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Vocalist And Composer Johnaye Kendrick Releases Flying On Johnygirl Records

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With Flying, Johnaye Kendrick establishes herself as a voice not only ideally suited for our time but also for the ages. — Jonathan Widran, JW Vibe
Attending the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz in the late 2000s, vocalist and composer Johnaye Kendrick had the opportunity to learn from and work with legendary jazz masters Terence Blanchard, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Danilo Pérez, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Brian Blade. While studying with Blanchard, her class was often encouraged to write original music for their assignments. “I was relatively shy about performing my music while in the program, because it was so personal,” says the San Diego born and bred, Seattle based artist. “It felt like performing journal entries, as the pieces were always so honest and literally based on my experiences. I suppose one day I just decided it was time to let people hear my voice.”

Johnaye says her 2014 debut album Here was her way of embracing that journey in that it was a full collection of original works. The positive critical and fan response she received from that release led her to overcome any insecurity she had earlier in her career—and provided just the encouragement and momentum she needed to create her bold, even more heartfelt and intimate new album, appropriately titled Flying (johnygirl Records, August 28, 2018).

Produced and arranged by Johnaye, who also plays harmonium, the set comprises six stellar originals and six fresh re-imaginings of standards and unique, offbeat selections from the worlds of jazz and pop. Johnaye showcases her exquisite voice, expansive vocal range and otherworldly scatting abilities with an adventurous rhythm section that includes Dawn Clement (piano, keyboards), Chris Symer (bass) and D'Vonne Lewis (drums).

“Everything I wrote on Here was the truth, my reality, snapshots I had written between 2009 and 2012, with a general theme emerging about the importance of just being in and appreciating the moment and worrying about tomorrow’s problems tomorrow,” Johnaye says. “With Flying, there was more of a process, knowing that I wanted to mix original pieces with favorite songs I had been performing for years. The funny part was that these originals were so new that some weren’t even completed before the recording session. I had to get every detail just right because they address all the new aspects of my life since the last album—including marriage, motherhood and what I call the beautiful mess of life. They’re about personal relationships, family life and issues that have had a deep effect on my heart, that occupy the same space there.”

“Never You Mind,” Johnaye’s first original on Flying, is a socially conscious message tune inspired directly from today’s headlines and the Black Lives Matter Movement. A hypnotic piano, keyboard and percussive drum riff lays the foundation for her soulful, pointed vocals and lyrics that remind us, “You come from a legacy of warriors, and though there’s fear/Know that fear’s what fueled the fire of courage that led us here.” Johnaye begins the dreamy ballad “You Two”—a song expressly written for her 3-1/2 year-old twin girls – by ironically singing, “I don’t have the loveliest sound…But I’ll sing for you/I’ll sing to you.” She then proceeds to offer one of the album’s most delicate and graceful vocals.

With its tribal percussion and energetic blues/jazz vibe, “Scorpion” finds the singer immersed in the tastiest New Orleans gumbo imaginable, singing about the dangers of falling for someone whose dark flaws and hurtful nature are well known. “Secrets” is perhaps Flying's most dramatic vocal showcase, a torchy and intense jazz ballad illuminating a relationship that’s been stained by betrayal. The other originals on the album include the sensual neo-soul seduction “Boxed Wine” and “Flying,” a bright, scat-infused empowerment anthem whose lyrics Johnaye rewrote to capture the essence of fearlessness women are feeling in the post #metoo world. Johnaye sings, “Just close your eyes and sing your song/She’s not scared of flying anymore.”

Johnaye’s choice of outside songs to interpret on Flying covers a lot of territory in her life. As a little girl, she was obsessed with the film “Pretty Woman” and its soundtrack, which now over two decades later inspired her to record a lush, inviting version of Lauren Wood’s “Fallen.” Coming of age at a time when John Mayer was on his way to superstardom, the singer laughs that she was convinced that she could get him to fall in love with her. Maybe that dream didn’t come true, but she pays homage to Mayer’s clever songwriting with “3x5,” a delightful obscurity from his debut studio album Room For Squares that playfully captures that same sense of living in the moment that was the major theme running throughout her debut album.

Reaching back in time, Johnaye brings fresh soul-jazz life to “I’ve Got No Strings,” a classic from “Pinocchio” which celebrates freedom from ties and commitments. After years of performing them live, she also includes her cool, swinging, scat and wordless vocal filled arrangements of “It Could Happen To You,” “The Very Thought of You” and the slightly melancholy, lesser known “The Lonely One,” which was penned by Leonard Hambro and Roberta Sue Heller and originally recorded by Nat “King” Cole.

About Johnaye Kendrick

While earning her Bachelor of Music from Western Michigan University, Johnaye received a DownBeat Student Music Award for Outstanding Jazz Vocalist and was featured in an honors recital with pianist Fred Hersch. She later received an Artist’s Diploma from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and a Master’s in Jazz Studies from Loyola University in 2009. After graduating from the Monk Institute, she was hired by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, who raves, “Johnaye has the potential to be a vocalist of the highest order; She’s got IT!” She has also been a featured vocalist with the Ellis Marsalis Quartet and Grammy winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

Over the years, she has performed at such prestigious events and venues as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Rio das Ostras Jazz Festival, Burghausen Jazz Festival, International Jazz Festival Bern, Playboy Jazz Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club, Jazz Gallery, Chicago Symphony Center, Snug Harbor and Birdland with Nicholas Payton, Ellis Marsalis, Sean Jones or John Ellis. She has also performed extensively with her own band. In 2013, she was nominated for an Earshot Jazz Golden Ear Award as “Northwest Vocalist of the Year.” Pursuing her passion for music education, Johnaye recently earned the title of Professor of Music at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she specializes in Jazz Voice, teaches composition and arranging, and instructs Beginning Jazz Standards and contemporary specialty courses like Modern Afro Pop, and Black Music Matters

Flying will be available at Amazon and iTunes on August 28, 2018.

This story appears courtesy of Mouthpiece Music.
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