Kenny Colman's unique talents as a jazz vocalist have been widely praised by everyone from the New Yorker to the late dean of American jazz critics, Leonard Feather. His impressive list of admirers include Grammy-winning producer David Foster ("The whole world should know this talent.") producer/composer Johnny Mandel ("Kenny is a songwriter's dream.") and his long-time friend and mentor, Frank Sinatra. A fixture on the international club circuit, from Monte Carlo to New York's famed Tavern on the Green, Colman's recordings include the critically acclaimed Dreamscape.
A classic collection of ballads recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra that Sinatra praised as "glorious singing, a loving experience totally musical." "It's been a long, hard road," says Colman. "But I've never given up. I've loved all the songs along the way and all the great players that have surrounded me." The long road to becoming one of the most respected jazz stylists of his generation has also had more than a few unexpected turns. Raised in Winnipeg and Vancouver, Kenny's first love was hockey. He excelled at all sports and, to this day, approaches performing with the dedication of an athlete. He grew up with a love for both the big band sound and the songs of Porter, Ellington and Mercer. A love that was put to good use when he landed a job as a young disc jockey in Vancouver. "I was known as the guy who wouldn't play Elvis," he laughs. "And I still won't."
Before long, Kenny was the morning DJ in Bermuda where he spent a lot of his free time hanging out at local jazz clubs. Game show mogul Bill Todman and his wife Fran befriended him. The couple encouraged Colman to look them up if he was ever in New York. That was all Kenny needed to hear. Soon he was working in Manhattan, casting and creating ideas for a game show called Play Your Hunch. The show's host was Merv Griffin, a lifelong Kenny Colman fan who would later call him "the most tenacious and talented man I know." It was the early sixties. The New York jazz scene was swinging and Colman spent his nights sitting in with combos at legendary places like The Half Note, The Five Spot and The Village Vanguard.
At one such late night session, Sarah Vaughan was in the audience. Vaughan was so impressed by Kenny that she arranged for his first professional gig, singing at Las Vegas' Flamingo Hotel on the same bill as Lionel Hampton and Della Reese. Colman's dreams of a professional singing career were coming true. Kenny worked hard and became increasingly busy during the early sixties. He opened for Lenny Bruce at Atlantic City's LeBistro, was signed by Epic Records and appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Kenny sang two songs for Carson, ending with a blazing version of Billie Holiday's God Bless the Child. The next morning, the phone began to ring with attractive offers from agents and managers.
It was 1964 and Colman's future looked great. What happened? "The Beatles happened," explains Kenny. "Suddenly everything was rock 'n roll." But, while many of Colman's contemporaries moved on to other careers, Kenny hung in there. He made the rounds of TV talk/variety shows - Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Redd Foxx, Midnight Special. He played resorts and clubs from Aruba to Acapulco, to Palm Springs where Sinatra first heard him sing at Jilly's. Observes Colman: "Whenever kids ask me for advice on the business, I always tell them what Sinatra told me. Just keep singing." Colman did just that, winning fans as diverse as Anthony Quinn, composer Cy Coleman, Muhammad Ali and trumpet legend Harry "Sweets" Edison. In 1985, Los Angeles doctors informed Colman that he had inoperable brain cancer - giving him less than six months to live. Kenny sold his charts, gave away his tux, and drove home to Vancouver to say his goodbyes.
Fortunately, Colman's luck took a turn for the better. Second and third opinions by Canadian doctors revealed that there was a mistaken diagnosis. While Kenny did indeed have a tumor, it was, fortunately, both operable and benign. News of Kenny's struggles reached Frank Sinatra. Impressed with Colman's talent and perseverance, Sinatra took a personal interest in the singer's career. When Frank played the big rooms in Las Vegas, Atlantic City or Caesar's Tahoe, Kenny would often get work singing in the lounges. "He was the best agent I ever had," says Colman, of Sinatra's constant encouragement. Colman also recalls the support of Frank's close friend Jilly Rizzo with lasting affection. He remembers singing at the eighties' re-opening of Jilly's in New York. "Frank asked me over to his table, took my hand and said: 'Kenny, it's you and me and Tony Bennett. We're a fraternity. We're the last of the saloon singers.'" It was Sinatra's influence that led to Colman's acclaimed engagement at Loews Monte Carlo where the singer performed for Prince Albert and was held over for more than a year.
The rave reviews - including a glowing article by noted jazz writer Mike Zwerin in the International Herald Tribune - captured the attention of Dutch beer baron Freddy Heineken who produced Dreamscape. The CD featured the singer backed by such talents as composer/arranger Johnny Mandel, jazz harmonica legend Toots Thielmans and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Colman recalls that one of the highlights of that period was performing with the 60 piece James Last Orchestra in front of five thousand Dutch jazz fans.
Dreamscape's reputation grew among jazz fans and critics alike, inevitably capturing the attention of Jim West at Justin Time Records. West added Dreamscape to his catalogue and, thanks to the CD's success, suggested Colman make another recording that was a swinging tribute to his nightclub roots. The result is Straight Ahead. A new CD that Oscar-winning composers Marilyn and Alan Bergman hail as "an irresistible combination of great songs and matching performances." "Kenny Colman is a truly great singer, and an incredibly perceptive interpreter... truly a songwriter's dream." - Johnny Mandel