Kansas City has long been a jazz mecca, the hometown of luminaries like Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Big Joe Turner. Veteran vocalist Kevin Mahogany grew up in that rich musical environment, and he brings his trio to the Napa Valley Jazz Society monthly showcase at Silo’s on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 19.
An agile singer, known for his scat improvisations, Mahogany’s musical childhood was mostly instrumental – the piano, clarinet and saxophone. On the phone from Kansas City last week, he said that he didn’t focus on singing until he got to college.
“I chose that direction because it allowed me to be more flexible in terms of different genres — jazz or R&B or rock or soul, even classical,” Mahogany said. “I was able to do a variety of styles without any problem vocally.
“My early jazz influence was listening to a lot of bebop — Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks type of stuff. I tend to lean more towards a ballad singer like Johnny Hartman and also the blues with Joe Williams. He brought a different style to the same genre of music, the blues background to the jazz style of music.”
Over the past three decades, Mahogany has recorded 13 albums and is a sought-after sideman, working with T.S. Monk, the Ray Brown Trio, Elvin Jones and many others. In addition to performance and recording, he started the Mahogany Jazz record label, published The Jazz Singer magazine and taught in numerous settings, including the Berklee College of Music and the University of Miami.
Mahogany said he believes he was fortunate to have grown up in an era where a broad spectrum of music was easily accessible on the radio. “The way you listen to music now is so different from when I was a kid,” he said. “When you listened back then, you could hear all types of styles on one station. Now you only hear one format on one station. It’s a hip-hop station or an R&B station or a jazz station.
“When I was coming up, you could hear The Beatles and Elvis, along with the Temptations, the Four Tops. Pick anybody you want — country music backed by some blues tunes behind a Ramsey Lewis tune. I think that is what helped me decide musically that I could do anything I wanted vocally. I hear all those different styles. I end up basically saying there are really only two kinds of music — good and bad.”
Sunday, Nov. 19, 4 p.m. $45 (NVJS members, $25). Silo’s, 530 Main St., Napa. 707-251-5833. Nvjs.org for tickets.