Biography and Interview of Shannon Kennedy:
Like a lot of her fellow students at Cal State
Long Beach, Shannon Kennedy is eagerly
looking forward to graduating this spring with
her Bachelor’s in Music Performance. But
even as she considers her options for grad
school, the 21-year-old, Orange County,
California based musical dynamo is caught
up in an exciting whirlwind mode, developing
one of contemporary music’s most
extraordinarily multi-faceted careers as a
composer, producer, performer, independent
recording artist and music instructor.
Best known to audiences throughout Southern California as a powerhouse saxophonist, the wildly ambitious multi-talented musician has added numerous instruments to her palette,
including piano, pennywhistle and even Native American flute. On her upcoming fifth self-produced recording Behind Your Eyes, Shannon is also stepping out more than ever before as a compelling lead vocalist.
Her expansion into the rock and urban markets with this breakthrough vocal tune builds on her enormous popularity in the jazz world via live solo performances at hotspots like Antonucci’s in Mission Viejo and the Temecula club The Merc, where she plays straight-ahead jazz. She also has played venues like Anaheim’s House of Blues with the popular O.C. based Sade tribute band Taboo, with whom she also shot a TV pilot. While showcasing her talents on all four saxes (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone) and flute, her early 2007 album Steppin’ Up hinted at all of the diversity to come, with forays into pop, blues, funk, gospel, old school pop-soul and even more exotic influences like calypso, tango and bossa nova. She’s developed her world music chops further by doing workshops and playing with the Southern California based flamenco-global fusion band Incendio.
When she got to high school, she still had her heart on playing the trumpet, but her local music store didn’t have any for sale; instead, she picked up the sax, took immediately to it and took over the first chair in the jazz band. Because her school was oriented towards the arts, her teachers were able to connect her and many of her bandmates to numerous paying gigs throughout Orange County, from restaurants and concerts to mall openings and Christmas shows as part of a big band or small combos. She did her first outside paying gig at a party in Malibu where Olivia Newton-John was a host.
She released her first album, Angel Eyes, a few months after graduating high school in 2005; the album features an assorted mix of music from different genres recorded live in two days with many of her student friends. A Rheuben Allen endorsee and Rico (reeds) Junior Artist, she also has endorsements with the Beechler mouthpiece company and the oboe reed company Marca.
Interview of Shannon Kennedy:
Tell us about your 2009 album Almost That Time of Year.
Well, Almost That Time of Year is my latest record, it is a Christmas record. I would have to say that it is the first record I have done that really defines my style and the way that I want to express myself as a musician. I sing on three of the songs as well as perform a greater amount on keyboards of the recording. On the album, I wrote two new Christmas songs, one essentially about unreciprocated love. Almost That Time of Year also features a great collection of guests - Peter White plays acoustic guitar and piano on a couple of tracks, Chieli Minucci contributes fantastic rhythm and solo guitars on Carol of the Bells Medley, Greg Adams from Tower of Power performs Baby It's Cold Outside as a duet with me and Nick Colionne performs a soulful solo on Santa Baby. It was an amazing experience working with these musicians and I can't wait to do it again on the next album!
Since jazz education has increased over the past few decades, how do you feel this is helping young jazz musicians today?
I think that the growth of jazz education in schools has significantly benefited young musicians. I have to say that my education and experience has really shaped and developed me into the musician that I am today, and it is irreplaceable. I am eternally grateful to my educators and I wouldn't be the player that I am without them. The better their education is at the beginning while they are still developing and growing as musicians(although you never really stop this!), the better equipped they are to succeed in the future. In 2004, I founded www.teenjazz.com, which is a website dedicated to helping young musicians learn more about the music industry. It was in a way, a supplement to the education I was getting in school. I also felt compelled to share what I learned the hard way, in an attempt to make it easier for the next generation of musicians.
What can we expect with your upcoming album Behind Your Eyes?
Wow, what a question! Well, Behind Your Eyes, is going to be quite a surprise for listeners. The saxophone, in a way, takes somewhat of a seat on the backburner because this album primarily features me as a vocalist and songwriter. However, there are still a few instrumental tracks, including a cover of Falling Slowly from the movie Once which will be released as the first single later this month. Behind Your Eyes is more folk/pop influenced but you can still hear the influence of jazz in the harmonic aspects of the songs. Actually, everything I am doing with this album is going to be a little different. Instead of releasing the album in full, I will be releasing a single from the album each month, paired with a single from another album I am working on entitled Unfinished Compositions. I am pretty excited about my new projects and I don't want to give too much away!
What influences you most as a jazz saxophonist?
I would have to say that pretty much everything influences me. By this I mean, all genres of music, other saxophone players, other instrumentalists and even vocalists. I think it is important to listen to a variety of music and performers and absorb different things from each. As far as jazz, some of my favorite artists include Michael Brecker, Chris Potter, Joshua Redman, Kenny Garrett and Kurt Elling but I've been trying to expand my "listening horizons". Lately I've been listening to several different genres including folk, pop, country, Celtic and French music. One of my new favorite artists is an a cappella vocalist, Camille. She does a lot of interesting and amazing things with her voice and body. It's incredibly fascinating that there is such a great amount of music available and I'm just trying to absorb as much of it as I can!
How excited were you to release your first album Angel Eyes after graduating from high school?
It was incredibly exciting to celebrate my high school graduation with a cd release. The whole project was a huge learning experience. In fact, I wasn't even sure it was something I could do until I physically held the album in my hand the day we picked it up from the manufacturers. It was an overwhelming feeling to look at the CD in my hand and think, "Wow, I did this. I did this all by myself." A lot of people tell me I did the album too early on and in some respect, I agree. But if I had not have done Angel Eyes when I did it, I don't know if I would be where I am today. Completing my first album at the age of 17 gave me the confidence to aggressively pursue a career in music and promote my career as a musician that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Unfortunately, Angel Eyes is going out of print very soon, so it will be very difficult to find!
As a pianist, I am always glad to learn that someone plays the piano along with other instruments. I am sure that playing the piano is helpful when composing and writing and enhances what you already do.
Playing the piano has definitely enhanced a lot of what I do. I started playing the piano at a young age but I didn't really seriously pursue it until recently. The piano has also provided me with a plethora of other opportunities. I have performed as a pianist/vocalist in several venues and I have been playing keyboards in a Top 40 band recently as well. But mostly, piano is an essential tool for me as a composer. I wouldn't be able to live without it! In fact, when I was in high school, I used to carry my 25 keyrig with me everywhere just in case I had an idea for a song or a minute to work on arranging some of the songs I already had. The second album I am working on, Unfinished Compositions, is actually a piano focused project. Contrary to the title, the pieces aren't actually unfinished but are "samples" of a new part of my musical library and repertoire. The pieces in this album are more contemporary classical, almost like film scoring and each is a unique style exemplifying my diversity as a composer.