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Take Five with Kenney Polson

Kenney Polson By

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About Kenney Polson

Jazz saxophonist Kenney Polson is an accomplished performer, recording artist, composer and educator. Based in the Pacific Northwest, he has performed in over 50 countries. Known widely as a smooth jazz artist, his seasoned musical style incorporates Latin, classical, New Age, rhythm & blues, funk and gospel influences with a strong foundation on straight ahead jazz.

Polson has appeared on U.S. television with jazz greats Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Heath, Phil Woods, David Sanborn and Wynton Marsalis. He has also performed live with Joe Williams, Gil Scott-Heron, Michael Henderson, Norman Connors, Bettye Swan, and Lee Garrett, playing concerts, clubs and festivals on both coasts.  

He has toured Japan, Korea, Hawaii, Colombia, Brazil, and over a dozen Caribbean Islands. In 2016 and 2017, he toured extensively with Rick James' Original Stone City Band playing major festivals such as Capital City Jazz Festival on the East Coast and Orange County Funk Fest in California. See this interview and his website for much more!

Instrument(s):

alto saxophone/soprano saxophone I play an alto saxophone (Selmer Mark VI—with Low A). I have had this saxophone since 1974. I can't imagine playing anything else!

I also make good use of a soprano saxophone (Selmer Series III) I had a Selmer Mark VI before this one but the Series III has a more centered tone and it is much easier to play the higher notes because of the way the palm keys are designed. Love it!

Teachers and/or influences?

I'm a teacher myself and those who shepherded me along left quite an impression, so this is a great opportunity to say, "thanks."

I come from a very musical family. They were my very first influences. Just about everyone played an instrument and sang. Mom and two of my three uncles sang and played piano. My grandfather, "Chubby" Wayne Harshaw, was an outstanding entertainer. He was a singer, dancer (tap and soft-shoe) and emcee. Our family is from Kansas City and grandfather worked with Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Julia Lee, Baby Lovett, Andy Kirk, and most of the traveling musicians that came through Kansas City during his heyday. I wrote a tune in his honor called "Chubby Wayne" that is his voice at the end of the selection.

My Uncle Charles used to sing with the Coasters and the ladies loved him. I wrote a tune in his honor called "Uncle Famous." With all the talent in my family and the history behind my grandfather and my uncle, it made it very challenging for a young dude like me to make a mark. In fact, my folks wanted me to make something of music, but when I was first getting started I just wanted to teach music in public school. It was a steady check; I had health benefits, and summers off. Kind of hard to walk away from that situation after one gets used to it. It wasn't until I started thinking about recording my first CD that I began to get serious about writing music compositions and wanting to be a saxophonist. On the way to getting myself together with composition and the saxophone, I met some very influential people who were kind enough to share their gifts with me.

I earned my master's degree in music from Howard University in 1997. My focus was jazz composition and arranging. I can't tell you what a great climate that was for me to work in. I'm still reaping the benefits. I especially want to thank Charlie Young, III, Reppard Stone, PhD, Fred Irby and Art Dawkins, PhD.

While in Brazil, I studied privately with Idriss Boudrioua (from 1992-95). Much earlier (from 1977-79), I learned the importance of being able to play more than one instrument from Eiji Maruko, woodwind instructor at Fresno Community College. While there, Mr. Gilbert Rodriguez taught me how significant and important it is to set an example for students who look like me. Mr. Sandy Shaeffer was also an influence. For well over a decade, Bob Russell, Teaching Mentor for Fresno Unified Schools, gave me insights on the technique and joy of teaching.

From the days of my youth in Bakersfield, California, I'm grateful for my High School Band Director, Colonel Wesley Moore and for Mr. Ben Turner, who was my Band Director at Lincoln Jr. High School. He allowed me to join band and introduced me to the saxophone.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

It was when I won talent show in high school. I had always enjoyed playing saxophone, but had never given it a serious look when asked what I wanted to do in life. While in the talent show, I played a Grover Washington Jr. selection and received a very good response from the audience. What a great feeling! That was when I knew I wanted to do something that involved music.

Your sound and approach to music.

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