Jazz Junction Benefit for the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium
at Full Compass
Going with the Improvisational Flow
|Jazz vocalist Kevin Mahogony, known for his scat
and other jazz vocal improvizations, is headlining
a benefit for the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium
on May 1st at Full Compass.
working it out that way. There weren’t a lot of books. There were no iPads or iPhones or anything like that to pull things up so you could have
those sheets with you all the time, so that’s how you learned it.”
Mahogany also did the college thing, receiving his BFA in Music, English and Drama in 1981 from Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas. But
saxophone had still been his main jazz instrument.
“I started singing in college, but they didn’t have jazz programs back then either for voice,” Mahogany said. “My studies were classical when I
was in college. I took classical voice and that is what you did. I still played in the jazz ensemble and the marching band. I played an instrument
at the same time also, so that kept me busy. But the voice when it came to jazz, particularly, started a little bit later. I liked playing saxophone,
but I just didn’t think that was going to be a career-long job for me. So I started focusing more on singing and working on that and developing,
hopefully, my own style. That’s what led to it. It was no big major change like, ‘Oh, hey, this is it.’ It wasn’t a big epiphany or anything. It just
kind of worked out that way.”
Mahogany paid his dues working day jobs at first to support himself as he learned his craft, but for the past 30 years, he has taught at the
university level and has continued to hone his craft.
“I think a lot of people think that one day we woke up and decided to become musicians,” Mahogany said with a laugh. “But no, it takes a
number of years to do what we do. And for me, I’m still growing. I still take voice lessons. You can always learn something. Part of that I got
from Joe Williams when he was 88-years-old. He said, ‘If I don’t learn something every day, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything.’ You
still have a lot to learn. This isn’t the case where you say, ‘Yeah, I learned jazz back in the day. I had a six-week class, so I know all about it.’ It’
s an ongoing thing.”
Through working it, Mahogany got to where he wanted to go.
“You dream about being a professional musician,” Mahogany revealed. “I dreamed about all of the travel and everything. But I wasn’t sure if it
would ever happen to me because nothing is guaranteed in that sense in the music business. But I got lucky and once I got the first record
deal, it seemed like everything was possible from there on.”
Mahogany has played in just about any kind of venue imaginable and he enjoys them all.
“I like to play in a venue that pays,” Mahogany chuckled. “It really doesn’t matter to me. My performance is going to be the same whether it’s in
front of 10 people or 10,000. I always put my best performance out there. That doesn’t really matter so much to me.”
Those venues have allowed him to travel the world.
“It was great, a lot of fun, to travel the world playing my music,” Mahogany said. “You meet a lot of people. But it can also be a little bit of a
problem when you are a large Black man going to these countries that haven’t seen a lot of Black people. It gets a little unusual at times. But it
was still a blast going to see some of these areas and getting out into the countries and seeing parts of these different countries that I thought I
would never go to, like parts of Russia and parts of Europe like Poland. I never thought I would be there. But it worked out great.”
Mahogany loves music and although he has been referred to as the greatest jazz vocalist of his generation, Mahogany is willing to tackle any
“I don’t know if I have ever described my style any particular way,” Mahogany said. “People ask me what I sing. I just consider myself a
vocalist. I sing whatever comes along. If there is an R&B band that came along and wanted me to sing with them, I would sing R&B. If it was
classical and they wanted me to sing classical, I would dust off my technique and come out and sing classical. I just enjoy singing, so I am
flexible. That would be my style.”
Scat is a big part of Mahogany’s style.
“The scat changes each time. It’s a spontaneous improvisation that you do. It’s not planned ahead. There might be a few ideas that you have
planned ahead. But the improvisation is not necessarily planned ahead. It’s more spontaneous. The interaction with the other musical
instruments is part of it as well as what you are hearing at the moment chord wide as well as feeling and mood of the evening at that moment.
It also feeds off of the audience.”
Mahogany will be traveling alone coming to Madison and will perform with Johannes Wallman, the jazz professor from the UW School of Music
whom Mahogany has worked with before and other local musicians.
“When I come, we’ll do as much practice as time will allow,” Mahogany said. “I think there is a scheduled time for us to rehearse. But again,
that’s why you have to know a certain number of tunes. I’ll bring some music with me that they will have to work on and learn for that evening,
the concert. And then there will be a few standard tunes that everyone should know. All they need to find out is what key I’m going to do it in
and then we will go from there. It’s going to be kind of flexible. That’s why this jazz can change because we can still do a song that you heard
someone else do right before us and it will still be completely different.”
Almost like Babe Ruth predicting his home run in the 1932 World Series, Mahogany guaranteed people will have a great time at Jazz Junction.
“We’re going to have a good time,” Mahogany promised. “If people come out, they are definitely going to have a good time. It sounds funny to
guarantee it, but I can 99 percent guarantee it. If you enjoy music and good company and having a good time, then you are going to enjoy our
performance. These guys are wonderful musicians.”
Catch a little Kansas City on May 1st when Kevin Mahogany brings an enjoyable evening of jazz to the Madison area.
The Greater Madison Jazz Consortium is bringing Kevin Mahogany, one of the world’s top jazz vocalists to headline Jazz Junction on Sunday,
May 1st, 2:00 – 5:00 PM, at Studio A at Full Compass, 9770 Silicon Prairie Parkway. Advance tickets are available on the Jazz Consortium
website at http://www.jazzinmadison.org/ and will be available (albeit at $10 more per ticket) at the door. Proceeds from “Jazz Junction” ticket
sales will support the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium’s programs including our jazz residencies in Madison's public schools, our Strollin'
series of neighborhood-based jazz mini-fests, our InDIGenous concert series of music composed and performed by our community's top jazz
artists, and more.
By Jonathan Gramling
Kevin Mahogany, the virtuoso jazz vocalist who will headline Jazz Junction, a benefit
for the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium May 1, is just cool. He is a big man whom you
can just tell has big voice in side, but he’s cool, he’s in control. And so he brings forth
an almost smooth and soft voice that blends with the instruments that complement his
And why shouldn’t he be cool? He grew up in Kansas City, the jazz mecca that gave rise
to Bebop and the likes of Charlie Parker and Count Basie.
“Growing up around jazz people was natural,” Mahogany said during a phone interview.
“That’s where I was born, Kansas City. It wasn’t a surprise or anything to me. It was just
natural. When you come from somewhere else, it may seem like a surprise. But being
born and raised there with those people, it was just rather natural and easy.”
Mahogany’s mother knew that a well-rounded education involved the arts and so each
child took piano lessons for a year before they were allowed to branch out musically. His
sister took on the flute and his brother the trumpet. Kevin took up the clarinet before
switching to the sax.
Mahogany got his first gig when he was 12-years-old playing sax for Eddie Baker’s New
Breed Orchestra on the weekends because his weekdays were devoted to his studies
and his paper route.
“I was the youngest at 12 and everyone else was pretty much in their 40s,” Mahogany
recalled. “They had jobs, but they were professional musicians. This was their way to
still continue their music and still work their day jobs too. It was fun for me really. I
wouldn’t necessarily say it was easy, but it was a good learning experience for me.
Back then, that’s how you learned, particularly jazz, by playing it and listening to it and