The road to Kenny Garrett's artistry has been a blessed one. Born in Detroit, he was introduced to the saxophone early by his father, who played tenor. Jazz was all around the house, but Detroit also offered ample opportunity to explore soul, gospel, even classical firsthand. College was placed on the backburner when, in 1978, Garrett was offered a slot in the Ellington Orchestra (then under the direction of Duke's son, Mercer). Three years later, Kenny moved to New York and played with The Mel Lewis Orchestra (absorbing the charts of Thad Jones) and the Dannie Richmond Quintet (playing the music of Charles Mingus).
He released his first album as a leader, Introducing Kenny Garrett, in 1984 on the Criss Cross label during the years he was also recording with Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw. Then Miles Davis called in 1986; the ensuing five-year/four-album association left an indelible imprint on both Kenny's life and career. Of the many pearls he gleaned, Kenny says, "Miles' genius was getting the best out of musicians but not controlling them - letting them be free, but also getting what he wanted from them."
Two solo albums for Atlantic Records - Prisoner of Love and African Exchange Student - led to his signing to Warner in 1992.
2002 marks his tenth anniversary with them and a decade that has brought four star album reviews, over 100 sideman credits, kudos from Rolling Stone Magazine, participation in the soundtrack of the modern black film gem, Love Jones and the distinction of unseating the stalwart Phil Woods from the top of the alto saxophone category in Down Beat Magazine's Readers' Poll.
Reflecting on his gradual move from harder, chops-oriented blowing to the more melodic strains of recent albums leading up to Happy People, Garrett muses, "If the Creator is allowing you to receive the music, then you have to put it out there, no matter how simple or complex."
Above all, Kenny Garrett is about making a way for all of music to grow. "What I'm appreciating now is some of these young hip hop artists really trying to become better musicians. Take this recording I just did with Kamaal/The Abstract (former A Tribe Called Quest member, Q-Tip). We were both looking to do the same thing - bridge the gap. It's all about sharing."
"Kenny's an amazing musician," Marcus Miller concludes. "Think about it, how many alto saxophonists have a strong, unique voice these days? I know (David) Sanborn, Maceo (Parker) and Kenny. Most everybody else is pretty much imitating."