Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Michael O’Neill & Kenny Washington: New Beginnings

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Though jazz singing suffered a significant loss this past year with the death of Jimmy Scott, who knew that a richly gifted alternative has been waiting in the wings? Actually, San Franciscans have known for a while. Like Scott, Washington is small of stature (just 5-foot-2) but big on talent, blessed with a similarly pure high baritone and a magical way with standards.

Originally from New Orleans, O’Neill honed his musical skills with U.S. Navy bands and, after settling in the Bay Area, spent eight years as featured vocalist at the chic Top of the Mark. But his recordings have been few. Featured on lanky saxophonist Michael O’Neill’s playfully titled The Long and the Short of It in 2005, he reunited with O’Neill two years later for Still Dancin’.

Like its predecessors, this third outing is a standards-focused affair. With a spiky “A Night in Tunisia” (an ideal showcase for Washington’s Ella-worthy scat skills), a noirish “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and a silken “Fly Me to the Moon,” the results are equally imaginative and beautiful. Washington steps aside for the closer, leaving O’Neill to shape a regal nine-minute “Nomali,” composer Caiphus Semenya’s towering salute to Nelson Mandela.

Originally Published