Kenny [Washington] is the most thrilling singers’ singer I have heard in recent years,” said Anna De Leon of her headliner this Saturday night at Anna’s Jazz Island in downtown Berkeley. “He combines the joyful and effortless musicality of Ella and Sarah with a voice that is comfortable in a more-than-four-octave range. He can sing all across the American spectrum—jazz, show tunes, rhythm and blues, Motown ... all with great passion and great skill.”
Coming from a recorded vocalist, praised by Nat Hentoff, as Anna is herself, that’s high—and enthusiastic—praise. But Kenny Washington has been garnering such kudos for awhile now, from audiences, critics and musicians alike.
“The great New Orleans saxophone player and Bay Area favorite for over three decades, Jules Broussard, once described Kenny to me as ‘the greatest singer in the world!’” Anna said.
Now an Oakland resident, Washington was born in New Orleans and grew up singing gospel in church, later playing saxophone with the school band. He studied music at Xavier University, then played with the honorary U. S. Navy Band from 1986 for nine years, throughout the U.S., Russia, Asia and Australia, before moving to the Bay Area.
For eight years, Washington was the featured vocalist at the Top of the Mark in San Francisco’s Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. He appeared in Roy Nathanson’s Off-Broadway production of Fire at Keaton’s Bar & Grill with Elvis Costello and Deborah Harry, playing London as well as New York. He toured Norway in 2006 and Chile last year with members of the SFNY Quartet.
In February, Washington appeared at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center, New York, with Joe Locke and George Mraz. He’s appeared as featured vocalist on Michael O’Neill’s “The Long and the Short of It” and “Still Dancin’” (with Joe Locke) CDs, as well as Keith Terry’s “The Slammin’ All Body Band.”
Washington’s new album is from a show last year: “Kenny Washington: LIVE at Anna’s Jazz Island.” There are several tracks available online at kennywashingtonvocalist.com. The SFNY Quartet MySpace site features live tracks and video. A benefit performance for the Oakland School of the Arts, with John Handy, Glen Pearson, Richard Howell, Babatunde Lea, Danny Armstrong and Khalil Shaheed can be seen on YouTube.
Critic Andrew Gilbert wrote of Washington: “Standing not quite five-foot-two, he is an oversize talent who can scat with the harmonic daring and rhythmic command of a bebop saxophonist, croon with the simmering soul of Donny Hathaway, and interpret standards with such intelligence and emotional commitment it’s like Rodgers & Hart wrote ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ with him in mind.”
Kenny Washington & His Trio
8 p. m. Saturday at Anna’s Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way (near Shattuck). $14. 841-JAZZ www.AnnasJazzIsland.com