Kenneth Skinner Jr. is a jazz pianist, head of the group Ken Skinner and the jazzmongers!.
Ken Skinner Jr. was born in Montreal, Quebec, on June 28, 1962. His father, Kenny Skinner, Sr. (1932–2006) was also a jazz pianist. Kenny Sr. played with Charlie Biddle, Dougie Richardson, Nelson Symonds and was the older boy keeping an eye on younger cousins Oliver Jones and Norman Marshall Villeneuve. Kenny Sr. also played with numerous luminaries of jazz legend as they passed through 1950s and 1960s Montreal.
Skinner Jr. studied briefly with Daisy Sweeney, who is Oscar Peterson's sister. Their brother, Chuck Peterson, was Ken's godfather. Skinner Jr. proved to be a prodigy moving through his lessons quickly and finishing his exams with honors. All signs were pointing to young Kenneth having a promising career as a concert pianist. This was cut short when Ken's parents separated in 1970. Not long afterwards, Ken's mother Ramona moved him and his brother Norman to Trenton, Ontario.
Trenton to Belleville
He began playing guitar at age 14, but didn't study music until grade 11. While in high school, the music department needed a bass player, so Skinner learned to play it and joined the high school jazz stage band. He then joined local working bands, including the Frank Howard Dance Orchestra and Don Kennedy's Country Renegades.
Skinner used the guitar to re-teach himself to talk to his first love, the piano. By the time Ken had graduated high school, he had moved himself out of Trenton to nearby Belleville, Ontario, where he re-taught himself piano. His first performance on piano was in the local gallery, where he played his own score for the 1925 silent Charlie Chaplin classic The Gold Rush.
Ken became the house pianist at Dinkel's Restaurant in Belleville and formed a friendship with Paul W. Dinkel, best known at the time for his Yorkville club PWD's. It was good experience to help Skinner's ability to read a room and play into it. After 2 years Ken moved to Toronto.
After moving to Toronto, Ken became the keyboardist for a touring rock band named Sister Angel. On particular tunes he played guitar or bass and harmony vocals. It was a time for Ken to write music and lyrics, travel across Canada, and hone his skills as a stage performer. After two years on the road, Ken returned to Toronto where he formed the jazzmongers! in 1989. In 1990 he toured to New York City with Maggie Moore and later worked closely with Salome Bey on her production Rainbow World, co-writing music to her lyrics. By 1992 the jazzmongers! were a full-time operation with a house gig at La Calle.
Ken Skinner is probably best known as leader, pianist and chief composer of the successful jazzmongers! His unorthodox approach to piano is rooted in childhood memories of those early lessons and all of the jazz music which he grew up listening to as a child in Montreal, when his father was still playing gigs. Geoff Chapman of the Toronto Star stated that Ken "seems to have an agenda to re-create the Blue Note sounds of the 60s."
Ken Skinner and the jazzmongers! recordings have showcased jazz players such as Bob Mover, Kirk MacDonald, Kevin Turcotte, Jake Wilkinson and Duncan Hopkins. Also, Ken has sat in at jam sessions with the likes of Wynton Marsalis and others. His jazz material can be found on 2 CDs on the Village Jazz label, with inclusion on a compilation CD entitled "Kin Of Kensington" which celebrates the works of musicians living in or have lived in Toronto's Kensington Market, also One Lucky Piano, produced by JAZZ FM 91 in Toronto featuring a solo performance of Ken's "Littlebird Lied". One Lucky Piano features 16 of Canada's premiere pianists all recorded on the piano formerly housed in the famed "Montreal Bistro" in Toronto.
Skinner's music has been included in 3 feature length films, 2 videos, with numerous appearances on television and radio. Of those films is "Pitch" produced by Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice who now enjoy fame as "Kenny and Spenny". During a period of activity in 1996, he worked rather closely with prima ballerina Kimberley Glasco, of the National Ballet of Canada, on two separate projects, one of those being a Bravo! video for "Jombo Memsahb" found on the jazzmongers! first release Stirling Silver. A second video, also for the Bravo! network, "Maroon" is the title track of the jazzmongers! second release, earning Ken the title of Bravo! artist of the week.
The jazzmongers! can be seen in the Warner Brothers film It Takes Two (1995), with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Steve Guttenberg and Kirstie Alley.
Live: Stirling Theatre (Village Jazz 9901, 1995)
Maroon (Village Jazz 9902, 1997)
Kin of Kensington (Global Sync Media, 1999)
One Lucky Piano (Timely Manor, 2007)
^ a b c d e "Local pianist Ken Skinner proves himself at home", Toronto Star, 2000, web: PQ42.
^ Lord, Tom (1998). The jazz discography 20. Lord Music Reference. ISBN 978-1-881993-19-3.
Categories: Canadian jazz pianists