Charlie Parker Academy, Baker University, Big Joe Turner, Berklee College of Music
with additions by Heather Scanlon
Unlike many of the great jazz legends of Kansas City, Kevin Mahogany is still kicking it old school. Born and raised in Kansas City, Mo., he began playing the baritone sax when he was just barely in middle school, where he studied with Ahmad Alaadeen at Kansas City’s Charlie Parker Academy. He went on to play in Eddie Baker’s New Breed Jazz Academy at the age of 12 (his band-mates were well into their 40s when he started). Coming from a musically-inclined family, Mahogany learned how to play the piano, drums and an assortment of woodwind instruments — and was already teaching music lessons by the age of 14. He attended Baker University, in Baldwin, Kan., where he majored in Fine Arts and English Drama. I
n 1981, he launched his jazz career by forming band called the “Mahogany and the Appollos.” The band toured around Kansas City for the next 10 years until Mahogany got an even bigger break and signed with Enja Labels in the early 1990s. In 1993, he released his now critically acclaimed debut solo album named “Double Rainbows,” along with two more albums later on. Just three years later, Mahongany signed with the big-time label Warner Brothers.
He’s the winner of multiple awards, including best male vocalist titles from both Down Beat and Jazzis. His rise in the mid-1990s evolved into a notable, prolific career. Mahogany revitalized traditional jazz with bold sounds — and vocals like nobody’s business.
He’s formed innumerable jazz groups. He’s toured the world. He’s started his own record label. He’s published his own magazine, the Jazz Singer. He portrayed Kansas City blues legend Big Joe Turner in Robert Altman’s film, “Kansas City.” He performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall in Clint Eastwood’s own ensemble, “Eastwood After Hours.” And he also taught music at both the University of Miami and the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“…For a long time the space behind Joe Williams, Mel Tormé, and Ray Charles has been empty…there is little (Mahogany) cannot do. He can sing the blues and he can sing ballads. He can scat. He can sing Monk and Gillespie and John Lewis and Miles Davis, and he can sing soul songs and novelty songs. And he is a startling gospel singer who shouts, hums, bends notes in two, growls, and locks every syllable to five or six notes,” said writer Whitney Balliett. Chills.
How does he do it?
“I listened to everything while I was coming up,” Mahogany said. “If all that is your background, you should be able to sing anything.”