SoulTrain.com caught up with D.C.-based singer Kenny Wesley as he prepares for his upcoming concert, a tribute show for the late Luther Vandross that he will headline in November at the famous Blues Alley in Washington, D.C.
“He had such a sophisticated approach to arranging and singing,” Kenny says of the late crooner. “Every instrument part, every vocal inflection had purpose. Studying [Luther] exposed me to the technicality involved in soul music. With him the music went way beyond the emotional realm; it became almost scientific, and he knew all the right formulas.”
And Kenny has studied his share of timeless legends in soul music. He ranks Rachelle Ferrell at the top of his list of favorites, and just this month, released a single covering music’s all-time favorite star, Michael Jackson. Not everyone can redo an MJ classic like “Rock With You” and sound better than the gloved legend himself, but Kenny does just that with his recent single release of the popular cover. Showcasing his four-plus octave range and melodic jazzy soul leanings, Kenny gives a glimpse of what he has on the horizon as he prepares to release a yet unnamed new body of work.
In this week’s Sound Check, we ask him a few questions to get a glimpse into his process—understanding who he would most like to work with and why working with the eclectic bad boy Wes Felton was one of his best collaborations.
SoulTrain.com: Kenny, you are a rising star who has been amassing acclaim as you perform music that can be defined as both jazz and soul. How do you define your style?
Kenny Wesley: I would call it soulful, funky, and improvisational.
SoulTrain.com: Well you’ve taken that soulful funk all over the country it seems. You’ve performed at some pretty incredible venues, including the Kennedy Center. Is there a venue that you wish most to perform at?
Kenny Wesley: Most definitely. Prince Royal Albert Hall in London, UK.
SoulTrain.com: I’m sure they would love you in the UK. Next month, you are headlining at Blues Alley, the renowned music venue in Washington, D.C. next month as you give a tribute show to the late Luther Vandross. How has Luther influenced your music and your desire to make music a career?
Kenny Wesley: Since I started musically on the classical and gospel side of things, I immediately connected with the duality that existed in his music between the innate and the refined. His music inspired me to forge ahead.
SoulTrain.com: His influence on your music is evident to me, but why do you think people should be on the look out for you?
Kenny Wesley: They should be on the look out because I love music and I think I’m pretty decent at it.
SoulTrain.com: I would say that you’re more than pretty decent. You’ve been working with a number of artists over the years as a songwriter, background support singer, co-producer, and duet partner—what is one of your most memorable collaborations?
Kenny Wesley: I really enjoyed working with Wes Felton. He is such an intelligent artist. That being said, he has so many different approaches at his disposal which enable him to pull what he needs from each artist he works with. He’s not afraid to try anything creatively, so you had better be prepared to step up to the plate too if you’re going to work with him.
SoulTrain.com: Well, you certainly bring many skills to the table. You are a linguist and skilled in speaking different languages, particularly Spanish. You can be heard on backing vocals on Maimouna Youssef’s latest CD The Blooming. Has this inspired you to cross into international music or creating a Spanish-speaking CD?
Kenny Wesley: I definitely plan on releasing Spanish and French language recordings. I have a few I haven’t released yet. I incorporate those languages into my live shows all the time. Just recently, I performed some standards in German for students at Howard University.
SoulTrain.com: Wow! With such a rich and diverse background, who are some of the indie artists on the scene now that you find inspiring and models for your own career?
Kenny Wesley: There are so many. The first that come to mind are Deborah Bond, Eric Roberson, Gordon Chambers, Maya Azucena, and Angela Johnson. They’ve been doing it for so long and have been doing it well. Not only are they pioneers, they are great spirits.
SoulTrain.com: Well, with that said, let’s switch gears. This year, Soul Train celebrates its 40th anniversary. Is there a favorite Soul Train memory that you have as you watched the show growing up?
Kenny Wesley: I remember seeing an archival clip of Aretha Franklin at the piano with Smokey Robinson singing a live duet version of “Ooh, Baby, Baby”. It doesn’t get much better than that.
SoulTrain.com: You’re right. Classic soul. When can we expect the new album from you?
Kenny Wesley: Expect something grittier than my early recordings. I’m trying different things in the studio that I, up to this point, have only done live. I’m excited to officially present this side of me to the world on wax.
-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a writer, performance artist and founder of LiberatedMuse.com. Visit her at http://www.KhadijahOnline.com for the fine print details.