Kevin Kizer’s awareness of the tenor saxophone began at the age of three upon hearing it played on a radio program. He studied piano at age six and tenor saxophone at age seven. Kevin attended Illinois summer youth music camps throughout junior high and high school, interacting with numerous Chicago musicians such as Ron Dewar (tenor), Art Davis (trumpet), Bill Overton (tenor), Eric Schneider (tenor), Joe Spencer (drums), Dan DeLorenzo (bass), John Campbell (piano, vibraphone), Kelly Sills (bass), Jim Cox (bass), Steve Jensen (trumpet), Brian Ripp (baritone sax), Jeff Lindberg (trombone), Laurence Hobgood (piano), Mike Freidman (drums), Randy Salman (alto sax), and Bill French (piano). He performed in University of Illinois Jazz bands when he was a high school junior. Professor John Garvey of the University of Illinois heavily influenced his early music career, often featuring Kevin in his own jazz band for ballads, Russian tunes and Basie charts.
In the summer of 1980 Kevin toured Europe with the Jazz Abroad Program led by Dick Dunscomb, a professor at Purdue University at the time. Dick Dunscomb is a past president of the International Association of Jazz Educators, and current director of jazz studies at Florida International University. Jazz Abroad is a summer performance tour to European Jazz Festivals for outstanding university and high school jazz students.
Kevin remained in Champaign-Urbana, working with Chicagoan musicians such as Rafael Garrett (bass in John Coltrane and Archie Shepp bands), Matt Ferguson (bass), Tim Mulvenna (drums), Noel Kupersmith (bass), Ryan Shultz (bass trumpet), Tim McNamara (tenor sax), Donny Heightler (piano), Tom Becker (piano), and most notably, John Schott (trumpet, composer). John Scott led some remarkable jazz bands in Champaign-Urbana during the mid 80’s to mid 90’s.
Kevin has played with the memorial Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra led by trumpeter Lee Castlado and featuring drummer John Von Olen of Kenton fame. He has played in groups backing vocalists Wayne Newton and Johnny Mathis. He toured with the Tony Barron Orchestra with accordionist Myron Floren of Lawrence Welk fame and Ray McKinley, former Glen Miller drummer. Kevin toured internationally with the University of Illinois Jazz Band in Russia that included John Garvey and bassist/composer Chuck Israels, known for his work with the Bill Evans Trio. Kevin worked in Seoul, Korea, with Chicago bassist Eldee Young and pianist Ron Perillo, where he recorded a CD and some jingles.
Kevin moved to Chicago in November 1995 and connected with drummer and leader Ted Sirota, guitarist Jeff Parker, and bassist Jeff Hill to form the Rebel Souls. Kevin wrote the compositions “Voids” and “Ornettish” for the Rebel Souls’ first CD on the Naim label called Rebel Roots. Bassist Noel Kupersmith replaced Jeff Hill and cornetist Rob Mazurek joined Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls for the release of the second CD, Propaganda; which includes Kevin’s composition “Carolyn’s Blues”. For the release of the third CD, Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls vs. the Forces of Evil, Kevin added clarinet to his recorded repertoire. He also created “Becky’s Bash”, an arrangement designed to stimulate and complement the range of the Rebel Souls’ talent: Ted Sirota’s swing drumming, Noel Kupersmith’s steady bass, Jeff Parker’s innovative guitar, and blending his own tasty, tart tenor saxophone with Rob Mazurek’s burning cornet and the alto sax of Rebel Souls’ sixth member Geof Bradfield.
In addition to the Rebel Souls, Kevin’s other work in Chicago includes performing with the Temptations at Ravinia, and projects with the late, great drummer Barrett Deems. He has played at the Jazz Showcase in William Russo’s Chicago Jazz Ensemble. It is characteristic for Kevin to be requested to play with Dave Creighton & the BBC (Big Band of Chicago), a band that focuses on quality ensemble playing and extended improvisational sections. Kevin holds membership in the Chicago Federation of Musicians.
Kevin performed at the 2000 Elkhart Jazz Festival with Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band and is on the CD release Eleventh Hour Live!, recorded at Fitzgeralds. He has worked with the Brad William’s 21st Century Revue at the Plaza and in Brad’s trio at the top of the John Hancock. Kevin has worked with the Vanguard Aces and various swing bands at Olive, Green Dolphin Street, and the Green Mill. He has played at Andy’s Jazz Club with bassist John Bany, pianist John Young, pianist Bob Dogan, and drummer Phil Greteau.
Kevin Kizer leads his own trios throughout Chicagoland. These trios are comprised of pianist Mark Maegdlin and bassist Jon Paul, and various combinations of pianist Joan Hickey, pianist Ron Perillo, pianist Tim Green, bassist Matt Ferguson, bassist Dan DeLorenzo, bassist Noel Kupersmith, guitarist Mike Allemana, and guitarist Brian Wilkie, a recent Champaign-Urbana transplant.
Kevin Kizer’s performance with classic big band orchestras, straight-ahead bebop groups, jumpin’ swing bands, rhythm and blues bands, his membership with modern free jazz Rebel Souls band and his own trio leadership represents his wide range of music styles and ability to play in multitudes of musical settings. He is proficient at playing the tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet and flute, at composing music, and at leading his own musical groups. His acute musical sense of listening and expression, using an innovative approach over a classic sound, provides an advantage for any band.
Kevin integrates a wide variety of the class jazz saxophone greats, starting with tenor sax man Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, who wrote him an inspirational letter in October of 1986, just a month before he died. Also evident in his sax sounds and phraseology are Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman. Regardless of the influences heard, Kevin Kizer has his own unique sound and talent, enhancing the sound of any musical assemblage he plays with.