Friday, May 3,
Lagniappe Stage, 11:30 a.m.
Keith Burnstein is a crafter of tunes. Growing up in a Philadelphia suburb, he started playing piano at age five, and by 14, he was listening to music most young folks aren’t exposed to. “Grant Green, The Headhunters, Wes Montgomery, Mahavishnu Orchestra, shit like that,” Burnstein recalls. “I was also playing Grateful Dead and going to a lot of Phish shows. I think those bands taught me how to listen to long-form music and appreciate things that have more complex forms and constructions. They opened up that pathway in my brain when I was 14.”
Burnstein moved to Brooklyn after college, to work as a teacher at P.S. 305 in Bed-Stuy. When his band, The Mumbles, got more serious, he went part-time so he could tour extensively. In 2010, the band relocated to New Orleans. “I just saw it,” Burnstein says. “I saw the future in front of me. I love New York City, but at this point in time, I’m stoked that I got the fuck out of there.”
Eventually, The Mumbles ran its course, and in 2016, Burnstein started a new project called Kettle Black. “Initially, the idea was that we wouldn’t have a kit drummer, so we’d have two percussionists: Luke Quaranta from Toubab Krewe and Michael Skinkus, who plays with everyone,” Burnstein says. “[Michael] was trained in Cuban drumming, and Luke plays West African percussion, so between the two of them, we have a lot of rhythm.” Bassist Charles Lumar (Solange) and guitarist Raja Kassis (Antibalas) rounded out the original lineup. More recently, kit drummer Chris Guccione has joined the mix.
Kettle Black released a live album, 4.28.16, soon after forming, and a debut studio LP, Things That are Heavy Make Me Feel Light, is currently in the works. “Part of the reason I stopped doing The Mumbles was because, after a while, it was trying to fit into certain genres of music that I didn’t always want to fit into,” Burnstein says. “This new album will have a much broader scope.”
Whether Burnstein is playing with his new, percussion-heavy six-piece, or performing a solo piano and voice set, his songs hold up. He takes particular pride in his lyrics, which draw inspiration from the American songbook and Bob Dylan. “The thing about great standards is that they are so hip lyrically, but also the music compliments the lyric in a way that the two cannot be separated,” he says. “If you have great songs, they can stand up wherever and however you’re playing them.”
Keith Burnstein will also play keyboard for Kristin Diable at the festival on Saturday, April 27.