By Jonathan Widran, National Jazz Author

More accomplished as a composer, producer and multi-faceted performer and recording artist at 19 than most musicians over twice her age, saxophonist Shannon Kennedy has been hailed by fans, press and fellow musicians as an “up and comer” in contemporary jazz since she started gigging professionally in her native Orange County, California at the age of 16.

Her powerful and much-acclaimed cameos with some of the biggest names in smooth jazz as a guest artist on the 2007 Brian Culbertson All-Star Cruise, however, make it clear to thousands of contemporary jazz fans across the country that she’s no longer just on her way—she’s arrived and more than ready to keep the momentum going. In addition to sharing the stage at jam sessions with such genre stars as Brian Culbertson, Boney James, Candy Dulfer, 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.

Daring these three veteran musicians to keep up with her innovative improvisations, Kennedy more than lived up to the title of her just-released solo CD Steppin’ Up. The critically acclaimed, stylistically diverse 12-track collection, which features the saxophonist on soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones in addition to keyboards, flute, and clarinet, includes 11 songs which she wrote or co-wrote, plus a heartfelt cover of Ellington’s cherished “In A Sentimental Mood.” Kennedy produced Steppin’ Up with veteran saxophonist (and former member of smooth jazz super group Kilauea) Greg Vail; the disc also includes exciting guest performances by contemporary jazz superstars Peter White and Kirk Whalum.

Reflecting the true, creative free spirit of an independent artist, Kennedy draws from a fascinating, wide-ranging palette of musical influences, ranging from the pop-blues-funk of Steely Dan (the opening track “Double Shot”) to playful calypso grooves (“Old Town Coffee House”), sensuous tango (“Just A Sketch”), gospel (the anthemic “Do You Remember?”), old school pop-soul (“Whatcha Gonna Do?”) and a contemporary twist on bossa nova (“Mosaics”).

“In addition to giving everybody a chance to see what I can do as a player, Steppin’ Up allows me to show my versatility as a writer, arranger and producer,” she says. “It’s different in that it basically proves there’s nothing I wouldn’t do as an artist, that I really appreciate so many different genres of music. A lot of artists put restrictions on themselves, playing just one sax or in just one basic style, but I wanted to create a project that would be impossible to put in a ‘box’ or categorize. I love everyone from Gerald Albright and Steely Dan to Kenny Garrett, and I love listening to international music as well. Greg Vail has been my primary mentor for years, and I’ve learned so much from him. So his influence and style of playing is very prominent in my music as well.”

At an age when most teenagers are trying to determine a college major or otherwise figure out their lives, Kennedy is living an exciting whirlwind life centered around her lifelong passion for music. A full time classical saxophone performance major at Cal State Long Beach, she teaches both master classes and band sectionals at a local junior high school; does graphic and web design for numerous veteran musicians; designs and hosts teenjazz, the world’s largest website for young musicians; does studio work for a local musician who records Latin Jazz and Gospel projects; and studies saxophone repair at a prominent shop in Hollywood.

In addition, Kennedy regularly plays at weddings and parties and performs regular club and restaurant gigs (most prominently, Antonucci’s in Mission Viejo), in addition to playing nearly every Sunday in the band at either Mission Viejo Christian Church or Saddleback Church. She’s already played at numerous regional festivals, and this coming summer will appear at the Temecula Valley International Jazz Festival and the Temecula Balloon Festival. The saxophonist is also a writer who published her first article at 18 in a music magazine on the topic of “doubling,” about the challenge for musicians who, like her, play a multitude of instruments. A Rheuben Allen endorsee and Rico (reeds) Junior Artist, she also has endorsements with the Beechler mouthpiece company and the oboe reed company Marca.

Angel Eyes, Shannon Kennedy’s debut album, was released only a few months after her high school graduation in the summer of 2005. The album features an assorted mix of music from different genres recorded live in two days featuring Shannon’s abilities on flute, soprano and alto saxophones.

“I think when you’re my age and female, people have preconceived notions of who I am and what I can do,” Kennedy says. “Guys that I hire will come to a gig and wonder if I’m the chick singer, and when I tell them I’m the sax player, they wonder if I can really play. Then I start playing, and it’s a whole different story. I’m fighting all those biases and really proving now that I can be ‘one of the guys’. Everyone has certain expectations, and I am always trying to exceed those by 500 percent. A lot of female musicians lose their identity trying to establish themselves, but I have a much clearer picture of who I am and where I’m going. It’s exciting for me to do something I love this much. My goal is just to keep performing for more and more people and grow as a writer, producer and artist. I’m happy as long as I’m able to play.”

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Member since:
Mar 15 2008
Active over 1 month ago
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Very Committed
Years playing music:
Gigs played:
Over 100
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More than 3 times per week
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6-7 nights a week