Kirk Knuffke - trumpet/cornet - biography


Cornetist and Composer Kirk Knuffke is the winner of Downbeat Magazine's "Rising Star"critics poll for 2015.  A recipient of the Jerome Foundation composers grant, Kirk has released 15 recordings as a leader or co-leader. "One of modern jazz’s most skilled navigators of the divide between inside and outside, freedom and swing", he has "full command of his most demanding instrument” – All About Jazz.  Kirk placed in the top five in the World in the El Intruso critics poll and was one of 6 nominees for Trumpeter of the year by the Jazz Journalist Association. 

Matt Wilson, Allison Miller, Butch Morris, Uri Caine, Michael Formanek, and many more have hired him as a sideman for over 60 recordings,  he has been called "One of New York City's busiest musicians" - New York Times.

Knuffke has been based in NYC since 2005.  Shortly after his arrival Knuffke began playing with Butch Morris, this friendship resulted in 4 recordings and several European tours.  Kirk joined the celebrated Matt Wilson Quartet in 2009, recording "Gathering Call" (Palmetto) featuring John Medeski and touring each year. 2016 brought Matt Wilson's "Beginning of a memory" Palmetto, which received 5 stars in Downbeat Magazine. Michael Formaneks "The Distance" ECM was also awarded 5 stars this year.  Knuffke also plays in "Sifter" with Mary Halvorson and Wilson, Ideal Bread, Allison Miller's "Boom Tic Boom", Todd Sickafoose's "Tiny Resistors" and groups led by Ray Anderson, Uri Caine, Mark Helias, Bill Goodwin, Karl Berger and Ted Brown to name a few. "Arm and Hands" a recent release garnering praise from every major Jazz publication as 4 Stars in Downbeat magazine review and Sunday New York Times. The Following CDs "Little Cross" Steeplechase records and "Lamplighter" Fresh Sound Records have also received much praise. 
Kirk Has had feature articles in Downbeat Magazine, Jazz Times, Germany's "Sonic", and Denmark's "JazzSpecial" among others.

"Kirk Knuffke harbors a dual commitment to formal experimentation and bedrock tradition: There’s no either-or. It’s not often that you encounter the harmony of forces found in “Arms & Hands” (Royal Potato Family), Mr. Knuffke’s excellent new album” – New York Times

Expect Knuffke "perfectly balancing sly groove and meditative exploration.” - Time Out New York




 "Arms and Hands" Press Release

One of New York City's "Busiest Musicians" (NY Times) Cornetist Kirk Knuffke has been based in New York City since 2005.  Kirk Knuffke is one of modern jazz’s most skilled navigators of the divide between inside and outside, freedom and swing. On Arms and Hands, released April 7th, he assembles the ideal trio to bridge that divide. Joined by bassist Mark Helias and drummer Bill Goodwin, along with special guests Brian Drye (trombone),Daniel Carter (alto saxophone), and Jeff Lederer (soprano/tenor saxophone), Knuffke creates a set of music that is both engaging and inventive. The pairing of veterans Helias and Goodwin would seem at first glance to be a stylistic mismatch. Helias is best known for his with jazz experimentalists like Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Marilyn Crispell, and Gerry Hemingway, his band BassDrumBone with Hemingway and Ray Anderson, and his trio Open Loose with Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey. Goodwin, on the other hand, is recognized as a premiere straightahead drummer, through his decades-long relationship with saxophonist Phil Woods and credits that include such giants as Bill Evans, Tony Bennett, Dexter Gordon, Jim Hall, Gary Burton, and Art Pepper.

The idea for the trio came to Knuffke after stumbling across a video of Goodwin playing with Art Pepper on a vintage TV broadcast. He contacted the drummer and accepted an invitation to play at his long-running Thursday night gig at the Deer Head Inn in Pennsylavnia’s scenic Delaware Water Gap, where the two hit it off. Afterwards, Goodwin professed his love for the music of Ornette Coleman and drafted Knuffke for the Orntette, a band dedicated to playing Coleman’s music. Knuffke was at the same time a member of Helias’ quartet along with saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Mark Ferber. He was also aware of Helias’ work with Coleman’s bandmates Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell, so decided to get them together for the first time in their careers. “Working in both their bands, it occurred to me that they really needed to play together,” Knuffke says. “I thought it would be a really interesting trio -and it definitely was.”

The evidence is irrefutable on Arms and Hands, which is a showcase for the immense creativity of all three musicians. Knuffke intentionally wrote compositions that took advantage of Goodwin’s gift for groove and swing while remaining open enough to allow the improvisations to wander however far afield the moment might call for. “I wanted to have music that was in the pocket, really funky or swinging, but was also really free harmonically and formwise could go in any direction,” he explains. “We can really shift the tempos and grooves around, but it always feels really good.” Opener “Safety Shoes” sets the tone with its deceptively simple two-chord riff, which marks the first appearance of Brian Drye. The trombonist was one of the first musicians that Knuffke met after moving to New York City in 2005 and has remained one of his closest collaborators ever since. They’ve performed dozens of duo concerts and worked together in each other’s bands as well as bands led by Andrew D’Angelo, Andy Biskin, and others. “And people say we look like brothers,” Knuffke adds.

“Safety Shoes” is one of three pieces inspired by Working, Chicago journalist Studs Terkel’s landmark oral history of working class Americans. The book also prompted Knuffke to compose “Elevator,” with its off-kilter, up-and-down unpredictability; and “Bonderizer,” which reflects the titular machine in its unwieldy mechanical lurch. Other musicians, both influences and peers, were also a rich source of inspiration for the music on Arms and Hands. “Bright Light” was written for Daniel Carter, whose fertile improvisational imagination graces that song as well as “Atessa.” The late saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, a longtime member of the Cecil Taylor Unit, was on Knuffke’s mind when he wrote the frenetic “Root,” while Jim Pepper is the namesake of the slickly grooving "Pepper.” The tragic life of Goodwin’s former employer Art Pepper, meanwhile, inspired the equally chaotic “Use.” And “Chirp,” with Jeff Lederer on soprano, was penned in honor of Steve Lacy, a longtime influence whose work Knuffke explores in Josh Sinton’s one-of-a-kind tribute band Ideal Bread. The album concludes with a jaunty rendition of country crooner Ernest Tubb’s “Thanks a Lot,” a song which Knuffke discovered in his father’s record collection. “I’m a big fan of Lester Bowie and Sonny Rollins,” Knuffke says, “and their determination that no song is off limits. If you like the song, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.”

Knuffke is a prolific composer and improviser who has worked with a host of incredible musicians including Roswell Rudd, William Parker, Uri Caine, Myra Melford, Allison Miller, Steve Swell, John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Billy Hart, Steven Bernstein, and Mary Halvorson. Internationally, he has played with ensembles at jazz festivals in Saalfeldan Austria, Willisau Switzerland, The North Sea Jazz festival in Holland, The Moers festival as well as festival dates in Canada, Mexico, Italy and France. He is currently a member of the Matt Wilson Quartet along with Jeff Lederer, which recently released a new CD in collaboration with keyboardist John Medeski. Knuffke is also a member of the Mark Helias Quartet, the Andrew D’angelo Big Band, Josh Roseman’s Extended Constellations, Kenny Wollesen's Wollesonic, and Allison Miller's Boom tic Boom. Knuffke’s leader debut, Big Wig, was released by Clean Feed in 2008, followed by the trio recordings Chew Your Food and Amnesia Brown and the quartet album Chorale. He has also recorded several duo CDs with pianist Jesse Stacken and one with percussionist Mike Pride, and co-led the collaborative trio Sifter with Mary Halvorson and Matt Wilson and a quartet with saxophonist Ted Brown.