Kurt Rosenwinkel: From Settlement kid to leading jazz innovator

Kurt Rosenwinkel will perform Friday in a benefit for Settlement Music School in Germantown

Kurt Rosenwinkel began taking lessons at Settlement Music School’s Germantown Branch when he was only 9. At the time, he was just another Philly kid taking piano lessons. It would be three years before he would pick up the guitar, which quickly took over as his instrument of choice, and on which he would become one of the leading innovators of his generation.

“I was just a dreamy kid going to take piano lessons,” Rosenwinkel said of his time at Settlement, speaking on the phone from his adopted home of Berlin. “I would write songs and bring them in and play them for my teachers. It was a good place to learn.”

Since leaving Settlement and switching his focus, Rosenwinkel has risen through the ranks of the jazz world to become one of its most acclaimed and influential artists, crafting a personal sound that echoes through the generation of guitarists who have followed him. The new year promises the release of a major new album, Caipi, which Rosenwinkel says incorporates influences from rock and Brazilian music, as well as his singular approach to jazz.

Rosenwinkel will return to Philadelphia in time for the holidays to play a benefit concert Friday for Settlement Music School, the first major event at the Germantown Branch since its exterior was renovated last year. He’ll play a rare trio set with drummer Lawrence Leathers and Philadelphia bassist Mike Boone, a local mainstay who was an early supporter of the guitarist’s. The two met when Rosenwinkel was a teenager frequenting the weekly jam sessions at the now-defunct Blue Note club in East Oak Lane.

“My mom would take me up there every Monday, and I’d get up and play a couple tunes,” Rosenwinkel said. “That’s when I met Mike. I was just starting in jazz, and I feel very grateful for the support and encouragement that he gave me, because it motivated me to keep going. He’s such a deep, great player, and a great human being.”

Rosenwinkel’s performance will be preceded by a set featuring Settlement’s Helen K. Schwartz Advanced Jazz Ensemble, led by vibraphone great Tony Miceli, which will also use the opportunity to audition for the annual Downbeat Magazine Student Music Awards. Rosenwinkel hinted at the strong possibility that he would sit in with the students for a few tunes.

“There was a lot of music when I was growing up in Philadelphia,” Rosenwinkel said. “Everybody I knew played an instrument. I’m very happy if I have an opportunity to give back in some way, and I hope that this concert is a big success and will help Settlement continue its mission.” 

Igniting Philly's Jazz Future, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Settlement Music School, Germantown Branch, 6128 Germantown Ave. $30, free parking, 215-320-2684, settlementmusic.org.