Kim Pensyl is a prolific jazz recording artist, composer, arranger, and producer who has twice been named one of Billboard’s Top-20 Contemporary Jazz Artists of the Year. A pianist and trumpeter, he has had four Top-10 albums on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart.
He has recorded with jazz legends such as Toots Thielemans, and modern greats like Joey Calderazzo, Bob Mintzer, Chiele Minucci, Andy Narell, Will Kennedy, Steve Rodby, and Alex Acuna. He has performed at such esteemed jazz venues as The Blue Note, Blues Alley, Caravan of Dreams, Scullers, the Beacon Theatre, and the Great American Music Hall. He has also appeared at the Clearwater Jazz Festival, Sunfest, Summerfest, Stone Mountain Jazz Festival, and Pacific Jazz Festival among others. Also, Kim has toured with the Woody Herman Orchestra and Acoustic Alchemy. He has more than 100 published works recorded and over 150 compositions and arrangements in his catalog. Great reviews from DownBeat, Jazziz, Jazz Times and others have followed him during his career, echoing the feelings that fans have about his music.
Kim is currently Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. He is the featured artist in the WJZA Smooth Jazz Trio around Central Ohio and also performs at various clubs and concerts. In addition, Kim performs with the faculty and guest artists at CCM, including Arturo Sandavol, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Mulgrew Miller among others, along with several big bands in the Cincinnati area.
I started my music career the day after watching a TV show that was shot in a bullring. The show was not about a bullfight, but it was Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass. The sound of the trumpet fascinated me. From that day on, music became my passion. Today I play several instruments, compose, arrange, produce, engineer and continue to study and learn about music. My musical background and interest has driven me to many different areas in the music world. From big band and small group jazz, to chamber music and orchestral works, to pop and R&B music, and finally to my most recorded works in contemporary jazz, I challenge myself in my writing and in my performance.
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and started my first band in junior high. I played trumpet in all the school bands and played trumpet in a band I formed outside of school and electric bass in another. Pop and rock music, with a taste of Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears thrown in, were the groups' outputs. Soon, I discovered a little 2-1/2 octave organ in the house and became fascinated with harmony. I wrote my first songs at this time. My Mom had played piano when she was young and my Dad had played in a couple groups as well. There were very encouraging in my musical pursuits. My family let us practice in the garage and even in the house; boy they sure loved me to put up with all that racket. The popular music of the day was melded with the family's big band recordings and other jazz artists that I listened to. I started writing more music and by high school was writing big band charts for the high school band. The music I wrote for the other bands were mainly pop and rock. I still have some very bad sounding cassettes from these early days.
The choice for college was The Ohio State University. The period of time that I was at OSU was one of the most fertile for the University Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Tom Battenberg. He was also one of my trumpet teachers along with Dr. Richard Burkart. I learned a lot from him and a lot about arranging from a very gifted writer and pianist, the late John Emche. Many national awards and recognition came for the band and its recordings and performances, including the 1978 Montrex Jazz Festival and the Nice Jazz Festival. I was active in the jazz trumpet chair and in the arranging and composing for the band, along with the OSU Sextet, which was a great group. It is amazing the number of players in that band that have gone to great things in jazz. At the same time I was performing piano and trumpet with various pop bands in and around Columbus.
Upon graduation, Bachelor of Music, cum laude, I spent the summer at The Eastman School of Music studying arranging. What an eye opening experience that was. I learned so much that summer; I was like a sponge soaking up as much information as I could. I was able to study with Manny Album, Bob Brookmeyer and Ray Wright!
The fall of 1979 I traveled to California State University, Northridge to begin my Masters work in composition. I had secured a graduate teaching assistantship in jazz which included directing two big bands, assisting Gerald Wilson in jazz history and various other duties for the jazz program under Joel Leach. As my masters degree was in composition, I wrote many chamber works and orchestral pieces at this time and concentrated my jazz writing on the sextet I performed with during my time at Northridge. The sextet was a great creative outlet for me and the group really matured. I spent a lot of time woodshedding the trumpet, transcribing and really getting the horn together. The Big Band was also of exceptional quality with many fine writers and players, some of whom have gone on to very big things in the music industry. Joel Leach was able to really polish the ensemble playing, emphasis on correct phrasing and intonation with good sight reading abilities and a strong sense of swing. I was able to learn from him to use those tools in the 2 big bands I directed. During all of my college years I had an opportunity to play with some jazz greats, ranging from Hubert Laws and Don Ellis to Louis Bellson and Al Hirt. I learned so much from Gerald Wilson about arranging and the history of jazz. When he tells you about Clark Terry or Jimmy Lunceford, the history of jazz, he is telling you because he was there. Ladd McIntosh is such a great writer, I tried to get as much information as I could from him. I studied trumpet with the "first call" studio player, John Clyman. I was also able to see many other great jazz artist during this time, like the late Bill Evans trio, Count Basie and many others who left their imprint on me.
I made a decision at this point that affected my musical direction. I was torn between going on to more school for a doctorate in composition and pursuing that art or choosing jazz. I truly loved writing orchestral and chamber works and pushing that art to the limit. However, my composition teachers, Dr. Dela Vega and Dr. Daniel Kessner, suggested that I choose between the two if I wanted to do my best work. They said I was very gifted in both areas and must do what I really desire to do. I decided to take a look at the professional performing and writing scene, while honing my jazz skills. One month after finishing graduate school with a Master of Arts degree, I was on the road playing trumpet with The Guy Lombardo Orchestra, gaining experience. After 6 months I took a position in Las Vegas with the Freddie Bell Show. This group played in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Lake Tahoe and Chicago. I soon became the chief arranger and started playing piano as well as trumpet for the group. It was during this time that the phone call came that my father had passed away. I have regretted since then that I had not been home at the end to tell him how much I loved him. He enjoyed listening to the tapes of the big bands I directed and played in and he followed my education and music career with much enthusiasm. I named my son after him, William. I did the Freddie Bell Show for over 2 years. Freddie was great fun to work with and he's quite the showman. Afterwards, I played trumpet on a cruise ship for 6 months doing many Broadway production-type shows and some jazz. This would lead me back home.
Nine days after I got off the road and went back to Columbus, I went on the only blind date of my life. Well, to make a long story short, Linda became my wife and we now have two children; wow-what a blind date!!! At this time I wanted to spend my days, writing and recording pop and R&B songs to submit as demos to labels and publishers. My focus at that time was to try and break into the pop world, forgetting for a moment about my jazz desires. It was about this time that I met a singer, Tia Harris, who recorded the vocals for all my demos. We produced some great works together. She introduced me to John Paton. John has become an intricate part of my music and he is my musical soundboard. I can find 75 ways to turn a phrase and John has the ability to listen and tell me which one is best and why. A very unique gift and a very special person; I am very thankful. He continues with me today guiding and helping me and my musical decisions. I soon started a group that played 6 nights a week. When the group stopped playing together after a year or so, I started a solo piano gig that was 6 nights a week and lasted for 3 years. It was during this time that I started writing the material that would become "Pensyl Sketches #1". I found that all the doors were getting closed on me while I tried to write and record songs I thought others would like. John suggested making an instrumental album of music that I liked and see what would happen.
In the ten years since that decision, I have recorded 9 CD's of new music and one Christmas CD. Four of these records have been in the Top 10 on Billboard's Contemporary Chart. Twice I've been a Top 20 Contemporary Jazz Artist of the Year in Billboard and named Best New Jazz Writer of the year in 1989 by ASCAP. N.A.R.M. honored "Pensyl Sketches #3" with a Jazz Album of the Year award in 1991. I have recorded with many jazz greats including Toots Thielemans, Bob Mintzer, Steve Rodby, Chieli Minucci, Mino Cinelu, Alex Acuna, Andy Narell, Will Kennedy, Marc Johnson, John Fedchock and Chuck Bergeron. I've had the opportunity to perform at The Blue Note, Blues Alley, The Clearwater Jazz Festival, Sunfest, Summerfest, The Beacon Theater, Caravan of Dreams and other national and international gigs; along with a tour performing with Acoustic Alchemy. My music and group were featured on a PBS concert production by WOSU-TV and an interview and performance from Blues Alley were on BET Jazz. I've been very fortunate in my music career and I feel I've been blessed. Music can be very helpful in difficult moments. In 1996 my mother passed away. I inherited my love of music from her and she was certainly my biggest fan. It was through my music on "Quiet Cafe" that I was able to come to terms with losing her. I hope you will read the "Pensyl Notes" for Quiet Cafe. Her joyful spirit is still here touching my family. Music has such great capacity.
I'm very interested in the recording process and I've gained a vast knowledge of studio techniques. I mixed Chuck Bergeron's 1998 release "Coast to Coast" and have done the music for corporate videos and logos, as well as jingles for some locally produced ads. My midi, electronic and digital music skills have served me well along with my composing and performing skills. The new release, "Places I've Been" is a mix of all that and I am very happy with the result.
Since finishing "Places", I am concentrating on what I originally intended to do; modern acoustic jazz, playing trumpet in a small group setting. The group started out as "Milestones" with a concentration on the music of Miles Davis from the late 50's; a real love of mine. However, the group is evolving into its own and we are performing all original material. The group plans to record in the fall of 1999. That group performs around Columbus and I also perform with several big bands. I play trumpet periodically with The Woody Herman Orchestra, Vaughn Weister's Famous Jazz Orchestra, Todd Stoll's "Jazz To Go", The New Remants Dance Orchestra and The Columbus Jazz Orchestra. I also play with several local Latin jazz bands, Yumbambe and The Afro-Rican Ensemble. With the October 5th release of "Places I've Been", I am planning a tour for early next year. Hope to see you on the road!