With smooth jazz being such a male dominated genre, it’s been great to see the success of Mindi Abair, Candy Dulfer and Pamela Williams not only on a commercial level but with some of the current decades’ best recordings and live performances. Orange County, California based Shannon Kennedy may only be 19, but there’s no question that within a few years—if not sooner--she’ll be giving these saxtresses a run for their money in a big way. Based on her accomplishments of the past year, Shannon, who started gigging in her native Orange County, California at 16, is well on her way.
At an age when most teenagers are trying to determine a college major or otherwise figure out their lives, Shannon—still a full time classical saxophone performance major at Cal State Long Beach--is more accomplished as a composer, producer and multi-faceted performer and recording artist than most musicians over twice her age. Her powerful and much-acclaimed cameos with some of the biggest names in smooth jazz as a guest artist last January on the 2007 Brian Culbertson All-Star Cruise, made this abundantly clear to thousands of contemporary jazz fans across the country. In addition to sharing the stage at jam sessions with such genre stars as Culbertson, Dulfer, Boney James, Eric Darius and Gerald Albright, she electrified the crowds in duet segments throughout the event with former rocker Craig Chaquico, saxman Michael Lington and guitarist Nick Colionne.
Shannon’s done gigs this fall with Peter White as a secondary saxophonist behind Michael Paulo and has recorded in the studio with the guitarist as well. White and Kirk Whalum appear on her second self-released CD Steppin’ Up, which she released earlier this year; she produced that album with her longtime teacher, saxophonist Greg Vail (whom many smooth jazz fans remember from the 90s supergroup Kilauea). The album is a unique showcase for Shannon’s diverse talents on flute, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone sax, as well as her love for a multitude of genres, from pop to Latin music.
Her latest disc Never My Love finds her refashioning some wonderful, instantly recognizable 60s, 70s and 80s adult pop hits in addition to several nicely done originals.
White’s always-recognizable acoustic guitar spruces up the sweet, soprano driven reading of the title track, but Shannon’s virtuosity as both producer and musician is the driving force. The best of the originals, “All It Takes” is slamming retro funk fun, and nicely balances the softer touches of “Fire And Rain” (given a bluesy treatment here with the help of Drew Simpson’s guitar), the soothing title track and two beautiful Bread ballads “If” and “Make It With You.” She also cleverly brings out the whimsy via the flute on Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do).”
Conventional music industry marketing wisdom may say that switching saxes, playing flute and even adding some EWI makes things unfocused, but that’s the joy of indie music making--her diversity is great and she allows herself to switch off based on the tone she feels might best convey the emotion of the song. Complementing the ballads—which also include passionate readings of “Superstar” and “What You Won’t Do For Love”—are the uptempo blasts through the party tune “Low Rider” (with Shannon and Vail creating a scorching dual sax line) and, most irresistible for those of us old enough to actually remember the 70s, the Bee Gee’s disco classic “Night Fever.” The only unfortunate choice she makes is in the tracking that puts the absolutely best cut the blistering rock jam of Steely Dan’s rarely covered “My Old School,” last. Driven by Shannon’s most colorful playing and the blistering guitar of Stephan Lexner, this song is too much fun for smooth jazz radio, but so what? It’s an absolute smash and will get everyone’s day off to a pumpin’ start. If Never My Love is ever picked up by a larger label, this song needs to be higher in the tracking.
Other than that minor nitpicky point, this is an album that has something for everyone, even if Shannon’s strong composing ability takes somewhat of a backseat to having fun with cherished oldies. It’s been an exciting year for the charming musician, and it’ll be exciting to see how she develops as a player, composer, producer and performer as her career develops. This girl is going places!