It is a huge pleasure for me to reproduce a feature on the multi talented Kiki Ebsen that originally appeared in my regular column at ABYSSJazz. Subscriptions for this top notch smooth jazz magazine, which includes nine issues plus a free CD, can be had for as little as $24-95. For more information send an e-mail to [email protected]
The new CD from singer, composer and keyboard player Kiki Ebsen is titled ‘Introducing Kiki Ebsen’. However, for a musician whose first solo collection, ‘Red’, hit record stores in 1993, and who has been building a stunning and hugely varied career ever since, this is far removed from being an introduction. At the time of its release ‘Red’ was described as the kind of debut most artists can only dream of and the array of jazz talent that collaborated with her on it is fitting testimony to the credibility she has long enjoyed in the warm place between pop and contemporary jazz.
Kiki was born in Santa Monica, California into an entertainment family. In fact her father was Buddy Ebsen who is perhaps most famous for his starring role in the hit television show, The Beverley Hillbillies. Because of the influence that her parents provided she grew up in a world rich with music, theatre, art, nature and faith. This was an environment where creativity was encouraged and it is no surprise that Kiki attended the California Institute of the Arts where she studied voice, piano and electronic music. She received a BFA in Music and, as a singer and keyboard player, went on to accompany a wide range of artists in concert, on video and television. Kiki has performed with Al Jarreau, Chicago, Boz Scaggs, Belinda Carlisle, Kenny Loggins. Michael McDonald, James Ingram, Jeffrey Osborne, Dave Koz, Steven Bishop, Peter Cetera and Christopher Cross with whom she still tours extensively. She appeared in the 1997 Grammy Awards with Tracy Chapman and her featured backing vocals can be found on both of Peter White’s ‘retrospective albums, the 2003 ‘Reflections’ and ‘Playin Favorites’ that followed three years later. While cementing her position as a ‘go to’ artist for some of the biggest acts around, Kiki’s long journey as a solo performer has been characterized by a series of timely and opportune interactions.
Perhaps her most significant musical ally has been smooth sax superstar Boney James with whom Kiki played before either of them had signed their first record deal. When James recorded his debut CD ‘Trust’ in 1992 it was produced by Paul Brown and featured Kiki on keys. Consequently Brown became aware of Ebsen’s music and a year later, when Ebsen released ‘Red’, it had Brown at the helm. The cameo performances of Boney James on ‘Red’ give a glimpse of the stardom he was soon to enjoy and despite the album garnering two highly rated radio singles it is his contribution to ‘I Won’t Wait’ that is most memorable. Ebsen’s mellow vocals combined with the tune’s sensational vibe makes it a real piece of buried treasure and is no less so for the fact this wonderful album is now out of print. Kiki’s sophomore project ‘Love Loud’ followed in 2000. It was a classy self penned collection in the best traditions of singer songwriting and when, in 2005, she again returned to the recording studio it was for another musical collaboration with Paul Brown.
The result, the Brown produced ‘Kiki’, proved to be a rich blend of four covers, six of her own compositions, and one song, ‘Missing You’ that was written by her father. Given Buddy Ebsen passed away two years before the CD was released makes its inclusion all the more poignant yet, in reality, the album is replete with spine tingling moments. Kiki’s playing and sultry vocals are immaculate throughout and she is aided and abetted by the understated bass of Roberto Vally and exceptional contributions from Paul Brown on guitar and production. Nevertheless, despite Ebsen’s own great music, the cut that really grabbed attention was her cover of Dionne Warwick’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer’. It was selected by Deejay Steve Quirk as one of his top fifty smooth jazz tracks of 2005 and, additionally, was paid the greatest compliment imaginable when Paul Brown included it on his own 2007 album ‘White Sand’ on which Kiki also played.
However the Paul Brown Kiki Ebsen connection does not end there. When Brown discovered the prodigiously talented Jessy J he approached Kiki with the idea of doing some songs for J’s debut project ‘Tequila Moon’. That the CD has gone to be one of the sensations of 2008 is due in considerable part to Ebsen’s input on no less than four of the albums eleven choice tracks. For example Kiki’s playing on Phoebe Snow’s 1974 hit ‘Poetry Man’ is full of the melodic beauty that distinguishes much of the album and her input to Jessy’s interpretation of Leon Russell’s ‘Song For You’ is equally significant. More of the radio friendly same is on offer with the mellow yet engaging ‘PB ‘n’ J’ but best of all is Kiki’s own composition ‘Turquoise Street’. Also featuring Ebsen on keyboards and strings, this uplifting song possesses a hypnotic quality that might just get in your head and not go away.
In common with many artists linked to the contemporary jazz genre, Kiki Ebsen commands a strong following in the Far East. She has performed at the Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival and her latest release, ‘Introducing Kiki Ebsen’, a collection of some of her favorite cover songs, is currently only available in Southeast Asia. Kiki plans to release it in the USA later this year and also intends to put together another collection of original material. This of course is in addition to a series of gigs she is scheduled to perform with Christopher Cross and her extensive work with animal charities and equine welfare in the Los Angeles area.
Whenever or wherever you might find her, the multi talented Kiki Ebsen is a performer well worth checking out.