Pianist/composer Frank Kimbrough has been active on the New York jazz scene for nearly 30 years. He is currently a Palmetto recording artist, having previously recorded as a leader for OmniTone, Soul Note, Igmod, and Mapleshade. Frank was a founding member and composer-in-residence of the Jazz Composers Collective (1992 – 2005), and during the Collective’s existence played in nearly twenty of its associated groups. He continues to perform solo concerts and with his trio, and is otherwise in demand as a sideman. Frank’s playing has been recognized by his inclusion in the Downbeat Critics Poll each year since 2001, and his recordings are often included in jazz critics’ year’s-end top-ten lists.
Frank’s most recent trio CD is Live at Kitano, with bassist Jay Anderson and Drummer Matt Wilson. Other trio recordings on Palmetto include Rumors, with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Jeff Hirshfield, Play, with Masa Kamaguchi and Paul Motian, Lullabluebye, with bassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson, and Chant, with Ben Allison and Jeff Ballard.
Kimbrough’s much anticipated debut solo piano recording, Air, features Frank’s original compositions alongside tunes by Paul Motian, Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington. In a recent review in The New York Times, Nate Chinen says “fittingly, rewardingly, it’s a mature and personal reflection. He approaches each theme with generosity and composure. His readings of Monk’s “Coming On The Hudson” and “Jackie-ing”, both resplendent in tensions, hint at an elusive mastery.” His 2007 solo concert at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art was named among the best performances of the year by All About Jazz New York, and Air one of the top 10 Jazz CDs of 2008 by Slate Magazine.
Growing up in Roxboro, NC in a musical family, Kimbrough received full support for his musical endeavors, as both of his parents and all of his siblings were musicians. He has been playing piano since before he can remember and received influential piano instruction from an early age. His foundation in classical music studies grounded him in strong technique and profoundly influenced his open musical tastes. After leaving college, he formed his first trio and set out in pursuit of real world musical opportunities, first in Chapel Hill, and then in Washington, D.C. In Washington he met Shirley Horn, who became an enthusiastic supporter and mentor. He worked there with his trio, and as a sideman with Maurice Robertson, Buck Hill, Paul Horn, Anthony Braxton and Webster Young. Arriving in New York in the fall of 1981, he sought out pianists Paul Bley and Andrew Hill, both unique artists who helped him hone his artistic identity. In 1985, he won the Great American Jazz Piano Competition at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. The next year, on Shirley Horn’s recommendation, he made his first recordings and since then has recorded sixteen albums as a leader or co-leader.
Kimbrough’s involvement in the Jazz Composers Collective, with its 11-year-long concert series, diverse recording projects and frequent touring, fostered several of Kimbrough’s groups: trios with bassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson (Lullabluebye, on Palmetto), or Allison and Jeff Ballard (Quickening, a live JCC concert recording on OmniTone), his duo with vibraphonist Joe Locke (Saturn’s Child and The Willow, both on OmniTone); and his group with saxophonist Scott Robinson, guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Tony Moreno (Noumena, also a JCC concert recording on Soul Note). Major support for Kimbrough’s work as a composer has come from Meet the Composer, The Mary Flagler Cary Trust, and Chamber Music America’s Doris Duke Jazz Ensembles Project. As an integral part of most of the Collective’s groups, Frank worked closely with the other composers-in-residence, touring and recording with Ben Allison’s Medicine Wheel and Peace Pipe groups; Ted Nash’s Still Evolved Quintet and Double Quartet, Ron Horton’s Quartet and Septet, and Michael Blake’s Elevated Quartet, Free Association, and Eulipion Orchestra. Besides co-leading the Herbie Nichols Project with Ben Allison, he participated in other Collective endeavors focusing on the music of Andrew Hill, Lucky Thompson and Lennie Tristano; and he’s played on concerts and recordings by some of the Collective’s guest composers including Eddie Gale, Ed Neumeister and Jon Gordon.
In 1995 Frank was awarded a Jazz Performance Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts for his work on Herbie Nichols’ music, which he’d begun in 1985. The Jazz Composers Collective’s Herbie Nichols Project has toured the U.S., Canada, Brazil, France, Portugal, Wales, Netherlands, Azores, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and England, and its work has been documented on three critically acclaimed CDs for Soul Note and Palmetto. Kimbrough has written about Nichols’ life and work for the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, and with Ben Allison, contributed liner notes to The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Herbie Nichols.
Frank also enjoys work as a frequently sought-after sideman, and has performed or recorded with saxophonists Dewey Redman, Rick Margitza, Rich Perry, and Noah Preminger, trumpeter Dave Ballou, bassist Ron Brendle, drummer Tony Moreno, and vocalists Kendra Shank, Maryanne deProphetis, Judi Silvano, Katie Bull, and others. As a duet partner, he’s been paired with Lee Konitz, Paul Bley, Joe Locke, Noah Preminger, Scott Robinson, and Ben Allison. Kimbrough’s duo performance with Bley at New York City’s Merkin Hall in May 2006 was cited by Time Out New York magazine as one of the Best Live Shows of 2006.
Maria Schneider invited Kimbrough to join her orchestra in 1993, just as she began her five-year Monday night residency at Visiones in Greenwich Village. Since then, Frank has performed with the MSO in the U.S., Macao, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Spain, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, France, England, Luxembourg and Finland. He is prominently featured on Schneider’s Grammy-winning CD Concert In The Garden, and also appears on her three previous albums: Coming About, Days Of Wine And Roses, and Allegresse. He also appears on Sky Blue, her latest on artistShare.
Frank has made a name for himself as a supportive and inspiring educator. In 2008 he was appointed to the Jazz Studies faculty at the Juilliard School, where he teaches applied piano, piano classes, and leads an ensemble. He currently also teaches at the New York Jazz Workshop. From 1996 – 2001, he served on the adjunct faculty of New York University’s Department of Performing Arts Professions. Residencies and workshops include the Juilliard School, Paris Conservatory (with Maria Schneider), Oxford University and The New School University (with the Jazz Composers Collective), Berklee College of Music, Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music (with Maria Schneider), Indiana State University, the University of Iowa, the University of North Florida, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Appalachian State University, the University of Minnesota, and [email protected] Center Outreach Program (with Matt Wilson’s Arts and Crafts). Frank has also served as an adjudicator for Chamber Music America’s Doris Duke Jazz Ensembles Project, The Great American Jazz Piano Competition, The American Pianists Association’s Cole Porter Fellowship Competition, and the Thelonious Monk Competition in composition.
He also contributed transcriptions and annotations for a recently released book of Andrew Hill’s compositions, published by Hal Leonard.
“Kimbrough belongs to an elite group of pianist-composers able to dream in many odd colors and time signatures, leaving curious designs – and brighter moods – in their wake.”
Gene Seymour, New York Newsday
(Frank Kimbrough is…)”a near-visionary whose piano-improvising, composing, and band-leading skills seek out the dark corners of untrod jazz terrain. His work simmers with melodic intrigue and formal invention.”
The New Yorker