“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Shannon Kennedy
Smitty: I am very excited to welcome to Jazz Monthly for the very first time a great young saxophonist. She’s a native of Southern California; she’s produced her first CD; it’s called Angel Eyes, and what’s so cool is she released this CD just months after her high school graduation. Please welcome Ms. Shannon Kennedy. Shannon, how are you?
Shannon Kennedy (SK): I’m good, Smitty, thanks. How are you?
Smitty: I’m wonderful. Thank you. You have so much going on. My goodness! You’re playing instrumental pop, you’re playing contemporary music, smooth jazz, blues, you’ve produced a CD that is great, and you’re working on some other projects, you’re co-producing a CD. Talk to me about your CD, Angel Eyes. Now, this is your first album and how are you feeling about this first album?
SK: I feel that it reflects my ability at the time very well. I actually ended up doing the CD as an accident ‘cause I talked with one of my teachers about recording a CD and he took me seriously and he said “Yeah, okay, we’ll get you in the studio” and it never happened, so I started talking to some of the kids that I know, and the next thing I knew, we were picking out a list of songs to record and we went in the studio for two days, we recorded the CD live, we had about three hours each day, we spent the first hour rehearsing and the second two hours recording it in the basement studio at my high school, and it was a lot of fun. I was in the booth and everyone else was back behind the glass, and it was really hard because the first day we only had two sets of headphones, so it was really hard to follow each other, but we managed to do it and it was a lot of fun.
Smitty: When you first began put this record together, talk about how you selected the songs for this first project.
SK: It’s funny. How I selected the songs…well, I pretty much picked songs that I knew. Actually, there’s one song on the CD I hadn’t played before the recording. All the rest of the songs I learned just for the CD.
Smitty: How were you able to manage other activities?
SK: Well, I went to the Orange County High School of the Arts, which is a school specifically for future artists, musicians, etc., and we were always in the environment of putting things together sort of last minute and just pulling things out of the hat like a magic kind of thing, and it was a spur-of-the-moment thing with the production and design crew at the school, so we brought in a kid to engineer the CD and the band’s all kids I went to high school with and I brought in my saxophone teacher, Greg Vail, and he supervised everything and we pretty much just did it all on our own.
Smitty: So Greg Vail was in on this, huh?
Smitty: That’s pretty cool. Yeah, he’s a great sax player, isn’t he?
Smitty: You’re also working on some other things. I know you’re a Web designer so you’ve designed some Web sites for some of your colleagues, including your own Web sites as well.
SK: Yes. When I was first starting on saxophone and I was taking lessons with Greg, his son, who is my age was always working on his Web site, so I had him teach me html and I just kinda took off with it. I design Web sites for him now and for other young musicians. The first website that I designed was www.teenjazz.com . It started out as a Web site for my band when I was a sophomore in high school which was called Night Vision and the url NightVision.com was already taken, so I chose Teen Jazz and after a while I figured with a url like that….and I was already writing articles that were pretty much advice articles for young musicians, I decided to gear the purpose of that Web site towards other young musicians my age. I had the advantage of going to an art school and meeting a lot of musicians who had already been auditioning for a while. That helped me out a lot and I know that the average kid doesn’t have that, so I tried to create a place for them to go and, in a way, have the same help that I had starting out.
Smitty: That was very cool, to be a resource for others, so this wasn’t just about you, but you recognized the need for fellow musicians to have the resources that you had. When you released your first CD, what was the reaction from the rest of the band? Talk about the whole experience of finishing and releasing the CD.
SK: Well, as far as releasing the CD, it was kind of stressing because the people we took it to for printing, they did a really good job but it took awhile. So I was just so glad to finally have them, and we scheduled a release date. My high school teacher booked a club near our school….and I play there every month….and the first date I ever had there was the CD release party and it happened to be the day after my birthday, so there was a really good crowd there. It was “Come to Shannon’s CD Release Party/Birthday Party” and there were a lot of people there and it was a lot of fun, and I used the band that was on the CD. We played the songs off the CD and then three hours worth of other music, everyone was really happy and proud that I was able to do that at such a young age, and I felt it was….personally a really big accomplishment for me.
It was very exciting. It was a very different experience for me because it was the first gig that I’d ever been the leader. I’ve always just gone to someone else’s gig, brought a sax and a mike, plugged into their P.A. and played. At this one I had to bring my own P.A., I had to set up all the mikes, get their early, rehearse with the band, and I had never had to do any of that before. I don’t even own my own P.A. system so, of course, I had to borrow someone else’s. Because I didn’t own a P.A. system, I didn’t know how to set it up, so I had to have someone else set the P.A. up for me.
Smitty: Very cool. As far as the record itself, when you first put this whole record together, were you thinking about just playing the alto or the baritone or the tenor? What was your concept of putting this record together? Did you want to do just a straight alto sax record or were you thinking about mixing in soprano and some other saxophones in there?
SK: On the record I play alto sax, soprano sax, and flute, but initially all the songs that we recorded, they’re not all on the CD, but I play tenor, alto, soprano and the flute. I didn’t play bari sax yet. I actually only started about six months ago. So I played everything, but the tenor track I ended up not being happy with, so I just put the other stuff on it. And the arrangements on the songs I pretty much came up with the night before the first recording, just singing the melodies to the songs and thinking about how I would like to play each song and singing a drum beat feel.
And as far as picking the instrument, I pretty much chose the songs to the instrument. Like “Friends and Strangers” I did on flute, which Ronnie Laws did on saxophone, but I had heard other people play it live and I had only heard it on flute. I actually didn’t hear the Ronnie Laws version of the song until the first day of the recording. And I did “Maputo,” which David Sanborn recorded, and I did more of a rock feel rather than the more Smooth Jazz feel that he does. “Song for My Father,” which is a song that I’ve always played whenever I go to sit in….not anymore but at the time….and I’ve always played it on alto and Greg’s always played it on bari, so I thought it would be cool to do it on the album the same way. And “Van Nuys,” which I play on soprano, we picked that song because we were trying to think of a ballad that would sound really good on alto or soprano, and we ended up picking that song and I played soprano, and that’s pretty much how I decided which instruments I was playing on which song.
Smitty: Very cool. You’ve drawn some serious inspirations from some great artists as far as your career is concerned. Who’s your greatest influence?
SK: I can’t really say I have one. I’ve been influenced by Kenny Garrett, Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Joshua Redman, Chris Potter, Kurt Elling, Greg Vail, of course Michael Brecker, Vincent Herring, but I would have to say that if I had to pick one person, I would pick Greg Vail just because he’s the one who taught me how to play the saxophone, he’s always been around, he’s always supported me, he’s always helped me out as much as he could, he’s introduced me to people who have helped me out or who have worked with me, and he lets me play at all of his gigs and vice versa, and so he’s always just tried to push me out there and help me get as much exposure as I can, and he’s just also a great player, so he’s a really good person to be around and to listen to.
Smitty: Well, that’s cool. Well, we’ll have to give Greg a nice thumbs up. You have gotten off to a fast start with your career and you’ve crossed genres with your music. What would you say to other musicians your age about getting their career off to a good start? What advice would you give them?
SK: Well, something I notice with a lot of my friends or kids my age is that they sit around and wait for someone to call them, and it just doesn’t work that way. You have to get out there, go sit in wherever you can, play with as many people as you can, look at yourself as a leader because when you’re starting out people aren’t going hire you because there’s much better musicians out there, so you should get out there and book gigs and hire other people. It’s the easiest way to start working. And, you know, it’s just a matter of trying to do things yourself because no one’s going to do them for you.
Smitty: Excellent but very true and very well said. That’s excellent advice for all musicians, really, when you think about it. You’ve got, what, three or four Web sites.
SK: I have four Web sites.
Smitty: Let’s talk about Teen Jazz. Teen Jazz basically does what for the artist?
SK: Teen Jazz…I try to push it as a teen resource and networking Web site. It has helpful music-related articles of concert reviews, instrument/gear reviews, interviews with professional musicians Greg Adams, Mindi Abair, Carol Kaye, Terry Lyne Carrington, etc.; it’s got interviews with young musicians, very accomplished young musicians like Alex Han, Isaiah Morfin; and it offers a place for kids to go and kinda get their name out there. There’s an application they can apply to become a Teen Jazz artist, to get a feature on the page with a one-page bio, a photograph, contact information, whatever they want essentially.
Smitty: Very cool. And then there’s www.shannon-kennedy.com.
SK: Yes, that’s my personal Web site. It’s been redesigned approximately ten times now. I think I’m happy with the way it looks right now finally. Well, that site’s pretty much my personal Web site. It talks about my CD, it talks about some of the things that I do and have done, it talks about what I’m planning on doing in the future, it has my press kit, my performance schedule, photographs, pretty much anything you’d want to know about me is on the site.
Smitty: Nice! And, now, talk about the other two you have.
SK: The other two…one is www.kenkasemusic.com, which is a reed case company that my dad and I started when I was 16. There are a lot of reed cases out on the market for woodwind players and they’re really expensive. So one day my dad, when I needed one, decided to start making them instead of having to spend the money to buy them, and it just….everyone started wanting them, so we started Ken Kase Music and that’s the Web site for that. And the other Web site is www.angeleyesmusic.com, which is my record label.
Smitty: So you have your own record label. You are some go-getter, you know that? All right. So, now, have you been able to advise some of your teen friends as far as starting the record label?
SK: I’ve had some of my friends ask me about getting into the studio and recording and what it’s like, and pretty much with the record label since I can’t really afford to be a real record label and fund projects, I pretty much….the Web site for the record label’s just to kind of push my friends’ CD’s, so I put them up, add them to the catalog, I do the artwork and design for all the CD’s on the record label. It’s pretty much just….the record label just shows my involvement with the different projects, which is just try and help other people out.
Smitty: That’s very cool of you to do that. Talk to me a little bit about your sponsors. Rico Reeds, right?
Smitty: So tell me how that came about.
SK: I have two endorsements. I have one with Hollywood Winds Saxophones. I got that one a little over a year ago when the company was Unison Saxophones. I met Rheuben Allen and Shun Hwa Chang, who owned Unison, and they found out that I played Unison Saxophones and they approached me about sponsorship and I said “Of course, I’d love to,” and I recorded my CD and they heard it and they were amazed, when they switched companies to Hollywood Winds, or changed their name, they kept me as an artist, and when they were Unison, I played soprano and tenor for them, but as Hollywood Winds I’m actually their bari sax artist, so Rheuben is very impressed with my bari playing.
And the other one is with Rico, or D’Addario. I actually just got the contract for that, but I’ve been an unofficial kind of pseudo artist with them since this last summer; I’m one of three junior artists for Rico. There’s Alex Han, Isaiah Morfin and myself. And with Rico, that came about because I played in a band with someone who works with Rico’s son, and I use Rico reeds and I made a few calls and I asked about the possibility of being signed as an artist, and they said they would be interested in having me as an artist, and that’s pretty much how that happened.
Smitty: Nice! You’ve gotta be excited about having that kind of support.
SK: Yes, I am. It’s really great because it just shows that pretty much anything is possible as long as you just try. It’s just getting out there and doing it.
Smitty: Yes. So talk to me about where Shannon Kennedy goes from here.
SK: Well, for a while I wanted to own my own record label. For now I know that I just want to perform, get out there and play. I intend to be a contemporary saxophone player, Smooth Jazz. I have the ability to be a straight ahead saxophone player, it’s just I enjoy playing contemporary music more. And I feel I should play festivals, play at clubs, and I hope to play with some of my influences, like I’d love to play with Mindi Abair, Kirk Whalum or Kurt Elling, people like that.
Smitty: Oh yeah, I’m sure that will come in time. How can people get your CD?
SK: Right now it’s on CD Baby at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/shannonkennedy/.
Smitty: Very cool. Do you prefer the live performance or the studio?
SK: Well, they’re both very different, but I would have to say that I like performing live more because there’s just so much energy that you get from a live audience that you don’t get in the studio. But when you’re in the studio recording and then there’s an actual product that you can hold in your hand afterwards and you can say “I did this,” it kind of is more of a physical accomplishment where you can give this to people and say “Look, this is me” or driving in your car and hear yourself or be at the dentist’s office and all of a sudden you hear yourself on the radio…that’s amazing. And then just going out and playing in front of people and having people just enjoy your music so much and what you’re doing and just admire you for that, and then having people come up and tell you how much they love hearing you play, so they’re both very unique and very enjoyable.
Smitty: Yes. Well, Shannon, I can’t thank you enough for sharing this great story with us and talking about your music and your career and what you have coming down the road. I think we can look for some very wonderful music from you in the future and I certainly wish you well with this project and your projects of the future. All right, we have been talking with a very young talent, Ms. Shannon Kennedy. Once again, her debut album is called Angel Eyes. Look for her at a venue in Southern California and beyond in the near future. Shannon thanks again for such a wonderful time.
SK: Thank you very much for having me.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.teenjazz.com or www.shannon-kennedy.com or www.kenkasemusic.com or www.angeleyesmusic.com.
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