Jazz Tribute to Tom Kinnison Now Available as a Free Resource

The original jazz piece “T.K.,” composed by Dr. Eric Richards of Sheridan College as a tribute to the late Tom Kinnison, is now available as a free, downloadable resource for bands.

Tom Kinnison was a Wyoming state legislator, Sheridan city councilman, contributor to Sheridan College over several decades and a passionate proponent of the arts. Throughout his life, Kinnison was a fervent community leader for the city of Sheridan, seeking to help the community in any way he could. As a member of the Whitney Benefits Board of Directors, Kinnison was also constantly involved with improving and growing Sheridan College.

“He was a big supporter of the college as a whole, but clearly for our arts department,” said Jennifer Crouse, Executive Director of the Sheridan College Foundation. “He helped to start the Whitney Center for the Arts and was just a huge advocate for the arts here at the college and in the Sheridan community.”

Kinnison’s overwhelming support of the arts made a perpetual impact on Sheridan College, its faculty and the student body. Because of this support and the overall appreciation the college and city of Sheridan had for Kinnison, Dr. Richards of Sheridan College decided to compose a jazz piece in his honor and memory.

“He was a lot more than a donor; he was a highly energized visionary,” said Dr. Richards, Director of Bands and Jazz Studies at Sheridan College. “He was a great advocate for the arts, and for the college growing on all fronts. To me, he was a personal source of encouragement…he was a major player in town but he would always stop what he was doing and come talk to me, ask how my part of the program was going, and thank me for my work, and I really appreciated that.”

Dr. Richards began composing “T.K.” shortly after Kinnison’s passing in July 2018. “T.K.” is a work of jazz that is heavily influenced by the blues and is composed for a jazz orchestra. While seeking inspiration for the piece, Dr. Richards reached out to Tom Kinnison’s wife, Sharon, to get a better understanding of his musical tastes. Dr. Richards discovered Kinnison’s musical preferences were quite wide, but that he had a strong affinity for jazz and the blues.

“I came up with an idea for a New Orleans flavored piece that had a strong blues influence, that I thought would be a good musical characterization of Tom,” said Dr. Richards. “Then as I developed this piece, I thought to honor his legacy, and also to reflect the kind of bittersweet nature that, you know, everybody loved Tom, this piece should first and foremost be about a lot of positive energy.”

The piece features a New Orleans’ style groove known as a Second Line, which combines elements of a march and a funk groove. It begins and ends with a slow statement of the melody that is carried throughout the composition, but the middle of the piece is driven by an up-tempo beat as well as energetic melodies and sections for lively solos. “T.K.” features parts for four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, a bass, piano, and drums.

In September 2018, shortly after the arrangement was completed, the U.S. Air Force Falconaires big band performed “T.K.” during their concert at the newly renamed Kinnison Hall on the Sheridan College campus. Their lively rendition of “T.K.” was met with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

The special performance of “T.K.” by the USAF Falconaires was only the beginning as far as plans for the composition. In the altruistic spirit of Tom Kinnison, Dr. Richards and Sheridan College have made the entire score and individual parts available as a free download, so any band around the world can learn and play “T.K.” at no cost.

“I decided as a composer that I was never going to sell this music, I was just going to make it available to anybody that wanted it,” said Dr. Richards. “So you never know, there may be somebody half-way across the world someday playing this piece in honor of Sheridan, Wyoming’s Tom Kinnison.”

The USAF Falconaires’ moving performance of “T.K.,” as well as a downloadable link for the score and individual parts of “T.K.” can be found at https://www.sheridan.edu/academics/programs-a-z/music.