Kris Defoort (°1959) is a major figure in the European jazz music and classical Opera scene. He created a highly individual musical language that redefines musical traditions in an original way. His music is characterised by the encounter between classical and jazz music, and between written compositions and improvisation.
He studied early music and recorder at the Antwerp Conservatory (Barthold Kuijken, Koen Dieltiens, Jos Van Immerseel, Balderick Deerenberg) and jazz piano, composition and free improvisation at the Liège Conservatory (Dennis Luxion, Frederic Rzewsky, Garrett List, Philippe Boesmans).
1987 - 1990
During this period Kris Defoort lived in New York. He followed master classes with Fred Hersh, David Berger and Paul Bley, but his main activity was as a jazz pianist. He performed with the Lionel Hampton Big Band (guest Dizzy Gillespie), Jack de Johnette, Adam Nussbaum, Reggie Workman, Mike Formanek, Barry Altschul, Vince Herring, Judy Niemack, Tito Puento, Lee Konitz, Hannibal Peterson and many others.
After his return to Belgium he continued on his musical odyssey, as a composer, pianist and improviser, and as a leader of the sextet KD's Basement Party, his trio KD's Decade, Octurn, Dreamtime and Sound Plaza (with Mark Turner, Nicolas Thys and Jim Black). Thanks to the support of De Werf (Bruges), all of his projects were recorded on cd. Kris Defoort also worked with performers and ensembles in the contemporary jazz scene (i.a. Jim Black, Mark Turner, Aka Moon, Vegetable Beauty, Garrett List, Paul Rodgers & Han Benninck).
Since 1994, Kris Defoort is a resident composer at LOD (Ghent), a production house for contemporary music theatre. Together with Fatou Traoré he created the dance piece Passages (1998) which was performed at several leading European festivals (Festival d’Avignon, Salzburg, Charleroi Danse,...).
Kris Defoort was commissioned by LOD, Ro theater, deSingel, La Monnaie and others to compose his first opera The Woman Who Walked into Doors, based on Roddy Doyle’s book of the same name. This ‘opera for actress, soprano and video screen’, directed by Guy Cassiers, was shown about 50 times all over Europe (Duisburg, Ruhrtriennale, Paris, Strassbourg, Brussels, Dublin, Zürich, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp,…) and was received with great enthusiasm by both press and public.
Kris Defoort created Conversations with the Past, a work for wind instruments, piano, harp, double bass and percussion, commissioned by the Filharmonie (Antwerp). In the same year he presented Sound Plaza, a jazz cd with saxophonist Mark Turner, bass player Nic Thys and drummer Jim Black.
Kris created his String quartet n°1 together with ConVerSations/ConSerVations, a project based on Renaissance music. Together with soprano Claron McFadden, Dreamtime and Quatuor Danel, Kris Defoort sought once again a synthesis between old and new, classical and jazz.
In 2004 Kris Defoort received the Music Award of the Flemish Community. As an artist in residence at the arts centre BOZAR in 2006-2007, every aspect of his musicianship has been shown: as an improvising jazz pianist and as a composer. For example, Jan Michiels created his piano cycle Dedicatio (nine musical letters) in December 2006. Kris Defoort also has been commissioned by the 2007 Queen Elizabeth Competition to write the compulsory contest piece for solo piano: Dedicatio VI; Treasure of Emotions (to Keith Jarrett).
Kris Defoort composes his second opera House of the Sleeping Beauties (production LOD Muziektheater, Toneelhuis & La Monnaie). On the 8th of May 2009 the world premiere of this ‘Opera in three Nights’, directed by Guy Cassiers, took place at La Monnaie Brussels. This opera toured successfully across Europa & Japan as well.
In 2010, Kris Defoort worked on The Brodsky Concerts, a piece based on the writings by Joseph Brodsky, in which he was on stage together with the actor Dirk Roofthooft. In 2010 Kris also launched his new jazz trio Kris Defoort Trio, with Nicolas Thys (electric bass) and Lander Gyselinck (drums). In February 2012 Kris Defoort simultaneously released three albums at the W.E.R.F. Records label: Kris Defoort trio Live in Bruges, Kris Defoort solo piano Live in Tokyo, and New Sound Plaza, a new version of his quartet with Mark Turner, Nicolas Thys and Jim Black.
In July, during the Gent Jazz festival, Kris Defoort receives the Sabam Jazz Award in the category "established value" and at the end of September, during the 34th edition of Jazz Hoeilaart he wins the prestigious Jazzmozaïek Award 2012 for his triple CD releases, for the creation of a new jazz trio with young talents and for the ability to integrate classical music with jazz. In November of the same year premieres the sold out concert-performance An Old Monk accompanied live by Kris Defoort Trio. Inspired by Thelonious Monk, famous actor Josse De Pauw performs a piece he wrote himself, with music composed by Kris Defoort.
From 2013, Kris Defoort was invited to compose two pieces. The first one was an orchestra piece for the Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam. Conducted by David Robertson and under the theme of privacy, it premiered on the 13th of March, 2014. The second invitation was to compose a circus opera for the company Feria Musica together with the Opera House of Limoges. The opera, called Daral Shaga, premiered in September 2014. It is an opera in which circus arts meet theatre and cinema and which examines the themes of borders and loss of identity.
In 2016, the Kris Defoort Trio traveled to Hungary, together with Hungarian singer Veronika Harcsa and French saxophone player Guillaume Orti to have a short residence in the Budapest Music Center to create a new repertoire. The five musicians, called 'Kris Defoort Diving Poet Society', played a few concerts in Belgium, Hungary and Slovenia to present this creation and meanwhile, they recorded the newly created music in Fattoria Musica (Osnabrück). On December 10 & 11, the opera House Of The Sleeping Beauties was re-created with a Japanese cast in Bunka Kaikan theatre in Tokyo, Japan.
In January-March 2017, there was a retake of Kris' circus opera Daral Shaga in Belgium & France. In November, the long-expected album Kris Defoort Diving Poet Society was released (W.E.R.F. Records) and toured successfully in Belgium.
In April 2019, a brand new LOD production 'A Concert Called Landscape' was created, a theatric concert featuring Kris Defoort Trio and Josse De Pauw, followed by tours with the trio and De Pauw.
In September 2021, a newly created opera from Kris Defoort will be premier at La Monnaie/De Munt, based on the novel The Time of our Singing by Richard Powers. All info can be found via the website of La Monnaie/De Munt.
Between 2021 and 2025, Kris Defoort will be working on several new projects: a piano concerto, an orchestral piece, works for solo piano, a 'Duet' with Hungarian singer Veronika Harcsa and finally a new song cycle, an orchestral work with as guest the American saxophonist Mark Turner.