The Winehouse is back and I’m happy to kick off new profiles with Toronto’s Kevin Henkel who recently debuted his jazz album Spaces and Places. Spaces and Places takes you on a soulful ride, and what makes it even more impressive is that Henkel is deftly making jazz in a time where there are fewer and fewer outlets to showcase this legendary genre.
Here we talk about his musical inspirations, making jazz in a hip hop era, and being a one man musical army. Chaka V.
CVG: Many artists talk about that first experience when they feel the calling. Tell me about when you were first bitten by the music bug?
KH: It happened for me when I was 15 or 16. Coming from a small town that only listened to alt rock, I liked music but didn’t love it. My friend introduced me to Rage Against the Machine which led me to hip hop and I started to get really interested. Later I moved on to Busta Rhymes, The Fugees and A Tribe Called Quest, I was in love. Eventually I realized that they were sampling records and that led me down the path of soul and jazz. It made me want to dedicate my time to playing and recording music.
CVG: Your album has a very old school soulful vibe, which is wonderful. Who are some of your biggest influences (past and present)? And why have they played such an influential part on your music?
KH: Thanks! Grant Green has been a strong influence on my music and guitar playing. He was a jazz player that crossed over into soulful fusion stuff so well. His timing and tone are great. Bob James has influenced my production, his first couple albums, and all the great work he did at CTI records–producer, arranger and sideman–I’m really drawn to that sound. I can’t forget Herbie Hancock I really look up to him, he kept progressing and changing throughout his career. Head Hunters changed my world.
As for soul, I have many influences Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, Donny Hathaway to name a few. These guys wrote great songs, performed and had a big hand in their productions. Modern influences would be Daptone records they inspired me to get better sounds. Amy Winehouse, Mayer Hawthorne, Dj Shadow also had a big impact on my earlier music, I love the moody vibes.
CVG: Tell me about the making of the album. What was the vibe you were trying to create? And who are some of the key players that you collaborated with?
KH: This album was made by myself from start to finish in a bedroom studio. I’ve put years into researching and collecting professional gear new and old, some vintage instruments and amps too. I played all the instruments on the album except for drums which uses loops edited and arranged. Also I did the mixing and production, there wasn’t any collaboration but I did ask a few music friends for advice towards the end namely another producer Bird. It was a lot of writing and jamming trying to get a vibe that made me feel something emotionally and had my head nodding. I’d sometimes write edit it down replay and re write a few times till I was happy. My goal was to make an album with a lot of groove that was diverse and takes you on a trip from start to finish. It took almost three years to finish.
CVG: In a day and age where hip hop and pop reign supreme, do you find it a challenge to find an audience for your music? And what keeps you inspired to keep making jazz?
KH: It is hard to find an audience, nothing popular on radio sounds similar to what I’m doing but I’m okay with that. I feel there are some people out there that will enjoy it but I’m still figuring out how to connect to them. I don’t perform as Henkel live which makes it harder. I make music from the heart and do what I love. If you aren’t being honest with yourself it shows in the music and I think the listener can tell. So I’m happy to take the path I’m drawn to — jazz and soul — and hopefully gain a small following along the way.
CVG: For jazz lovers, can you share the names of some Toronto venues that are your favourites to perform in?
KH: I have a two regular gigs as a pianist, I play in the lobby of Rainbow Cinemas and Carlton Cinemas in downtown TO every Tuesday and Saturday night. I play my own songs, jazz covers and sometimes purely improvise and experiment during slow times. It’s a very laid back gig and free movies for staff doesn’t hurt either. As Henkel I haven’t performed any shows, I would need a band to make it happen and a different venue.
CVG: What’s next for you as an artist? And where can people buy your album?
KH: I have a couple albums planned in the back of my head right now, an all fuzz guitar funk rock record with a Dennis Coffey vibe. A soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist. A 60’s Latin jazz guitar album — something similar to the last two Henkel records with guest vocalists. Also a solo piano recording. I have a bit of a start on all these projects, deciding what to do next.