Bay area pianist and composer Kenneth Drew, Jr., known to jazz audiences around the world, died Sun., Aug. 3.
Kenny, as he was affectionately called, was born in New York City on June 14, 1958. He was immensely talented and had a piano sound identifiable within just a few notes. The son of a major jazz piano player, he was influenced by his grandmother who insisted that all of her children and grandchildren learn to play the piano. The classical foundation that he received from his aunt, Marjorie Drew, was apparent in the virtuosity that was always a big part of his sound.
In his teens he worked with funk bands and later became interested in jazz and pop. In the late 70s, Drew attended Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. and became pianist for the Iona College Singers, an entertainment troop promoting the college’s name and goodwill among local high schools, retirement homes and the like in the northeast region of the United States.
Drew released his debut album, “The Flame Within,” in 1987 and shortly thereafter settled in St. Petersburg. In 1990, he won the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville. Drew continued to perform jazz and recorded more than 20 albums as a leader during the course of his professional career.
Drew performed and recorded with such artists and bands as Stanley Jordan, the Mingus Big Band, Sadao Wantanabe, Stanley Turrentine, Slide Hampton and the Jazz Masters, Steve Grossman, Smokey Robinson, Frank Morgan, Daniel Schnyder, Yoshiaki Masuo, David Taylor, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Steve Turre, Jack Walrath, David Sanchez, Jack Wilkins, Michael Mossman, Ronnie Cuber, Steve Slagle, Marlena Shaw and many others.
He has appeared as a leader at many festivals including the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, Kyoto Jazz Festival, Savannah on Stage Festival, Clearwater Jazz Festival, Newark Jazz Festival, Barossa Music Festival in Australia, International Bach Festival in Leipzig, Jazz Showcase in Chicago and countless others.
Drew was the Musical Director at Unity of Midtown for several years and the congregation was blessed by his talent and musical insight. A Memorial Service for Kenneth Drew, Jr., was held last Sat., Aug. 23, at McCabe United Methodist Church.