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A Onetime Sideman, Now Front and Center

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AFTER 50 years as a darling of the cognoscenti, the pianist Steve Kuhn is expanding his reach among the jazz public. Mr. Kuhn — a sideman for luminaries like John Coltrane and a leader of pioneering trios — is gaining notice for a new CD on the ECM label, “Mostly Coltrane,” and a striking run of performances in Manhattan.

Last month, he played for a packed house at Birdland, leading a quartet in support of the CD’s release. This month, his trio attracted enthusiastic crowds at the Jazz Standard. Next month, in one of the most anticipated events of the fall, he will appear again at Birdland, this time with a quintet in honor of Coltrane’s 83rd birthday.

“Steve is an original stylist,” said Dan Morgenstern, the director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers. “He’s one of the finest pianists out there today, and should have a bigger name. He’s got a following, though, and this Coltrane thing will bring some new fans to his tent.”

By his own account, Mr. Kuhn was a rebellious young man. Among Harvard music majors, he said, his predilection for jazz marked him as a black sheep. A decade later, his love for the tragic diva Monica Zetterlund left him broke and brokenhearted. But now, at 71, he lives quietly in a town house in Dobbs Ferry, watching sports on television, playing his Baldwin grand and entertaining his companion of more than nine years.

“Hopefully, I’m a little older and wiser,” he said. “I’ve mellowed in many ways.”

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