Kelley Johnson

Kelley Johnson

BandJazz

"Johnson rivets our attention to the lyrics...but just tune in to her sailing, buoyant rhythm sections and her bright, eminently convincing musicianship."
Fred Bouchard, Downbeat
“...a lovely voice that stands out for its emphatic clarity, Johnson is a true communicator.”
Jim Santella, All About Jazz

Biography

Kelley Johnson reaches her audience with storytelling, soul, subtlety and swing. Twice chosen to be a Musical Ambassador abroad, her quartet auditioned live and was chosen by Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center in 2007, and the Kennedy Center in 2004 for lengthy tours for the US State Department. Kelley is the 2003 first place winner of the International Jazzconnect Vocal Competition, and the Jazz Education Journal listed her “Live at Birdland” as a Blue Chip Jazz Vocal album of 2004. Most recently, the CD recording “Music is the Magic” featured songs with a passionate world-view and an uplifting spoken-word, it rose to#15 on the national jazz radio chart, Jazzweek. Kelley’s velvety voice mixes with a feisty delivery, tricky, colorful arrangements and spirited players like Geoffrey Keezer, Ingrid Jensen, John Hansen, and Brian Lynch. The result is music that is personal and moving.

Kelley Johnson grew up in Ironwood, Michigan, surrounded by the sounds of music. Her mother was a painter who filled the studio with the music of the 60s, 70s, R&B, country, jazz and especially the blues. When her mother was severely injured in a tragic auto accident, her family took in boarders to make ends meet. Among their guests were singers, songwriters, actors, and comedians who introduced her to even more music. After absorbing Billie and Miles records, Kelley heard Betty Carter and Ernestine Anderson, live, and "Jazz became a beacon for me." Moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in high school, her education grew to be both both formal (Magna Cum Laude from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music) and informal (gigging in Milwaukee jazz clubs). This two-fold education and her subsequent career experience produced a fully schooled musician who excels at her vocal art, composing, arranging and lyric writing.

Seattle became home in the late 80s where Johnson made a key connection with jazz vocal eminence Mark Murphy at a workshop he was doing. His mentoring both helped her develop her talent and facilitated getting the word out that an impressive new vocalist was on the scene. “Good news for jazz vocal fans!” notified Murphy. Johnson adroitly balances respect for a song’s melody and lyrics and jazz artist’s will to self-expression through improvisation. She is known for her interpretive finesse, tasteful understated phrasing and relentless swing, and thus is likened to Irene Kral and Carmen McRae. As an arranger, she reworks standards, often with metric twists, creating modern jazz out of classics while keeping the stories intact. Her well-loved lyric to “Recordame” by Joe Henderson, has been recorded as a mainstay in other singer’s repertoires.

When she started in Seattle, she worked with veteran’s bassist Buddy Catlett and Clarence Acox until she met and forged a lasting (musical, and then a love) relationship with pianist John Hansen. Her first album features both Hansen and Fred Hersch. Hersch, perhaps the preeminent vocal accompanist extant, produced her first album, “Make Someone Happy”. In 2004, Johnson won the International Jazzconnect Jazz Vocal Competition resulting in the recording and recent release of her new CD, “Live at Birdland”, taped in one special night at the historic New York City club. The album’s success is as much it’s ensemble quality as a jazz quintet as it features Kelley, Ingrid Jensen, John Hansen, Ugonna Okegwo and Jon Wikan.

As a performer and a teacher Kelley Johnson has lived the adage that music is the universal language. She won the opportunity to tour Japan in 2005 for the Kobe-Seattle Sister City Association where she mesmerized Japanese audiences. One highlight was having 400 people clapping in perfect time to her up-tempo version of “Tea For Two” in Nagoya on a beautiful summer night! For the U.S. State Department in 2004, she and her husband, pianist John Hansen, bassist Nathan Peck, and drummer Jon Wikan took a quartet to Central Asia, playing 40 concerts in six weeks in seven former Soviet countries, under the auspices of the State Department's Jazz Ambassadors program. An email from an appreciative fan from Kyrgyzstan exemplifies the power of musical communication: "I felt your spirit through the meanings of your songs, the spirit of revolutionary person who is for true and fair world of people."

Johnson is adjunct professor at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and Musicworks Northwest in Bellevue. In the summers, she conducts and co-arranges the Seattle Metropolitan Urban League’s Kid’s Jazz Chorus.

Discography

"Home", Kelley Johnson, 2008
Released on Sapphire Records, City Hall distribution
Features John Hansen, Geoffrey Keezer, Jon Wikan, Matt Clohsey, Matt Jorgensen, Jay Thomas.

"Music is the Magic", Kelley Johnson, 2005
Released August 2005 on Sapphire Records.
Distribution through City Hall Records.
Produced by and featuring Brian Lynch, Geoffrey Keezer,
John Hansen, Essiet Essiet and Jon Wikan.

"Live at Birdland", Kelley Johnson, Jazzconnect, 2004.
Recorded live in NY at the club as the prize for
First Place in the Jazzconnect Jazz Vocal Competition. Featuring Ingrid Jensen,
John Hansen, Ugonna Okegwo and Jon Wikan.

"Make Someone Happy", Kelley Johnson, Chartmaker Jazz, 1998.
Produced by and featuring Fred Hersch, John Hansen, Steve Wilson, Brian Lynch, Larry Grenadier and Lewis Nash.

View Kelley Johnson Quartet live at the J.F. Kennedy Center!
go to: http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium/search_results.cfm?RequestTimeout=500