Thursday, December 16, 2021

Kenny Washington delights - again

Kenny Washington
Oakland CA-based singer Kenny Washington is a marvel, plain and simple. And his return performance to Artis Naples' All That Jazz series on Wednesday, December 13 showcased  the diminutive singer's skills,tone and wide range, and his artful scatting on two of the evening's 10 tunes.

Washington was special guest with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra, which on this evening was stretched from its usual sextet to a septet. The  mega-talented band this night included tenor saxophonist and artistic director Lew Del Gatto, trumpeter Dan Miller, trombonist Dante Luciani, guitarist John Hart, pianist Jerry Stawski, bassist Kevin Mauldin and drummer Mike Harvey.

The program did not include a single repeat of material from the singer's first appearance in the series in November 2015.

Kenny Washington, Lew Del Gatto
"Wow, it's nice to see a real audience," Washington told the near-sellout crowd at 275-seat Daniels Pavilion. The singer, born and raised in music-rich New Orleans, had been scheduled to perform in the venue's 2020-21 series, but couldn't get to Naples a year ago because of the pandemic.

The opener, "Deed I Do," and Fats Waller's teasing "Honeysuckle Rose," midway in the program, featured extended scat solos that revealed much about Washington's sheer musicality. They fit naturally and effectively. He wasn't scatting just for scat's sake.

Dan Miller

Other highlights included "When Sunny Gets Blue," with Washington's vocals cushioned by a gorgeous horn choir, and a samba version of Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love," which was first recorded by British pop singer Dusty Springfield in 1967 and has been covered by many jazz singers and instrumentalists.

The finest moment came when Washington sang "Here's to Life" backed by just the piano-bass-drums rhythm section. The song, first recorded by Shirley Horn, was a signature tune for the singer-pianist and later for Joe Williams. 

"Here's to Life" was a highlight track on Washington's 2020 album What's the Hurry (Lower 9th Records), which was a Grammy Award nominee in the Best Jazz Vocal category. The Naples performance reinforced the notion that his version is its best modern-day cover. He found a way to make the ballad his own without diminishing the poignancy and beauty of the Horn and Williams versions.

Kevin Mauldin, Dante Luciani
The instrumentalists were in fine form all night, led by NBC Saturday Night Live Band alumnus Del Gatto. He never overplays and always adds subtle things to enhance the melody and the moment. 

Miller was featured on a muted trumpet solo on "Perdido" and on flugelhorn on a bossa nova version of "As Time Goes By." Mauldin opened "Honeysuckle Rose" with a beautiful extended bass solo and Luciani added his solid trombone artistry to everything he played. Harvey was in the spotlight for much of the closer, George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." And rightfully so.

Jon Hart
Mike Harvey

Kenny Washington with the Naples Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra

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