Jazz Singer Johnaye Kendrick Discusses Her New Album, Inspirations and Her Role as an Educator

by Gus Marshall

Local treasure Johnaye Kendrick is a sensational jazz singer as well as esteemed professor at Cornish College of the Arts. Her self-produced sophomore album Flying (Johnygirl Records) has solidified Kendrick as one of the current names to know on the national jazz scene.

Kendrick spoke with the South Seattle Emerald about her latest release.

Johnaye Kendrick sings at the Royal Room in Columbia City Aug. 31. Kendrick is a professor at Cornish College of the Arts. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

Gus Marshall: How long have you been singing professionally?

Johnaye Kendrick: I’ve been singing professionally since I was in college, but I would say I found my true musical voice a bit later, during graduate school (2007).

GM: What brought you to the Northwest?

JK: I moved to Seattle in August of 2010 to serve as Assistant Professor of Music at the Cornish College of the Arts.

GM: What do you feel is important about the Northwest jazz scene?

JK: The Northwest jazz scene is vibrant and full of life and beautiful energy. I think one of the most important things about the scene is the sense of community and nurturing spirit for younger, up and coming musicians. I make my way to the Owl and Thistle as often as I can, and that venue (along with many others) really cultivates an environment in which the younger cats can come and work on their craft, sometimes alongside jazz giants! You never know who will walk in with their instrument, ready to jam.

Johnaye Kendrick listens to the band’s music, during her performance at the Royal Room in Columbia City Aug. 31 to support her her new album, Flying. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

GM: Your new album Flying is chalked full of impressive jazz musicians. Who were some of your favorites to work with on your new album?

JK: My band, Dawn Clement, piano; Chris Symer, bass and D’Vonne Lewis, drums, have me spoiled! It is a true delight to work with those amazing musicians who truly breathe life into my music.

GM: What have you learned about yourself as a singer through the recording process.

JK: In the two albums that I have self-produced, I have learned that I love producing records! I’m super meticulous, and a true Virgo. As I continue to make my way into the studio, I learn more about being in the moment and allowing music to be born, rather than attempting to force things. Patience, vocal health, focus, preparation and incense — ha ha — are my go-to’s for getting the vibe right in the studio.

GM: How do you feel being an educator has influenced your performance style and song writing process?

JK: Being an educator has informed my musical style in so many ways! I learn so much from my students. Every time I give my students an assignment, I also work on that assignment myself, so they keep me working and practicing! They’re also so hip and connected with all the new great artists that are out there. … They keep me young! I have listening parties in class regularly to try to keep up with what they’re checking out! Sometimes, I’ll really dig into an artist that a student introduces me to, and that music seems to inform the compositions I create in one way or another.

Johnaye Kendrick sways to the band’s music, during her performance at the Royal Room in Columbia City Aug. 31. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

GM: What accomplishments in your career are you most proud of?

JK: Well, right now I’m very proud of my latest album, Flying. It’s a deeper look into who am, where I come from and the things that I hold most dear. Also, I’m quite proud that I made Full Professor at 35!

GM: What aspects of jazz performance are you most interested in continuing to develop?

JK: This music is my life. I am interested in continuing to develop all of it! One thing that I accept and continue to take into account is the fact that each time I step on stage, or into a studio, that moment is simply the freshest snapshot of who I am as an artist. Luckily, I have never had the experience of feeling stuck, or helpless. I live in the moment and create in the moment. I trust the moment, and the music. I also embrace the fact that my music will constantly change along with me. I cannot even begin to conceive of what my next album will sound like, but I know that it will be honest and will truly represent all that I have to offer as an artist in that moment.

Featured Photo: Johnaye Kendrick sings, during her performance at the Royal Room in in Columbia City August 21. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)