You've probably heard by now that Kevin Mahogany died on Monday, December 18, at his home in Kansas City, Missouri. A heart attack claimed his life at age 59. I heard Kevin many times in person, got to introduce him on various stages, and talked with him about the musical legacy of Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Big Joe Turner and other legends from his hometown. He had a profound and humble sense of himself as a keeper of the flame.
My recollection of the first time I saw Kevin was at Symphony Hall in Boston in 1996 when he was on tour with an all-star combo drawn from the ranks of Robert Altman's film, "Kansas City." His character was based on Big Joe, but he also invoked Jimmy Rushing on "I Left My Baby," a blues that Rushing recorded with Count Basie in 1939, and later on performed in the classic TV special, "The Sound of Jazz."
A year or two later, when he and Phil Woods were guest soloists with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at the Litchfield Jazz Festival, Kevin impressed me as a vocalist who had all the ingredients required to sing blues, ballads, and bebop. His authority in the latter style was evident in his performance of "Confirmation," complete with a thrilling exchange of fours with Woods. Not surprisingly, the Times singled out his studio recording of the Bird classic from his 1993 debut album Double Raibow in its obituary of Mahogany.
I later saw Kevin at the Jazz for Juvenile Diabetes Benefit in West Hartford; with Jazz at Lincoln Center in NYC; and lastly in 2013 with Dave Stryker at Scullers in Boston. Dave and Kevin played the Vermont Jazz Center just a few weeks ago, but I was out of town. Alas, the regret I feel today about missing that show echoes a puzzled feeling I've had about Kevin for at least 20 years, that he was a singer who should have been much better known, and perhaps that if he’d been more thoughtfully handled by a major label, we would have seen his name in lights. Here he is with Ray Brown's Trio singing another Bird classic, "Yardbird Suite."