Born July 30, 1958, Kansas City, MO; Education: Attended Charlie Parker Foundation academy, Kansas City, 1970. Addresses: Record company--Warner Bros. Records, 3300 Warner Blvd, Burbank, California 91505.
Kevin Mahogany's childhood dream was not to be a jazz singer. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1958, he began playing baritone saxophone in junior high school. He studied with saxophonist Ahmad Alaadeen at Kansas City's Charlie Parker Academy and, at age 12 started playing in Eddie Baker's New Breed Jazz Orchestra, an 18-piece big band. By the time he was 14, he was teaching clarinet and had become interested in other woodwind instruments, percussion instruments, and piano. It wasn't until his senior year of high school that he became interested in singing.
While attending Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas Mahogany formed a jazz choir, became interested in Broadway-style shows, and earned Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Music and English Drama. After graduation in 1981, he put down his saxophone for the last time and concentrated solely on his vocal career. His biography from Warner Brothers states that Mahogany finally made the switch "out of frustration. The euphonious interpretations created by his saxophone could not keep up with the solos playing in his head." But having the instrumental background gave him an edge as a vocalist and bandleader. "I've been on both sides of that, as an instrumentalist and vocalist," he said in his bio. "What I see the instrumentalists saying is, 'If you're going to be a vocalist you need to know what's going on here.'"
And he did. He founded a group, originally called Mahogany and The Apollos, and later known simply as Mahogany, which performed R&B, crossover jazz and popular music in Kansas City and developed a regular following over the next 10 years. It was around that time when, working as a booking agent scheduling national artists in Kansas City venues, the Montana-based group NRE Trio heard him sing and asked him to tour with them. During this tour a producer from the German label Enja Records heard Mahogany sing and signed him to a recording contract.
Mahogany established his talent for performing a wide range of styles and material with his debut release Double Rainbow in 1993. With this release he impressed critics with his versatility by taking on a selection of seldom-heard ballads, bop tunes and blues songs. "The ballads always a test of any jazz talent are appropriately touching but never overly sentimental," wrote Bob Brownlee in Mahogany's Enja Records bio. "And while it can be an acquired taste, only a handful of vocalists have ever scatted with the overwhelming power of Kevin Mahogany."
Mahogany released two more albums on Enja, Songs & Moments in 1994 and You Got What It Takesin 1995, before signing a major-label contract with Warner Brothers. 1995 was also the year he made his big-screen debut, playing a character based on Big Joe Turner in Robert Altman's film about jazz in Mahogany's hometown, Kansas City, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Mahogany's 1996 Warner Brothers debut, Kevin Mahogany, garnered high praise from a number of high-profile sources. Newsweek called him "the standout jazz vocalist of his generation." In the New Yorker, jazz writer Whitney Balliet who dubbed him "The Baronial Baritone" for his deep, rich voice wrote, "There is little Mahogany cannot do." And JazzTimes writer Willard Jenkins wrote in a review of Kevin Mahogany, "Mahogany sounds relaxed and in high spirits, poised to take his place as the standard-bearing male jazz vocalist [he] works this material with a great deal of spirit, care for the lyrics, and abundant feeling."
Mahogany released his sophomore Warner Brothers album, Another Time, Another Place, in 1997 to more critical praise. "With his full-bodied, deeply masculine voice," wrote Stereo Review's Phyl Garland, "he makes the past come alive again by drawing from the rich traditions of blues, R&B and jazz." In 1997 Mahogany became involved with two projects by film star Clint Eastwood: the Eastwood After Hours: Live at Carnegie Hall CD, an ensemble organized by the Hollywood star and the soundtrack for the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which Eastwood produced and directed.
Mahogany's third album for Warner Brothers, My Romance in 1998, was a collection of ballads. The album featured covers of contemporary songs and old standards, including the works of such present-day artists as James Taylor, Lyle Lovett and Van Morrison. Warner Brothers likened him to Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole and Johnny Hartman in his approach to such classics as Arthur Prysock's "How Did She Look?" and Eckstine's "Everything I Have is Yours," and the title track. "I am a huge fan of both these artists and have wanted to do a tribute to them for a long time," Mahogany said of Prysock and Eckstine in his bio. "No one does these songs anymore."
Warner Brothers capitalized on what they called "his interpretation without overblown sentimentality, capturing the delicacy and nuance of every word." The critics agreed, and Mahogany again was most lauded for his versatility in performing both old and new material, be it R&B, blues, soul, gospel, jazz or country. "While he could be called a crossover artist, he's no sellout," wrote John Janowiak for Down Beat in 1998. "The harmonies and style of these interpretations are in the jazz tradition, and they're done with taste." That same year, Down Beat highlighted Mahogany as Male Vocalist of the Year in its reader's poll.
Mahogany took the praise in stride and was quoted by his German management company, B.H. Hopper Management, as drawing his ability to perform such a wide variety of material from his youth. "I listened to everything while I was coming up," he said. "If all that is your background, you should be able to sing anything." In addition to the 1998 Down Beat title, Mahogany earned Best Male Vocalist of the Year in the Jazziz reader's poll and Another Time, Another Place was a Jazziz Critics' Pick that year.
by Brenna Sanchez
Kevin Mahogany's Career
Played baritone saxophone in Eddie Baker's New Breed Jazz Orchestra, 1970; attended Baker University, Baldwin, Kansas, 1976-81; earned Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Music and English Drama, 1981; signed by Enja, 1993; released debut album, Songs & Moments, 1994; signed by Warner Bros., 1995; released Kevin Mahogany, 1996; released Another Place, Another Time, 1997; played on Eastwood After Hours: Live at Carnegie Hall, 1997; played in the Robert Altman film Kansas City, 1997; released My Romance, 1998.
Kevin Mahogany's Awards
Jazziz magazine Critics' Pick, 1998; Best Male Vocalist Readers' Poll awards from Jazzis and Down Beat, 1998.
- Selected discography
- My Romance , Warner Bros., 1998.
- (contributor) Eastwood After Hours: Live at Carnegie Hall , Warner Bros., 1997.
- Another Time, Another Place , Warner Bros., 1997.
- (contributor) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (soundtrack), Warner Bros.,1997.
- Kevin Mahogany , Warner Bros., 1996.
- You Got What It Takes , Enja, 1995.
- Songs & Moments , Enja, 1994.
- Double Rainbow , Enja, 1993.
- Down Beat, December 1998.
- Stereo Review, January 1998.
- "Kevin Mahogany," Hopper Management, http://www.hopper-management.com (April 29, 1999).
- "Kevin Mahogany," Enja Records, http://www.enjarecords.com (April 29, 1999).
- "Kevin Mahogany," Jazz Central Station, http://www.jazzcentralstation.com (April 29, 1999).
- "Kevin Mahogany," All-Media Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 28, 1999).
- "Kevin Mahogany," CD Now, http://www.cdnow.com (April 29, 1999).
- Additional information was provided by Warner Bros. Records publicity materials, 1998.