INTERVIEW: Kirk Lightsey

Kirk Lightsey in Dortmund. Photo credit: WDR/ Lutz Voigtlaender

Detroit-born pianist Kirk Lightsey has been living in Paris since 1992. Sebastian met him briefly in Dortmund at the WDR3 Jazzfest last week, and talked about some of his early life, but also his recent triumphant return for a residency in New York and his current projects.


Kirk Lightsey (b. 1937, birthday this Sunday 15th) is one of the leading exponents of the Detroit piano tradition. Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan have passed away but Lightsey still plays with irrepressible verve and musicality. He studied originally with Tommy Flanagan’s brother Johnson Flanagan . “But then when he was on the road he sent me to Tommy’s teacher, who was also Barry Harris teacher, and Alice McLeod Coltrane‘s (1937-2007) too. Her name was Gladys Wade Dillard. And Kenny Burrell was the guitar teacher at the school when all of us were there.”


Then followed thirty-five years in New York. But within that time there were spells on the West Coast . As he explained: “It was always NY but I did ten years while I was still living in New York when I was playing and conducting for OC Smith and Lovelace Watkins.

Paris: “ It’s been good,” he explained. “But I was back in New York in September .I played the Vanguard.” He was in residency for a week in a quartet with Ed Cherry on guitar, Bassist Rufus Reid and Victor Lewis on drums. He also played two nights solo at the Smalls spin-off club Mezzrow. The New York Times preview had talked about how rare his New York appearances had been . The  euphoric review by Nate Chinen captures well his geniality, his infectious sense of enjoyment.

As he told me: “Now, people in New York want me to come back more often”.


“We just did the trio with Tibor Elekes (on video in the trio above in 2009) and Famadou Don Moye (who used to play with the Art Ensemble of Chicago) and there will be a record . The record was done on a stage, a performance maybe 8 years ago. Yes, that should be coming out this spring.”


His mastery as accompanist in the WDR3 Jazzfest for Dee Alexander prompted my question whether he works with singers in Paris? No, but I’ve just done a recording with a singer in NY Sally Night with Buster Williams and Billy Hart, and guest trumpeter Antoine Drye who played really well! ” Night is a British singer, born in Gloucestershire, who lives in New York.

“It’s being released by a Japanese company.”


Kirk Lightsey is hoping to return to the UK. His closest association here is with drummer Dave Wickens: “I haven’t been in a while, but Dave has been talking, he wants to get something going again.”.” YES PLEASE!

LINK : Kirk Lightsey discography from Jazzlists

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. Kirk recorded a trio album with Dave Wickens and Steve Watts they called 'If you're not having fun by now' in about 2008/9 I think. Its not on the discographies but I have a copy on my shelf. Its a cracker! So it'd be great if they manage to get something going again.

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