Renowned Jazz Pianist Performs and Visits with Students

Kenny Barron mentors aspiring musicians through MSU Federal Credit Union Jazz Artist in Residence program.

Kenny Barron performs with MSU Octets at Cook Recital Hall in the College of Music.
Kenny Barron performs at the MSU Federal Credit Union Blue Monday concert. Photo by Jessica Cowles.
Kenny Barron performs with MSU Jazz Octets at the First Presbyterian Church of Hastings, Mich.
Kenny Barron and MSU Director of Jazz Studies, Rodney Whitaker perform for the Detroit TV Station WXYZ.
Kenny Barron performs for Williamston High School students, Williamston, Mich.
Kenny Barron conducts a workshop for students at Oxford High School, Oxford Mich.
Kenny Barron takes a moment to pose for a photo with the MSU Professors of Jazz and MSU Federal Credit Union board members after the Blue Mondays concert. Photo by Jessica Cowles.

Xavier Davis says he learned much of what he knows about jazz piano from listening to the greats. So when the associate professor of jazz piano at the MSU College of Music had a chance to bring one of the world’s finest jazz pianists to campus, he did, providing his students an opportunity to learn from one of the greats, too.

Leveraging his musical network, Davis arranged for the Philadelphia-born Kenny Barron to spend a week at MSU as part of the MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program. Davis and Barron had been colleagues at Juilliard for six years, and also knew each other from the jazz circuit. So when Barron came to MSU in mid-February, the rapport between students, faculty, and artist was instantaneous.

“It was great to bring someone of his level to MSU," says Davis. “Every time I hear Kenny play, it’s a lesson. I want my students to have the same experience—to learn from and be exposed to the greats."

Honored as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2010 and inducted into the American Jazz Hall of Fame, the 70-something Barron is known for his elegant playing, sensitive melodies and infectious rhythms. Considered one of the top jazz pianists in the world, as well as a master performer and composer, Barron has worked with such legendary artists as Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Barron was the third of four critically acclaimed artists to visit the College of Music this academic year through the jazz residency program supported by a $1 million endowment from the MSU Federal Credit Union. Barron mentored and performed with MSU jazz students Feb. 8-14, and toured with the MSU Jazz Octets, making stops at high schools and academies throughout Michigan. Barron’s residency also included public performances at the MSU Federal Credit Union and the Fairchild Theatre.

“Barron’s teaching style is leading by example,” Davis says. “He brought an inventiveness to each performance, and it was inspiring for students to hear him come up with amazing music right before their eyes. That’s a powerful teaching tool that gives students something to aspire to.”

MSU Jazz Studies junior Gerand McDowell counts Barron as one of his major influences. He says he was equally thrilled and nervous when he heard Barron was coming to MSU, and never thought in a million years he would be spending time with one of his jazz heroes in such a meaningful and personal way.

“It’s one thing to be among 500 people who shake a musician’s hand after a performance, and it’s another to spend time with him on the road,” McDowell says. “We rode together in busses and cars and he spent time with us between sets and after performances. It was incredible.”

MSU Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker says the jazz residency program provides an immersive, one-on-one experience for students, and helps position the College as a center for jazz study and tradition.

“Visits by jazz luminaries such as Mr. Barron also underscore our initiatives to bring music education and performance opportunities to students across Michigan,” Whitaker says. “We couldn’t do this without the generosity of the MSU Federal Credit Union. We are eternally grateful for their vision that propels us toward the highest standards of excellence.”

The MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program represents the largest-ever investment in the College of Music’s curriculum. The 2015-2016 season features a blazing line-up of critically acclaimed musicians from the international, national, and regional scene, including Trumpeter Brian Lynch, Drummer Jimmy Cobb, Pianist Kenny Barron, and Saxophonist Tim Warfield, Jr.

Recap: On the Road with Kenny Barron

While an MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence in February, jazz pianist Kenny Barron took to the road with the Jazz Octets as part of MSU’s efforts to bring jazz performance and education to Michigan high schools, music academies, and colleges.

Destinations and highlights:

  • Oxford High School… 45 students from Oxford participated in a workshop and attended an outreach concert with 300 community members
  • East Lansing High School… 100 students attended an outreach concert
  • Fowlerville High School… 300 students attended a school assembly
  • Williamston Middle School… Close to 600 students attended an in-school performance
  • Carr Center… 97 people from the surrounding Detroit community attended a concert

What people said:

“My students loved the concert! The performance was very well received, and it was very special not only to see Kenny Barron, but also the MSU students’ performance.”
– David Larzerlere, director of bands, East Lansing High School.

“I had many teachers who were amazed to have and hear such an influential artist at our school. The students commented that he was so easy to listen to and made everything sound smooth.”
– Melanie Rosin, director of bands, Williamston Middle School

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