© Andrea Canter
“Mahogany is blessed with a voice that is instantly seductive—smooth as butter, sweet as honey and deep as a freshly dug well.” –Jack Bowers, All About Jazz.
Acclaimed baritone Kevin Mahogany returns to the Twin Cities this week, taking the stage with local piano star Mary Louise Knutson in the Dunsmore Room of Crooners Lounge, August 8-9.
From bop to blues, ballads to swing, Kansas City native Kevin Mahogany showed his early gifts on piano, clarinet, and bari sax. A member of Eddie Baker’s Orchestra while still in his teens, he played in multiple concert and marching bands, finally discovering his vocal talents during his senior year after hearing Al Jarreau. He studied with local jazz legend Ahmad Aladeen at the Charlie Parker Academy. At Baker University in Baldwin, KS, he continued to pursue both instrumental and vocal music, forming his own jazz choir, and earning his degree in Music, English, and Drama. He returned home to Kansas City, joining a nine-piece horn band called Robinson-Pike and later forming two R&B-centric bands, The Apollos and Mahogany. In1991, he toured with the NRE Trio, and was featured on pianist Frank Mantooth’s 1993 CD, Dangerous Precedent. Meanwhile he was evolving his own distinct style, influenced by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Al Jarreau, and Eddie Jefferson.
With his debut recording Double Rainbow in 1993, Mahogany was soon in the limelight, recording three more albums for Enja before signing on with Warner Brothers in 1995, and later with Telarc. Specializing in seldom-heard songs, Mahogany’s recordings range from the kinetic big band bravura of Pussy Cat Dues: The Music of Charles Mingus (Enja, 2000), which featured Mingus sidemen trombonist Jimmy Knepper and alto saxophonist Charles MacPherson with the WDR Big Band, to Pride and Joy (Telarc, 2002), his ebullient Motown tribute featuring the music of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Michael Jackson, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Anointed by Newsweek as “the standout vocalist of his generation,” Kevin launched his own label (Mahogany Jazz) and released To Johnny Hartman (2004), noting, “Singers like Johnny Hartmann –people call him a singer’s singer. But I’m hoping to take him to a wider audience.” He followed with The Coltrane Hartmann Fantasy with tenor saxophonist Tony Lakatos, inspired by the legendary Impulse recording, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartmann. Kevin’s latest release is The Vienna Affair on Mahogany Jazz (2016).
Kevin Mahogany has also been an in-demand sideman and guest artist with a select cadre of jazz stars. He’s recorded with T.S. Monk (Monk on Monk), The Ray Brown Trio (Christmas Songs With Ray Brown), Marlena Shaw (Dangerous), Roseanna Vitro (Passion Dance), Carl Allen (Testimonial), Barbara Morrison (Visit Me), and Elvin Jones (It Don’t Mean A Thing).
In addition to performance and his 12 recordings, Kevin appeared in (and sang on the soundtrack of) Robert Altman’s Kansas City (1996), portraying a character based on Big Joe Turner, and published a magazine, The Jazz Singer. He also has a long history as a teacher—starting when he was fourteen, later on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music when he lived in Boston, and moving on to the University of Miami. He received an honorary degree from his alma mater, Baker University, in 2001.
A modern mainstream artist who honors melody without being confined by it, Lawrence Conservatory graduate Mary Louise Knutson cut her performance teeth with such notables as Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby McFerrin, Dianne Reeves, Slide Hampton, Richie Cole, Greg Abate, Von Freeman, and Billy Hart; and toured with Smoky Robinson, the Osmond Brothers, Engelbert Humperdinck, comedians such as Phyllis Diller, and internationally with Synergy (formerly Rupert’s Orchestra). Her highly acclaimed first recording, Call Me When You Get There, was released in 2001 on Meridian Jazz and later in Japan, hitting the jazz charts “Top 50” in the U.S. and Canada for eight consecutive weeks following its debut. Said Jazz Times, “Call Me When You Get There is…state-of-the-art piano trio finery.” If Call Me When You Get There was “piano trio finery,” then Mary Louise’s second release, In the Bubble (2011) was easily “piano trio majesty,” remaining on the Top 50 charts for 19 weeks.
Deservedly, Knutson has earned considerable recognition as a composer, including two awards from Billboard magazine for her compositions, “How Will I Know?” and “Meridian.” One of five finalists in the first-ever Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Piano Competition at Kennedy Center in 2005, Knutson was a Minnesota Music Awards nominee for both Jazz Artist of the Year and Pianist of the Year in 2006. A former instructor at Carleton College, Mary Louise conducts master classes and private lessons when not busy performing. Among her current gigs, she has performed for the past eleven seasons with the JazzMN Orchestra, and for the past six years has joined Doc Severinsen’s Big Band fall and spring tours; more recently she has toured with Doc when he plays a guest-star role with other orchestras, as well as for his recent 90th birthday celebration at Orchestra Hall.
The Dunsmore Room at Crooners Lounge is located at 6161 NE Highway 65 (Central Av) NE in Fridley, just north of I-694 and about 15 minutes north of downtown Minneapolis. Reservations recommended at www.croonersloungemn.com; dinner show tickets available. Sets at 7 pm.