T.K. Blue, also known as Talib Kibwe, was born in New York City of a Trinidadian mother and Jamaican father. T.K. began playing music at the age of 8 years old on trumpet. After two years his interest shifted to academic and athletic endeavors… He returned to his musical studies in High School while playing the flute.
He took lessons from Billy Mitchell, the legendary tenor saxophonist with Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, eventually pursuing music as a career after receiving a full academic scholarship to New York University, where he began playing soprano & alto saxophone. He earned a bachelor’s degree in both music and psychology. T.K. Blue went on to earn a master’s degree in music education from Teacher’s College at Columbia University.
“Coming to Jazzmobile in NYC is what did it for me. I got involved with Jazzmobile, where we studied jazz theory, harmony, sight- reading, rhythmic training, improvisation and big-band performance. It was just like going to school. I studied with Jimmy Heath, Chris Woods, Ernie Wilkins, Frank Foster, Sonny Red and Jimmy Owens. Thad Jones and Billy Taylor would come by from time to time to give their knowledge and support.”
T.K. also studied at Jazz Interactions with Rashaan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef and Joe Newman. He also studied at The Henry Street Settlement with Billy Mitchell and Paul West and at The Muse with world-renowned bassist Reggie Workman.
While living in the East Village of NYC during his undergraduate studies, T.K. took lessons from many elders. An early highlight in his career was when he played with Don Cherry at the famous “5 Spot” jazz club in Greenwich Village. T.K. also studied with Nadi Qamar and learned how to play the African hand piano or kalimba. Jaki Byard hired T.K. to play in a band called The Apollo Stompers.
Abdullah Ibrahim, the great South African pianist formerly known as Dollar Brand hired T.K. ” I was able to develop when I was in Abdullah’s band because he didn’t put any restraints on me in soloing. It’s an honor and privilege to be in the company of masters when they let you stretch out.” Working in this band offered the opportunity for Kibwe to travel to many nations and deliver performances via many media forms, while absorbing the music and culture of people around the world.
The Paris Years
After touring with Abdullah Ibrahim for three years, T.K. Blue moved to Paris, France to quench his cultural thirsts. Living in Paris afforded Blue numerous opportunities in traveling and performing in Africa.
T.K. Blue toured Europe with Sam Rivers and his eleven-piece saxophone choir called The Winds Of Manhattan. This group did a recording for Black Saint Records in Milan, Italy.
In Paris, T.K. connected with a group from Senegal called Xalam. He toured and recorded with Xalam for three years with the culmination in a feature film by Michel Blanc called “Marche A’ L’Ombre”
In Paris T.K. Blue recorded his first project as a leader called Egyptian Oasis. This recording garnered many great reviews and eventually led Blue to tour Africa on three occasions for the USIA State Department, where he visited over 25 countries.
T.K. Blue met the great, iconic pianist during his stint with Abdullah Ibrahim. NEA Jazz Master Dr. Randy Weston was living in Annecy, France at this time. T.K. re-established his working relationship with Dr. Weston after moving to Paris. He went on to become Randy’s chief saxophonist/flutist, arranger, and musical director for over three decades. This union led to countless tours, recordings, concerts, clinics, radio, and television appearances.
T.K. Blue toured with Chico Hamilton and was a featured soloist alongside NEA Jazz Master Archie Shepp in South African Chris McGreggor’s Brotherhood Of Breath Big Band. They recorded a live concert in Paris and toured France and Mozambique.
After moving back to NYC, T.K. debuted as Dr. Weston’s musical director during the recording of Spirit Of Our Ancestors on Verve Records. This project featured many jazz giants: Dizzy Gillespie, Pharoah Sanders, Idrees Sulieman, Benny Powell, Billy Harper, Dewey Redman, Alex Blake, Jamil Nasser, Idres Muhammad, Big Black, and Azzedin Weston.
While residing in Paris, T.K. Blue was blessed to meet the incredible poet Jayne Cortez in London during an international book fair organized by the late writer and activist John La Rose. He went on to become a member of Jayne’s backup band called the Firespitters, which recorded and toured internationally.
T.K.’s first stateside debut, Introducing Talib Kibwe was released on the Evidence label. Coupled with his masterful facility on saxophones and flutes, compositional insight and recording experiences, T.K. is among the new breed of artist-educators fully prepared to carry the message of jazz to students of all ages.
T.K. Blue began a long term relationship with NYC based Arkadia Jazz, which released two of his projects: Another Blue and Eyes Of The Elders. A third project was recorded but never released called The Tide Of Love. Arkadia’s founder Bob Karcy comments “ T.K. is a major talent with both his playing and compositional ideas. I’m impressed by the lyricism in his soloing, even when playing at a very high energy level. I think he has a unique and very contemporary sound that comes from the past and looks to the future”
In 2004 T.K. Blue had the extreme pleasure and privilege of joining The Jazz Expressions, which was the backup band for NEA JAZZ MASTER and vocal legend Little Jimmy Scott. Blue worked with Jimmy for close to 10 years until his passing. They made several tours and recordings.
T.K. Blue is the arranger, conductor, and featured soloist for three significant projects concerning Dr. Randy Weston and his African Rhythms Orchestra:
1—Ancient Future—presented initially for Jazz At Lincoln Center Alice Tully Hall which featured an array of artists including Regina Carter
2—Harlem Stride: A Tribute to James Reese Europe (initially performed at the Gate House, with other performances at Tribeca; Skirball, NYU; and jazz festivals aboard.
3—BBC Radio Big Band in London, England
In addition Mr. Blue is the associate producer for Dr. Weston’s latest double CD project entitled The African Nubian Suite
T.K. Blue released his 8th CD as a leader entitled “Follow the North Star” on JAJA Records 2007, which received rave reviews and critical acclaim. He received a commission from the NYSCA and Transart Inc. to compose a piece of music dedicated to the early African-American presence in the Hudson Valley area of upstate New York. T.K. chose to write a suite based on the life of Solomon Northup and his book Twelve Years a Slave. Mr. Blue takes us on a wordless but yet richly satisfying journey through Northup’s life, from his ancestry to his return to his family, making all of the painful, harrowing, and joyous stops in between….I found the music to be most compelling when listened to from beginning to end, like a symphonic movement…”–Curtis Davenport, Jazz Improv NYC July 2008.
T.K. is a musician of the highest caliber who is at the peak of his creative output. Mr. Blue’s artistry is found on over seventy recordings and has performed with a long list of great international artists such as Don Cherry, Abdullah Ibrahim, Sam Rivers, Archie Shepp, Randy Weston, Dizzy Gillespie, Pharoah Sanders, Melba Liston, Johnny Copeland, Billy Higgins, Reggie Workman, Chico Hamilton, Stefon Harris, Eric Reed, Regina Carter, Bobby McFerrin, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Benny Powell, James Moody, Paquito d’Rivera, and Jimmy Scott, just to name a few. Blue has a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Psychology from NYU as well as a Master’s Degree in Music Education from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. After several years as an adjunct professor at Suffolk Community College and Montclair State University, T.K. Blue was hired by LIU-Post as the Director of Jazz Studies 2007-2014.
T.K. Blue was part of an historic photo session in Paris, France called “A Great Day in Paris”, which featured close to sixty musicians from the USA who resided there. While residing in Paris Blue made his first recording as a leader entitled “Egyptian Oasis”. This recording sparked several state department tours in eastern, western, and northern Africa. These tours in Africa were extremely spiritual and deep-rooted in a cultural awareness. Blue was very fortunate to experience first-hand many cultures and various styles of traditional African music. T.K. is deeply indebted to various organizations such as Jazzmobile, Jazz-interactions, the Henry Street Settlement, and the Muse, for his jazz studies and performances. Despite his busy schedule, T.K. has found time to teach and mentor budding musicians. He has taught music education and performance on the pre-k level straight up to the university and graduate level. His passion for music and teaching is evident in his personal expression.
2010 was a stellar year for the career of Professor Blue. His C.W. Post Jazz Ensemble performed at the world-famous jazz venue in NYC called the Iridium. Then later on in the summer they performed four concerts in the south of France as part of the international jazz festival Juan les Pins-Antibe. T.K. also performed at Dizzy’s and the Iridium with his professional band and he recorded his 9th CD as a leader called Latin Bird, which was released on Motema Records in March 2011. T.K. Blue is featured in the new auto-biography by Randy Weston called African Rhythms and he was an associate producer for Randy’s latest CD called The Storyteller, released in November 2010 on Motema Records. T.K. Blue took his group to Dakar, Senegal in December 2010 to perform as part of the 3rd International Black Arts Festival. While in Dakar, he also did a workshop on the History of Jazz: From Africa to America.
2011 was a great year and Latin Bird on Motema Music recieved rave reviews. The CD had been on the jazz charts since the end of March and eventually made it into the top 10. A short documentary video produced by Brian Grady on the making of Latin Bird was nominated for best jazz video by the jazz journalist association
2011 closed with T.K. Blue performing on the soundtrack for a feature film entitled “Queen City” starring Vivica A. Fox. This soundtrack also features many internationally acclaimed artists.
In 2012, Professor Blue was engaged in serval prolific performances and achievements, including a tour to Oman in the Middle East, where he performed in the Royal Opera House of Muscat. He also produced the first “Jazz Day” on the LIU-Post campus. This event featured 4 area high school jazz ensembles and 1 community college jazz ensemble. The master clinicians were Rufus Reid, Arturo O’Farrill, Earl Williams, and Steve Turre. The culmination of this event was an evening concert with Grammy award winner Herbie Hancock. Due to the over-whelming success of this event, T.K. went on to produce two additional jazz day events at LIU-Post.
Professor T.K. Blue had a very successful 2nd annual “Jazz Day” at LIU-Post on Saturday April 13, 2013, which featured adjudicators: Velery Ponomarev, Clifton Anderson, and Charli Persip. Chris Botti was the featured evening artist. Over 100 high school students attended this event. The 3rd Annual “Jazz Day” was held on Saturday March 8, 2014 and featured an evening performance by the world famous Duke Ellington Orchestra and Patti Austin. The LIU-Post Jazz Combos and the Long Island Sound Vocal Jazz toured Costa Rica in May 2013. T.K. Blue had performances in Trinidad, Europe, New York, and Maryland during the summer of 2013.
In January of 2014 Blujazz Records released T.K. Blue’s 10th CD as a leader entitled “A Warm Embrace” This release was accompanied by several performances in the tri-state area and Maryland.
Professor Blue organized the 3rd annual Jazz Day on the LIU-Post campus on Saturday March 8, 2014 with four high school jazz ensembles participating. He also engaged three jazz masters to perform with the LIU-Post jazz faculty, combo, and ensemble: bassist Sean Smith, drummer Victor Lewis, and trumpeter Dr. Eddie Henderson.
During the month of May and June, T.K. Blue toured in France and Holland, performing selections from “A Warm Embrace”. Back in the USA he played at the world famous Birdland in NYC and Artscape in Baltimore. He also performed with Randy Weston at the Detroit Jazz Festival in August 2014
In October 2014, Blue organized a co-led band with a South African vocalist. The group is called The Kuumba Collective and they made their maiden performance at the world-famous Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in NYC. This performance was part of the Ubuntu Festival produced by Carnegie Hall. T.K. also performed with Dr. Randy Weston in a tribute to jazz master trombonist/arranger Melba Liston at the Manhattan School of Music. Professor Blue also shared the stage with Dr. Weston in a tribute to James Reese Europe at NYU’s Skirball Hall. T.K. arranged the music for this suite composed by Dr. Weston in dedication to Mr. Europe and the 369th Infantry called the Harlem Hellfighter’s. In April 2015, T.K. Blue was part of a special tribute to Dr. Weston on his 89th birthday at the Jazz Standard in NYC. Mr. Blue performed with his band as part of Jazzmobile’s summer concert series on July 10, 2015 at Marcus Garvey Park.
In the summer and fall of 2016, T.K. Blue was in the post-production phase of his 11th CD as a leader entitled “Amour”, which was recorded in May and June. He led his band in recent performances at the Riverview Jazz Festival; a live DVD recording for Jazz Encounters; An Die Musik in Baltimore; adjudicator for a high school band competition in Princeton, N.J.; Bard College Fisher Center with Uhadi (a group from South Africa); concert with Senegalese vocalist Cheikh Lo; performance and symposium at the Schomburg Museum in Harlem on the opera Yardbird; lecture/demonstration about his suite Follow The North Star for Teaching The Hudson Valley; and a concert at Medgar Evers College for the Jazzy Jazz Series dedication to Max Roach.
T.K. Blue is the musical director and arranger for Dr. Randy Weston with recent performances during 2016 in Paris, France; Montreux, Switzerland, Vienne, France; Charleston, N.C.; Essaouira, Morocco; The New School in NYC; The Brooklyn Public Library; Carnegie Hall; Wayne State University in Detroit; Panama Jazz Festival; French Guiana; The Charlie Parker Festival in NYC. Blue is also the associate producer for Dr. Weston’s latest recording entitled “The African Nubian Suite”.
T.K. Blue was in performance with Dr. Weston at Harvard University on Nov 9, 2016 to commemorate Harvard’s acquisition of Dr. Weston’s personal archives. They continued celebrating Dr. Weston’s 90th birthday year at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola Jazz at Lincoln Center Dec 2nd to the 4th. Additional concerts with Dr. Weston throughout 2017 were performed at the New Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, the Atlanta Jazz Festival, and the Middelheim Jazz Festival in Belgium.
T.K. Blue signed a new recording contract with Dot Time Records and his new CD “AMOUR” was released May 12, 2017, followed by several promotional concerts in the United States. T.K. performed material from AMOUR for Jazzmobile’s Summer Concert Series at Grant’s Tomb – Harlem NYC, the Detroit Jazz Festival, Sunside Jazz Club in Paris and the WBGO Lunchtime Concert Series. Amour received 4 Stars in Downbeat Magazine and was cited as one of the best jazz recordings of 2017.