Ken Hitchcock has performed and recorded with a virtual whoʼs who of jazz legends and contemporary music artists. From Elvin Jones to Aretha Franklin, Buddy Rich to Michael Jackson, Steely Dan to Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock to Sting, Tito Puente to Diana Ross, performances with these artists and many others have shown Kenʼs inimitable flexibility to cover any style as a soloist and in supporting roles on any of the woodwind instruments. Hailing from McLean, Virginia, born in Washington D.C., Ken started playing guitar at age 10, inspired by the Beatles, but at 12 found the sax to be much more user-friendly. His grandfather, rest his soul, who was a saxophonist, bassoonist and pianist, was a great influence on him by playing classical and jazz duets with him and playing Stan Getz records. Growing up in the D.C. area, being a mecca for music, Ken was inspired by going to hear Leonard Bernstein conduct the National Symphony in the Young Peopleʼs Concerts and sneaking into jazz clubs at night to hear local musicians.
At Langley High School, getting to play first Tenor in the Jazz Lab, which was one of the highest national award-winning high school bands, under the direction of the legendary George Horan, and studying privately on sax and clarinet with Bill Wright, distinguished clarinet and sax player in the National Symphony, gave Ken an invaluable foundation that he still cherishes to this day.
Ken was the only sax player to win the audition and enter the Juilliard School in 1974, which was only a classical school at the time. So Ken was now in NYC studying saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet with the legendary Joe Allard and studied flute, alto flute and piccolo with Tom Nyfenger. In 1977 Ken started studying jazz with the great George Coleman, who he used to hear in the clubs and loved his recordings with Miles Davis. Wow! This really opened up his ears and improvisational ability as a soloist. Ken then decided to put classical saxophone on the back burner. Ken then immersed himself in John Coltrane, Mike Brecker, Jerry Bergonzi, Charlie Parker, George Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine and Sonny Stitt. Kenʼs first big break came in 1977 while still at Juilliard and playing in a rehearsal band led by Paul Jeffries, formerly the tenor sax player with Thelonious Monk. Paul recommended Ken to Charlie Mingus to play lead alto on what would become Mingusʼ last two Big Band recordings- “Me Myself and Eye” and “Something Like A Bird”.. Ken was so nervous and in awe, recording with this band made up entirely of New York jazz legends! He was leading a sax section composed of George Coleman, Mike Brecker, Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber and Lee Konitz!
Ken graduated from Juilliard with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1978. Ken has become known for being equally at home on the classical concert stage as well as in any type of jazz big band or combo. Currently a freelance multi-reed instrumentalist living in New York City.
In the classical world, Ken has performed featured solos in orchestral performances with The Metropolitan Opera, The American Symphony, New York Pops, New Jersey Symphony, Concordia Orchestra, American Ballet Theater, The American Composers Orchestra, American Chamber Orchestra, North Eastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, Westchester Philharmonic, Gotham Wind Symphony, and Gotham City Orchestra. In February of 2004 Ken was the featured alto saxophone soloist with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra performing Debussyʼs Rhapsodie and Milhaudʼs Scaramooche all from memory! In 2012 Ken was featured soloist on alto sax playing the soundtrack to the Leonardo DiCaprio film “Catch Me If You Can” with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Quite a Tour De Force.
The Big Bands Ken has toured and recorded with include-Gerry Mulligan, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Machito, Tito Puente, Chico OʼFarrell, The Latin Giants, The Bronx Horns, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Mel Lewis, Bob Mintzer, and the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine (quintet).
Ken has played on 3 Grammy award winning albums with Gerry Mulligan - “Walk On The Water”, with Machito on his “Big Band 1982”, and with Steely Dan on their two most recent CDs including the 4 Grammy Award winner- “Two Against Nature” and “Everything Must Go”.
Extensive touring and recording with vocalists includes: Sting, Michael Jackson, Lou Rawls, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Sarah Vaughn, Mel Torme, Natalie Cole, Charles Aznavour, Michel Legrand, Joe Cocker, Audra McDonald, Dianne Reeves, Ashanti, and 13 years as soloist with Liza Minnelli. Ken has also performed with Herbie Hancock. CDs recorded recently are with Paula Cole, Natalie Cole, George Michael, Lyle Lovitt, Rod Stewart, and Melissa Errico. And very proud to play on the Tony Bennett “Duets 1” CD and the new tribute to Ella Fitzgerald- “We All Love Ella” with Stevie Wonder, Michael Buble, Etta James, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Diana Kral, K.D. Lang and Linda Ronstadt. On all of these vocalistʼs recordings Ken had the pleasure of working with legendary producer Phil Ramone.
The latest of two CDs recorded with the Mike Treni Big Band feature Ken alongside his idol and mentor Jerry Bergonzi. The recent 06/04/13 JazzTimes review says- “Hitchcock cavorts with his rambunctious Tenor solo on “Pop Culture Blues” and his Alto Flute solo on “Blues in Triplicate” is expertly intoned and delineated”.
Recently Ken was also played a featured solo with Michael Buble on the 40th Anniversary of the Great Performances Series broadcast on PBS Channel 13. Ken has taught saxophone, clarinet, flute, improvisation, ear training, and harmony, previously at Queens College, SUNY Purchase, Columbia University, and currently at the Mannes College of Music and the New School. in addition to playing in over 30 Broadway musicals including the 1st revival of “Sweet Charity”, “City of Angels”, “Damn Yankees”, “How To Succeed In Business”, “Chicago”, “42nd Street”,“Grey Gardens”, the second revival of “Grease” and most recently was onstage for three years in the Best Musical Tony Award Winner “Memphis” at the Shubert Theatre.To begin 2014, Ken is helping out in the orchestras of Chicago, Motown, Beautiful, and Rocky.
One of Kenʼs greatest joys was being a member of the New York Saxophone Quartet for 17 years and co-producing their CD entitled “Urbanology”, featuring the music of some of the greatest New York composers and arrangers including Phil Woods, Bob Mintzer and Paquito DiRivera. Ken was also was a proud member of the Louie Bellson quartet, quintet, and big band from 1979 until Louieʼs untimely passing in 2010.
Studio work includes numerous radio and TV commercials, soap operas, and film sound tracks, including solos in “The Little Mermaid”, " Merlin" , “American Splendor”, “French Kiss”, “Shaft 2”, “Meet Joe Black”, “The Notorious Betty Page”, “Lucky Stiff” and being on camera as well as a featured clarinet soloist in the Tim Robbins feature film for Disney,”The Cradle Will Rock”.
Speaking in the first person now, I just want to say that this first CD release “I Can Cook Too” with my wife Sue, the love of my life, has been the most fulfilling achievement of my career!! Enjoy, Ken