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Kelley Johnson

Kelley Johnson reaches her audience with storytelling, subtlety, soulfulness and swing. Twice chosen to be a Musical Ambassador abroad, her quartet auditioned live and was chosen by Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center in 2007, and the Kennedy Center in 2004 for lengthy tours for the US State Department. Kelley is the 2003 first place winner of the International Jazzconnect Vocal Competition, and the Jazz Education Journal listed her “Live at Birdland” as a Blue Chip Jazz Vocal album of 2004. Most recently, the CD recording “Music is the Magic” with it’s passionate world-view and original spoken-word, rose to#15 on the national jazz radio chart, Jazzweek. Kelley’s lithe velvety voice mixes with a feisty delivery, tricky colorful arrangements and spirited players like Geoffrey Keezer, Ingrid Jensen, John Hansen, and Brian Lynch. The result is music that is personal and moving.

Kelley Johnson grew up all over the place, but mostly she grew up in Ironwood, Michigan. Surrounded by the sounds of music, her mother was a painter who filled the studio with the music of the 60s, 70s, R&B, country, jazz and especially the blues. When her mother was severely injured in a tragic auto accident, her family took in boarders to make ends meet. Among their guests were singers, songwriters, actors, and comedians who introduced Kelley to more music. Around the time that she and her mother and sister moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she began to absorb Billie and Miles records. “Jazz had become a beacon for me”, she says. She began hanging out at Milwaukee’s Jazz Gallery learning the vernacular from Brian Lynch, David Hazeltine and the cats while studying Betty Carter five nights in a row on her annual visit to town. Her education grew to be both both formal (Magna Cum Laude from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music) and informal (gigging in Milwaukee jazz clubs). This two-fold education and her subsequent career experience produced a schooled musician who was growing into a jazz singer.

When Seattle became home in the late 80s, Johnson made a key connection with jazz vocal eminence Mark Murphy at a workshop he was doing. His mentoring both helped her develop her talent and facilitated getting the word out that an impressive new vocalist was on the scene. “Good news for jazz vocal fans!” notified Murphy. “Listen to her sureness of pitch, imaginative song selection and her ability to lyricize to a Joe Henderson theme. Many treats here, my friends. In a world of noise, yahoo, and recorded B.S., the first thing you hear here is none of that. It’s because this girl knows she is a jazz singer and doesn’t have to do anything else!”

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Album Review
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Johnson has an uplifting brightness in her vocal delivery...Her lovely voice stands out for it's emphatic clarity and for it's direct approach. Johnson is a true communicator." --Jim Santella, All About Jazz

"Always technically accomplished, with a songbird's lightness to her voice, Johnson took a big chance on her last release, Music is the Magic, improvising freely with both words and music. A singer of new spiritual depth emerged, adding Abbey Lincoln-like soul to her Ella Fitzgerald clarity." --Paul de Barros, Seattle Times, September 2006

"This terrific album [Music is the Magic] certainly has been worth the wait. Johnson's vocal armoury includes a beautifully mellifluous tone, with an especially captivating lower register. The emotional heart of the album presents a fascinating interweaving of Abbey Lincoln's 'Music is the Magic' with Johnson's own spoken word peice 'The Celebration Place', a daring idea and one which the singer carries off quite brilliantly. Her dovetailing of 'Brother Can You Spare A Dime?' And 'God Bless the Child' also scores highly in the imaginative stakes, as does an unusual reworking of the Bacharach/David classic 'What The World Needs Now.'" --Peter Quinn, Jazzwise, May 2006

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Primary Instrument

Voice / vocals

Willing to teach

Advanced only


In addition to her work with Cornish College of the Arts and MusicWorks Northwest, Kelley is available for private lessons with piano accompaniment at her Capitol Hill studio.

Info: Offered at Kelley's home, this 4-week class concludes with a public performance at Tula's, Seattle's premier jazz club. It's a wonderful opportunity to develop material and play with some of Seattle's finest jazz musicians. Each singer works with the band on their own material, but you also learn from listening and watching each other

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Album Discography



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