By Kevin Zimmerman
Lauren Kinhan: From New York Voices To Avalon
Mention singer/songwriter Lauren Kinhan to a group of jazz aficionados, and you might get such varied responses as, “Great singer. Love the albums she’s done.”
Or: “She’s with New York Voices, right? Terrific talent.”
Or: “Isn’t she involved with that Vocal Jazz Camp at Bowling Green State University? I’ve heard great things about that.”
Throw in her involvement with the occasionally convened supergroups Moss (with New York Voices’ Peter Eldridge and Theo Bleckmann, among others) and JaLaLa (a portmanteau of its members’ first names, Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Siegel and Laurel Massé, alongside Lauren), and it’s no wonder that she laughs, “I think I’m busy enough right now!”
Not that she’s not open to further collaborations. “I really love making music with other people,” she affirms. “I’m attracted to those things, but they’re also attracted to me. I’m not necessarily actively seeking out those groups per se, but when I was presented with the opportunities to work with those people and explore new ideas, I couldn’t pass them up.”
That also explains why it took a decade between her debut album, Hardly Blinking, and her current solo recording, Avalon. Favorably compared to the likes of Norah Jones and Julia Fordham, Lauren explores a poppier version of jazz singing that might surprise New York Voices devotees on Avalon, writing or co-writing everything on it; her pop leanings will come as no surprise to anyone recalling that famed producer Phil Ramone (Billy Joel, Paul Simon) was heavily involved with Hardly Blinking.
“My songwriting process focuses around my iPhone, which I always have with me,” she explains. “I usually come up with an idea’s melody or rhythm, and sing that into the iPhone, just following it wherever it takes me. Then I’ll go to the piano and work on it from there – I try to edit it down to its real essentials. Then if it’s still working, I’ll start adding the lyrics. I write music fairly quickly, but the lyrics take a little more time to finesse.”
Raised in a house “full of music,” thanks in part to her father’s involvement with a touring big band, “I was naturally inclined to be interested in the arts,” she says. Though also attracted to the singer/songwriter likes of Joni Mitchell and Carole King, she discovered her true love, jazz, while attending Berklee. “I always wanted to sing and perform,” she says, “but that was when I began composing.”
Time spent demoing and playing live, as well as composing jingles for commercials and tunes for other artists, ultimately led her to a slot supporting the legendary Ornette Coleman, who encouraged her to pursue her own career. Calling in some favors, she played a showcase at New York’s Bitter End, where Coleman and Ramone were sitting back to back (“That’s always going to be one of my favorite memories,” she enthuses); afterward, Ramone offered her a deal with his then-label, N2K Encoded.
The offer to join New York Voices came after her debut’s release; she’s been with the group since 1992. She and NYV’s Eldridge offer the camp at Bowling Green annually, something she says “can renew people’s chops, get them reacquainted with why they love music – it’s a lot of fun.”
As for Moss and JaLaLa, she says, “Everyone has full-blown careers of their own. If we can try to get together again, we will, but it’s a matter of balancing everyday life and our schedules.”
Lauren hopes to begin recording another solo album by year’s end. “I want to keep the momentum moving forward and do something that doesn’t take another 10 years,” she laughs.