Maiden Houston Voyage for Yellowjackets Drummer Will Kennedy

Will Kennedy (r) drumming with Lee Ritenour (l) and Melvin Davis.
Will Kennedy (r) drumming with Lee Ritenour (l) and Melvin Davis.
photo by Jaime Olmo via Flickr

Will Kennedy, drummer and producer for L.A. jazz fusion giants Yellowjackets, is stepping out into the Houston jazz scene this Friday and Saturday at Cezanne. After three years living quietly in Katy, Kennedy says his schedule has finally opened up so that he can get a taste of the local scene.

"I grew up in Oakland and until three years ago had never lived outside California," he explains. "I got to exploring more options for my son's education and my wife has some family in the Katy area, and we just decided it was the right time to move and the right move to make.

"The kind of work I do, all I really need is an airport and place to plug my computer in," he laughs. "But for the past three years when I'm home the focus has always been family time rather than checking out the scene here. So this gig at Cezanne really is a maiden voyage of sorts."

As befits a maiden voyage in uncharted waters, Kennedy, who also works frequently with guitar virtuoso Lee Ritenour, is crewing his ship with Houston jazz scene veterans, Gary Norian (piano), Greg Petito (guitar), Richard Mikel (bass), and Woody Witt (sax).

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"Woody assembled this lineup, and a lot of what we're going to play are his compositions," says Kennedy. "Woody is such a good composer and I really like what we've had going on in rehearsal."

Witt, who splits time between educating and gigging, recently won a major saxophone competition in Taiwan and brought home a $30,000 prize for his efforts. Meanwhile, Kennedy finds more of his schedule being taken up with education lately, as the Yellowjackets are somewhat inactive prior to recording a new album this coming August.

"We've had some personnel changes and we need to compose some more music so we can get a new album out there and get back on tour," Kennedy explains. "It's a hard fact, but promoters and people who bring you out on the road want a new album to pin a show to, so it's time for us to do a new record. Meanwhile, I've been doing some teaching, some clinics, and that's something I totally enjoy."

The teaching and not being part of the local scene finally collided for Kennedy recently.

"That's one thing I stress in my clinics," says Kennedy, "that as musicians what we are seeking is that immediate connection with an audience. The musicians and the audience are going on a journey together.

"That's why I stay in this, to play for people. Sure it's a job, but it's also a calling, and playing live for other people is what that calling is all about. As a musician, you want to make a moment people can cherish."

So what is Kennedy's impression of Houston so far?

"The first thing you notice is how nice people are."

Kennedy, who has been featured in literally every drum magazine and says he's open to playing with about anyone who calls, hopes this won't be his only local gig.

"I'm hoping we can get enough support to play out more here in the area, since I'm definitely planning to stay here." Will Kennedy and Friends @ Cezanne, 4100 Montrose, above The Black Labrador, April 10 and 11, 9 p.m.


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