." Read the full review here.
"..the depth of expression, the power of the imagination make this record a beautiful work.." Read the full review in French here.
"The recorded sound of this album brilliantly captures the relationship between a deeply expressive artist and a wonderful Fazioli piano." Read the review here.
"Lightsey is quietly creative throughout these friendly explorations, which often sound as if the pianist was having warm conversations with old friends." Read the review here.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"The almost indistinguishable mix of composed and improvised elements combines with evanescent structures and unusual timbres to create dream-like textures that continue to dance in memory." Read the complete review in the February 2022 issue of The New York City Jazz Record here.