Kevin Mahogany, who passed away last year on December 17, 2017, at a premature age of 59, was among the leading, if not the leading jazz vocalist of the current generation.
He was known for his silky, velvety voice which, coupled with his languid style, made him one of the most popular figures in the jazz world.
What made him even more prominent and a standout figure was the fact that unlike many other jazz vocalists who move away from the traditional form of the music and start exploring more profitable opportunities, he remained pure to the form of his art.
Another reason for his position in the current pantheon of jazz musicians being unique is the fact that most of his contemporaries in this field are either women or men who are much older.
He was a young man who had become a well-known and celebrated artist well before the age of 40.
1. Formative Years
Kevin Bryant Mahogany was born to James Mahogany and Carrie Lee Mahogany on July 30, 1958, in Kansas City. His foray into the world of music began at a precociously early age when he started playing the piano while studying in the third grade.
He also picked up the clarinet for a while before making the switch again to baritone saxophone.
It was with this instrument that he got his first break when he joined a band called New Breed Jazz Orchestra at the age of 12. When in high school, he also started teaching clarinet and saxophones of two different varieties: alto sax and tenor sax. While studying, he was a fellow student of jazz great Ahmad Aladeen.
2. Musical Career
Mahogany started a band in the 1980’s and was playing the saxophone. But then came the major turning point in his career when he heard ‘Look to the Rainbow,’ an album by Al Jarreau. This turned his interest from playing to vocalizing.
He delved deep into the great tradition of Kansas City jazz singers while also taking inspiration from other greats like Eddie Jefferson, Johnny Hartman and Jon Hendricks.
The musical heritage he belonged to effectively combined the complexity of bebop with deep resonance of the blues. Another source of inspiration was jazz and r&b music from the 60s and the 70s.
Mahogany developed his own unique style which saw a harmonious confluence of styles from blues, r&b, soul and rock forms of music. He was also known for his scat singing. A tall and stout man, Mahogany also boasted of a heavy but soothing voice, one that was also very clear.
These diverse sources of inspiration gave his singing a very unique appeal. In his home town, he established a nine-piece band named Robinson Pike as well as two R&B groups – The Apollos and Mahogany.
He got his first big break in 1991 when he performed for a CD featuring pianist Randolph Mantooth. He also toured with a band called the NRE Trio.
3. Rise As A Successful Vocalist
1993 was the year when Mahogany came out with his debut album – ‘Double Rainbow.’ His vocals were paired with the piano of Kenny Barron, saxophone of Ralph Moore, drums of Lewis Nash and bass from Ray Drummond.
This was the first of over twelve albums that he released over the course of a career that, sadly, came to an end with his passing away.
He released four albums each with Warner Brothers and Enja Records, one each with Telarc and Jazz Express and two under his own brand Mahogany Music.
He also had many highly-successful tours with other big performers like TS Monk, Marlena Shaw, Carl Allen, Ray Brown Trio and Elvin Jones. He visited Russia numerous times and was overwhelmed by the response he got from the people there.
4. Other Aspects Of Mahogany’s Life
Mahogany also starred in a movie titled Kansas City in which he played the role of singer Big Joe Turner. He was deeply attached to his hometown of Kansas City and remained devoted to its musical and cultural traditions.