Kenny Kirkland

"Bret Lewis"

Shocked is not the word. Numb better describes how I feel at the moment. I unfortunately found out about Kenny's death while reading "Keyboard" magazine about an hour and a half ago. I can hardly believe it. I immediately called his mother. You see, I have the honor of being Kenny's first childhood friend. Kenny and I attended Holy Rosary or as we affectionately called it "Rosary" (a Catholic elementary school in Brooklyn). From Kindergarten to eighth grade we were practically inseparable. I took took piano lessons... and stopped. Kenny didn't and well.... we know the end of that story. He would come over to the house and play. I would play on his piano. That was back when he lived on Greene Avenue in Brooklyn off of Malcolm X Blvd. (which was then Reid Avenue). Of course, anything I played, Kenny knew it and played it twice as well. We were just kids. I can recall that we even said we were going to go to the same High School but alas as life would have it.... that was the beginning of our slow departure. I went to Most Holy Trinity HS and I believe he went to Bishop Ford. (Catholic Schools were big in those days). At 13 you don't think that you may not see your best friend, bosom buddy and life long pal but of course life has other plans.

I lost track of Kenny after that. I went off to college, graduated, spent some time in the service, got married and it was during my last year in the Army, 1983, that I was reading an Ebony Magazine when whom do I see - Kenny!!! At the time he was with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet. I was so excited.. I told my wife Brenda. Hey I know him!!! We grew up together... He was my best friend!!!... blah... blah... She just looked at me with a "that's nice" look. I said, "I'll prove it to you" So we went to Penn's Landing in Philly where he was playing. I slipped under the police line at the end of the performance and called his name at which time he just gave me a blank stare... The stare I got from my wife was equally as blank... I gave her my "just a minute, you'll see" look. Besides it had been almost 15 years. I called his name again and said my name at which time he recognized me and said... and I guess you could say this is "Kirklandese"... "Oh Shit - BRETT!!" At which time I had the honor of looking at my wife with my tongue stuck out :-) We hugged each other. It was a nice little, but oh so short, reunion. His first words to me after that was "Damn - you got BIG!" . I'm 6'3" now. We were the same height threw elementary school. I shot up in high school. We visited briefly. He introduced me to Mr. Marsalis. But hell, I was there to see him!!! I got his number, his Mom's and we parted ways again.

We met again one last time in 1988 when he performed at Piedmont Park. It was another one of my... "I know Kenny Kirkland" triumphs. I was with several friends. When I told them I knew Kenny, I got the obligatory "Sure ya do"... So I went to the tour bus and when the driver opened the door I asked him to tell Kenny I was at the door at which time Kenny said - "Brett???!!! Yeah tell him to come in!". I stepped in and left my other buddies out in the heat... along with their jaws dropped :-) We talked for a good while then but then I noticed a difference in my childhood buddy. He seemed so much more subdued and quiet. More so than I remembered. Believe me... we definitely caused a few nuns to go prematurely gray... I just figured he was quiet or just preparing to perform... He gave me his number again along with his Mom's. I remember telling Kenny that if he ever wanted to just get away from "the hustle and bustle" that he always had a place he could come to in Atlanta along with a good home cooked meal. I tried to stay in touch but, unfortunately he was never home. I wish he had taken me up on it... Truthfully, I became hurt when I would leave the occasional "How are you" "Hope everything's fine" message and he never returned my calls.

The last message I left Kenny was about a year ago. I called his mother and said I was a little disappointed in him. I mean hell, this was Brett, me, the kid who used to sneak wine with him from the altar boy's sanctuary, not some stranger. His mother told me that he was just always so busy. He hardly ever called home. I accepted it. But something just wasn't right. All I could think of was how subdued and almost withdrawn he was when last we met. She gave me his number and I called him again. Of course he wasn't there but I did leave a message and the last thing I did say was... whatever you do, whether you return my call or not... I'm proud of you and I still maintain my bragging rights as your first bosom buddy and life long pal.... I never heard from him. I am sorry I did not hear about his death until tonight or I would have been at his funeral... At least I can use this forum for closure... If by chance you read this Mom (Mrs. Kirkland), Frank, Linda and Maggie... I want you to know that I will truly miss him. He inspired me to play again and I do... Now it will have so much more meaning for me. I always thought that one day we would see each other again and I could show him... look! I finished Fur Elise... :-) He used to tease me about not knowing the whole song... Well, Kenny I do now. I wish you were still here to hear me play it for you... Yet, somehow, I think you already know... God Bless you Kenny, Rest In Peace my brother.
Brett you're buddy from "Rosary"

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