Born Kenneth David Kirkland in Brooklyn, New York in 1955, Kirkland was only six when he first sat down at the piano. He attended the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied classical piano performance, classical theory and composition.
His first professional work was with Polish fusion violinist Michal Urbaniak, and he toured Europe with the group in 1977 and recorded the albums "Urbaniak" and "Daybreak". Kirkland's next high-profile gig was with another Eastern European jazz émigré, Miroslav Vitous.
Known to be a true musical genius, Kirkland worked with dozens of artists during his twenty year career, including Art Blakey, Carla Bley, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Kenny Garrett, Kevin Eubanks, Tito Puente, Sting, John Stubblefield, and more.
In 1980, while on tour in Japan with Terumasa Hino, Kirkland met Wynton Marsalis, which began their long association. Kirkland shared the piano duties with one of his musical influences, Herbie Hancock, on Marsalis's debut album, but then became the sole pianist on Marsalis's subsequent releases "Think Of One", "Hothouse Flowers" and "Black Codes" (From the Underground).
Kirkland then went on to become a member of Branford Marsalis's band, and is featured on the albums "Royal Garden Blues", "Renaissance", "Random Abstract", "Crazy People Music", and the album from Marsalis's funk band Buckshot Lefonque.
Diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 1998, Kirkland chose to continue doing what he loved best and hit the road with Branford Marsalis. On November 13, 1998, he was found dead in his Queen's apartment, ending the career of a brilliant jazz pianist.
Video: Kenny Garret on sax, Kenny Kirkland on piano, Nat Reeves on bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums.