What’s the Hurry (Lower 9th Records)

Kenny Washington

Released August 2020

Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2021






For KENNY WASHINGTON fans across the country and around the world, it’s about time that this admired vocalist is releasing his first studio album. Aptly titled, WHAT’S THE HURRY comprises Washington’s impressive renditions of standards from the Great American Songbook. The tunes are delivered with a burnished, warm voice that has garnered legions of fans for this accomplished yet humble artist, of whom Wynton Marsalis has said, “I love this man! He’s a consummate professional, with impeccable intonation. He’s a real improviser who brings depth to everything he does. We all love Kenny. If you love music, you’ve got to love Kenny!”

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington was born and raised in New Orleans, where he began singing gospel in the church where his parents were choir members. As a young saxophonist, jazz caught his interest during his senior year, when the great clarinetist Alvin Batiste performed at his high school with two precociously talented teenage brothers named Branford and Wynton Marsalis. Inspired, Washington went on to study music at Xavier University, playing saxophone and singing in a variety of styles including pop, classical, R&B and jazz, while listening closely to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Mel Tormé.

After college, Washington joined the military and was stationed in Guam, where he played sax with the honorary U.S. Navy Band Guam. He also auditioned as a saxophonist for the U.S. 7th Fleet Band stationed in Japan, but his talents as a singer soon earned him a place as a featured vocalist with both bands. For nine years, Washington performed with the Navy bands across Asia, Russia, Australia, and the U.S., performing everything from American Top 40 hits, to jazz, classic rock, and just about everything in between.

After his service, kismet brought him to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was discharged in 1995 at the former U.S. Naval Station on Treasure Island.

Washington settled in and quickly established himself on the local scene. His first notable success was a featured role in a high-profile Off-Broadway jazz theater production in New York City called “Fire at Keaton’s Bar & Grill,” by saxophonist Roy Nathanson. The stellar cast included Elvis Costello, Deborah Harry, and Nancy King. Washington went on the road with the show for several European performances, and a cast album was released in 2000.

He returned to the Bay Area after the show’s run but was brought back to New York City by vibraphonist Joe Locke, who invited Washington to join him for a week-long run at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center. This residency began an annual Dizzy’s tradition. Washington is featured on Joe Locke’s For the Love of You (2010) and has appeared internationally with The Joe Locke Group in Germany, Georgia, Scotland, and at various festivals.

Washington has also been featured on three recordings by tenor saxophonist Michael O’Neill, including The Long and the Short of It (2004), Still Dancin’ (2007), and New Beginnings (2014). Other recordings include an eponymous album from The Pacific Mambo Orchestra, which won a 2014 Grammy and featured Washington’s stand-out rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.” Washington also appears on The Fantasy Vocal Sessions, Vol. 1 (2018) and The Fantasy Vocal Sessions, Vol. 2 (2020), from pianist David K. Mathews, where he delivers soulful renditions of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Two live recordings present Washington under his own name, Live at Anna’s Jazz Island (2008) and Live at Jazzhus Montmartre: Moanin’ (2016).

Some of Washington’s performance highlights include the 58th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival with the Michael O’Neill Quintet and several appearances at Jazz at Lincoln Center. In 2013, Washington performed a featured role with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra when Wynton Marsalis reprised his Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio Blood on the Fields. In 2014, Washington performed Basie & The Blues with pianist Eric Reed, and in 2016 was the featured vocalist in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s tribute to Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday. In 2017, Washington rejoined Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to celebrate Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday, alongside vocalist Roberta Gambarini.

Although Washington still performs regularly around the Bay Area, he has also found international success as a solo performer with recent performances in Germany, Spain, Denmark, Georgia, Czech Republic, Singapore, South Korea, Mongolia, Canada, Japan, and Russia. He was also featured in the Male Vocalist category in the 67th Annual DownBeat International Critics Poll.

For WHAT’S THE HURRY, Washington enlisted talented players he has performed with for years, including Los Angeles-based pianist JOSH NELSON, who wrote most of the arrangements; reed player VICTOR GOINES, who has been a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra since 1993; percussionist PETER MICHAEL ESCOVEDO, an Emmy-nominated musical director and producer; and some of the top musicians from the San Francisco Bay Area, including bass player GARY BROWN, drummer LORCA HART, guitarist JEFF MASSANARI, trumpeter MIKE OLMOS, bass player DAN FEISZLI, trombonist JEFF CRESSMAN, and percussionist AMI MOLINELLI-HART.

Washington opens the album with a swinging, trio-backed version of “The Best is Yet to Come,” which he follows up with “S’Wonderful,” accompanied by guitar. “Stars Fell on Alabama” opens with a bluesy sax and bass intro followed by Washington’s sinuous vocals. Washington is backed only by guitar on “I’ve Got the World on a String” and gets down with a slow blues on “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues.” “Invitation” features hip bongo playing by Escovedo, which is followed by Washington’s sensitive interpretation of “Here’s to Life.” Accompanied only by bass, Washington demonstrates master scatting on “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Washington and the band take a high-energy, joyous turn on “No More Blues” before the closing the album with “Smile.” Kenny Washington is one of the most sensitive interpreters of jazz standards. His warm tone, fluid swing, spot-on intonation, and intimate, conversational approach to lyrics have earned him the sobriquet “the Superman of the Bay Area jazz scene” by the San Francisco Chronicle. Washington is an oversized talent, and though it has been a long time coming, WHAT’S THE HURRY is a recording that his many, many fans will rush to hear.

Track Listing:

1. The Best is Yet to Come 03:33

2. S’Wonderful 03:26

3. Stars Fell on Alabama 04:41

4. I’ve Got the World on a String 04:28

5. I Ain’t Got Nothin’ but the Blues 04:51

6. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered 06:14

7. Invitation 04:11

8. Here’s to Life 05:08

9. Sweet Georgia Brown 02:46

10. Chega de Saudade 04:54

11. Smile 02:02


Kenny Washington: vocals

Josh Nelson: piano

Gary Brown: acoustic bass

Lorca Hart: drums

Victor Goines: tenor saxophone and clarinet

Jeff Massanari: guitar

Mike Olmos: trumpet

Peter Michael Escovedo: bongos

Dan Feiszli: acoustic bass

Jeff Cressman: trombone

Ami Molinelli-Hart: percussion

Produced by Carey Williams


Despite what many may think, there’s no prescribed timeline for firsts and career milestones. Some artists decide to initially take the reins to record when they’re 18. Others only get around to doing it when they’re 80. The bottom line: The right time is the right time, and nobody should worry about getting there before they’re ready. What’s the hurry?
Feeding into that line of thinking is the debut studio date from veteran vocalist Kenny Washington. A native of the Crescent City who cut his teeth as both a saxophonist and singer, Washington worked his way through military bands in his younger years before settling in the Bay Area in the mid 1990s. He made a name for himself on the San Francisco scene rather quickly, but that was really just the beginning. Washington’s soulful pipes, easy way with a song, and tremendous heart kept drawing serious attention on the other side of the country. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson drafted him for his jazz-theater piece Fire at Keaton’s Bar & Grill, which placed him in the company of Elvis Costello, Debbie Harry, and Nancy King; vibraphonist Joe Locke brought him into the fold at Dizzy’s Club-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center, where the pair knocked out audiences by covering everything from the work of Henry Mancini to Neil Young to The Isley Brothers; and Wynton Marsalis saw fit to tap Washington’s talent in a variety of settings—a 2013 return to the Pulitzer-winning oratorio Blood on the Fields, tributes to vocal icons like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s annual holiday celebration, to name a few.
Meanwhile, when not hopping on a plane to perform in New York, Washington remained plenty busy in his adoptive hometown, appearing on multiple recordings with saxophonist Michael O’Neill, covering Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” with the Pacific Mambo Orchestra on that band’s Grammy-winning debut, and building an appreciative following of his own through gigs of varied sorts. He even managed to find the time to record two live albums—one in Berkeley, California, the other in Denmark—that furthered his reputation. But a studio set just didn’t settle into the mix…until 2020.
Fronting a crack band on a series of classics, Washington triumphs with instinctive charms. His tremendous skills as a singer and interpreter are only surpassed by his honesty, and that’s apparent in every one of these settings. Whether riding and rising above the laid-back swing and modulating tides of opener “The Best is Yet to Come,” testifying to the title of “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues” alongside trumpeter Mike Olmos, owning a deeply-felt ballad like “Here’s to Life,” or scatting and bouncing around “Sweet Georgia Brown” with guest bassist Dan Feiszli, Washington is never less than dazzling. And with pianist Josh Nelson backing him up and providing the bulk of the arrangements, multi-reedist Victor Goines adding his clarinet and tenor saxophone to the mix, and several other notables, like trombonist Jeff Cressman, joining in, he’s always in stellar company. A singer of Kenny Washington’s talents deserves no less.

Dan Bilawski (All About Jazz)