What’s the Hurry
Although What’s the Hurry is the debut studio album for Bay Area jazz and blues vocalist Kenny Washington, you may have heard him before. This writer became acquainted with his warm, professional, perfectly intoned, and well-articulated vocals on the two vocal albums from pianist David K. Mathews – The Fantasy Vocal Sessions, Vol 1. (2018) and The Fantasy Vocal Sessions, Vol 2. (2020). It turns out that Washington is featured on three recordings from tenor saxophonist Michael O’Neill and has two live recordings of his own, Live at Anna’s Jazz Island (2008) and Live at Jazzhus Montmartre- Moanin’ (2016). We’ll have more on his discography and background later but today he may well be the preeminent male jazz vocalist in the Bay Area. He performs globally as well.
These are selections from The Great American Songbook delivered as warmly as you’ve likely ever heard them with the support of long-time accompanists – pianist Josh Nelson who wrote most of the arrangements, reed player Victor Goines (JLCO), percussionist Peter Michael Escovedo (an Emmy-nominated musical director and producer) and these Bay Area musicians – bassist Gary Brown, drummer Lorca Hart, guitarist Jeff Massanari, trumpeter Mike Olmos, bassist Dan Feiszl, trombonist Jeff Cressman, and percussionist Ami Molinelli-Hart. Yet, there are many configurations on the album, some having a single musician supporting Washington.
Washington opens with a swinging, trio-backed “The Best is Yet to Come” followed by “S’Wonderful featuring Jeff Massanari’s guitar. “Stars Fell on Alabama” has Goines opening on tenor and Brown on bass before Washington adds his ever sensitive touch. On “I’ve Got the World on a String” Massanari’s guitar is his only accompaniment and yet it swings as hard as any. Washington then shows his distinctive blues chops and phrasing on Duke Ellington’s “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues” which features some terrific spots from Olmos on trumpet and Nelson on piano. It’s a clear standout.
He proves the sensitive, caressing balladeer with impressive range on those selections with the prime example being Richard Rogers’ “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” the piano-vocal duet with Nelson, who is equally brilliant. “Invitation” has some inventive bongo turns form Escovedo before Washington tackles the challenging piece “Here’s to Life” as if he had Shirley Horn’s mesmerizing take in mind, using space to create more poignancy, another clear standout. Accompanied only by Dan Feiszl on bass, Washington gets playful with scatting on “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Jobim/Jon Hendricks’ “No More Blues” has a full ensemble that features Goines on clarinet and Cressman on trombone. You can practically feel the ache of life’s disappointments in Washington’s heartfelt closing version of “Smile.”
Washington was born and raised in New Orleans where he began singing in church. He became interested in jazz as a senior in high school when Alvin Batiste performed there with the talented teenage (at the time) brothers Branford and Wynton Marsalis. Washington studied music at Xavier University, playing sax and singing, moving from there to sax in the U.S. Navy Band in Guam before becoming the featured vocalist in a couple of armed forces bands. He relocated to San Francisco after his time in the service. His first major commercial success was a featured role in the high-profile Off-Broadway jazz theatre production in NYC called “Fire at Keaton’s Bar & Grill,” with a cast that included Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry, and Nancy King. The show toured in Europe and a cast album was released in 2000.
Vibraphonist Joe Locke invited Washington back to NYC for a run at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, which is where Washington likely formed a relationship with Wynton Marsalis and Victor Goines, among others. He did appear on Locke’s 2010 For the Love of You. Performance highlights include the 58th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival with the Michael O’Neill Quintet and several appearances with JLCO, including Marsalis’ Pulitzer-Prize winning Blood on the Fields, the JLCO’s tribute to Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday in 2016, and Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th Birthday a year later.
Yes, this recording is a long time coming, hence the sardonic title. Washington is a gifted vocalist that deserves your ears and wider recognition. His finesse and nuance are masterful.
- Jim Hynes