Kenny Garrett

Burning Ambulance Podcast

10-04-2024 • 51 mins

Kenny Garrett has been playing for more than 40 years. Originally from Detroit, he joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the late 70s, when it was being run by Ellington’s son Mercer. He also played with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and with Donald Byrd, Woody Shaw, and Freddie Hubbard. He was a member of a young lions group put together by Blue Note Records in the 80s called Out Of The Blue that also included the late drummer Ralph Peterson, and he was already recording as a leader when he was invited to join Miles Davis’s band in 1987. He played on the album Amandla, and was part of the Davis band all the way until the end of Miles’s life in 1991. Miles Davis even made a very rare guest appearance on one of Garrett’s albums, Prisoner Of Love, from 1989.

Kenny Garrett’s discography as a leader has taken him in a lot of really interesting directions. His 1995 album Triology, with Brian Blade on drums and either Charnett Moffett or Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass, is a really intense, high-energy record that kind of marries bebop language to post-Ornette Coleman freedom, but the real key to the whole thing is the way he executes these really complex melodies on tunes like John Coltrane’s "Giant Steps," Wynton Marsalis’s "Delfeayo’s Dilemma," and Mulgrew Miller’s "Pressing The Issue." It’s a tremendous showcase for his technical command of the saxophone. But the album that first got me interested in his work was Beyond The Wall, a 2006 release that was a collaboration with Pharoah Sanders that also featured Mulgrew Miller on piano, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Robert Hurst on bass, Brian Blade on drums, and on some tracks there were strings and harp and Chinese instruments and a six-member vocal ensemble. It’s not spiritual jazz in the way that term is used now, and it’s not world music, it’s entirely its own thing, and it’s particularly fascinating because you might not think of Kenny Garrett and Pharoah Sanders having that much in common, artistically speaking, but they really did. They also recorded a live album together that came out in 2008. Garrett talks about Pharoah a lot in the interview you’re about to hear.

And Kenny Garrett’s latest album is going to surprise a lot of people. It’s called Who Killed AI, and it’s a collaboration with Svoy, an electronic music producer. Garrett plays alto and soprano sax on it, and all the rest of the music is made with synths and programmed drums. Even the horns are multi-tracked and fed through effects at times. It’s structured as kind of a suite — the first track is called “Ascendence,” and there are also pieces called “Transcendence,” “Divergence” and “Convergence.” But there’s also a really beautiful version of “My Funny Valentine,” which lays the ballad melody over these kind of shimmering keyboard sounds and a hard drum 'n' bass beat. It’s not at all what I was expecting when I was told that there was a new Kenny Garrett album on the way.

I’m really glad I had the chance to talk to Kenny Garrett. We discussed his history with Miles Davis and with Woody Shaw, his early musical upbringing, his work with Pharoah Sanders, his approach to synthesizing genres and musics from around the world, and much more. I think you’re going to enjoy this conversation.