Kenny Washington thrills audiences across the globe with his soulful interpretations, seemingly limitless range, and rapid-fire scatting. The New Orleans native, now based in the San Francisco Bay Area, appeared in 2013 at Jazz At Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra to perform Marsalis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Blood On The Fields, alongside vocalists Gregory Porter and Paula West. In 2014, Washington returned to Jazz at Lincoln Center to perform Basie & The Blues with pianist Eric Reed and again in 2016 as the featured vocalist in JALC’s tribute to Frank Sinatra, in celebration of Sinatra’a 100th birthday. In 2017, Washington performed with Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra and vocalist Roberta Gambarini to celebrate Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Washington grew up singing gospel in the church where his parents were choir members and playing saxophone in school bands. Jazz caught his interest during his senior year of high school, when the great clarinetist Alvin Batiste performed at his school with a band of students that included two precociously talented teenage brothers named Branford and Wynton Marsalis. Inspired, Washington went on to study music at Xavier University, playing saxophone and singing in a variety of styles including pop, classical, R&B and jazz, while listening closely to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Tormé.
After college, Washington played with the honorary U.S. Navy Band Guam, followed by the U.S. Navy Band 7th Fleet, stationed in Japan. He auditioned as a saxophonist, but upon discovery of his singing talent, he became one of the featured vocalists with both bands. For nine years Washington performed with the Navy bands across Asia, Russia, Australia and the U.S.
After settling in the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington had an early success with a high profile project came when he was cast in a featured role in an off-Broadway jazz theater production called Fire at Keaton's Bar & Grill, by saxophonist Roy Nathanson. Washington performed at the New York City debut in a glittering cast with Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry and Nancy King. He then went on the road for several European performances. The project was captured on an excellent cast album, released in 2000 on Six Degrees Records.
Washington returned to the national and global stage when vibraphonist Joe Locke brought Washington to New York for a week-long run at the Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, a residency that began an annual Dizzy’s tradition. Washington is featured on Joe Locke’s For The Love of You (E1 Records, 2010) and has appeared internationally with The Joe Locke Group in Germany, Georgia, and Scotland and at various festivals.
Washington is also the featured vocalist on three recordings by tenor saxophonist Michael O’Neill, The Long and the Short of It (2004), Still Dancin’ (2007) and New Beginnings (2014) on Jazzmo Records.
Described as one of “the Bay Area’s best kept musical secrets,” Washington’s astounding improvisational flights, inventive approach and emotional intensity are awe inspiring. If you have never heard this New Orleans native sing before, prepare to join a global audience that has welcomed the introduction to Washington’s talent.
Other recent highlights include The 58th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival with the Michael O’Neill Quintet, a 2014 Grammy win for the eponymous album from The Pacific Mambo Orchestra, which featured Washington’s stand-out rendition of Stevie Wonder’s tune ‘Overjoyed” and two new releases that feature Washington on vocals: Groove Conspiracy, from drummer Tommy Igoe’s modern big band, and New Beginnings, the third collaboration with saxophonist Michael O’Neill. In 2013, Washington appeared at The Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, The 2013 Virginia Arts Festival, and as an adjudicator for the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Festival. Recent solo international performances include dates in Germany, Spain, Denmark, Georgia, Czech Republic, Singapore, South Korea, Mongolia, Canada, Japan and Russia. With this growing recognition, Washington was voted a “Rising Star” in the male vocals category in the 57th Annual Downbeat Critics’ Poll.