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Playing Around: The Kenny Johnston Band

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Kenny Johnston Band
  • Kenny Johnston Band

Kenny Johnston's 20-year career as a "contemporary smooth jazz artist" is beginning to sprout wings. His group, The Kenny Johnston Band, is releasing a self-titled CD this week, and they were recently selected by Denver jazz station KHIH as the Contemporary Smooth Jazz Band of 2000. In July they'll perform at the Winter Park Jazz Festival alongside groups like the Neville Brothers, Richard Elliot and Warren Hill.

The Kenny Johnston Band strives for "a fresh-sounding, easy-listening groove with catchy melodies, a nice beat and an emphasis on letting the audience enjoy an evening of pleasant sounds. It's kind of like pop jazz," Johnston says, "music meant to appeal to the masses rather than the elite connoisseur. The emphasis is on enjoyment."

Pop, though, doesn't mean schlock. Johnston claims his group gets less work than they'd like because "We don't play the commercial stuff it takes to play in a lot of clubs. We don't do rock, country or traditional jazz. We play the stuff that inspires us."

Johnston, who plays sax and flute, has a background in everything from country to funk, rock 'n' roll, straight-ahead jazz, "even Spanish groups." He likens his group -- drummer Art Noble, dual keyboardists Jason Atkins and Paul Haller, and bassist Marvin Craft -- to the "contemporary jazz" of David Sanborn, Gerald Albright and Gato Barbierri.

The group's self-titled CD is being released this week by Media Play outlets. There will be a release party on June 16 at Jazz at Jack's in Denver (no cover charge). You can catch Johnston and his group locally at the Sunbird on Wednesday, June 21, from 5 to 9 p.m., and at Old Chicago downtown on Saturday, June 24, from 6 to 9 p.m.

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