Nash Roberts

Shakedownian Spotlight - Keenan McKenzie

Nash Roberts
Shakedownian Spotlight - Keenan McKenzie

Without Keenan McKenzie, there would be no Shakedown tribute series, simply put. He arranges most of the tunes we do and writes all of the horn charts for our band, usually with little-to-no notice from Nash. "Hey man, can you write three-part horn arrangements for 15 Sam Cooke songs in two days? Thanks!"

There probably wouldn't be much of a horn section either, which has evolved into a focal point of our shows. His leadership and guidance have allowed us to perform with not just one horn player, but many, with the help of his charts. You may know Keenan as Sergio on the stage from our shows. He's an exceedingly humble, pint-sized guy who we're blessed to call a member of our band.

Stylistically, Keenan's music comes from the Swing/Lindy Hop schools of danceable jazz. When not burning solos with The Shakedown, Keenan performs with The Mint Julep Jazz Band, The Rhythm Serenaders  and other jazz ensembles. His album "Sneak Peak" is on 11/30 @ Triangle Dance Studios in Durham. His full album release party will be on 1/6 at Sharp Nine Gallery and Jazz Club in Durham. 

 
 This is Sergio...or Keenan McKenzie...hide your ladies...

This is Sergio...or Keenan McKenzie...hide your ladies...

So with all of this said, we're very excited to announce Keenan's upcoming album of original compositions entitled Forged In Rhythm. Buy it on the Internets starting 12/5. Check his Bandcamp Page for release details.

 Available on 12/5 in all of the online music places you can get on your phone and stuff...

Available on 12/5 in all of the online music places you can get on your phone and stuff...

I knew Keenan was making an album but I didn't appreciate how he did it. Book a studio in LA sight-unseen for one weekend only to do, like, the whole record?!? Here's his take:

When Josh Collazo first told me about a studio called Grandma’s Dojo, it sparked a crazy idea: What if I flew across the country and tried to cut an album in a single weekend? While I’d thought about leading a project for a while, I suspected that a looming deadline was the best catalyst for creativity. In short order, I booked plane tickets, a stellar LA rhythm section, and some talented friends from back east. All I needed to do was write the music!

I knew that I wanted to use original material, rooted in swing and geared towards dancers. While revisiting some of my favorite records, I turned my ears toward the structure and composition. What is it about Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five arrangements that makes them so magical? Can a verse help a song sound like it came from an old, forgotten musical? How did Lester Young get away with playing a background line all by himself? Some tracks on this album were inspired by a riff or rhyme, but I wrote most chasing a particular vibe or flavor. Fortunately, I had the right people to help me nail the sound I was going for. 

 

It’s such a pleasure to tailor your work to individual musicians. Ellington was famous for this, but you can find plenty of examples in jazz before World War II. Going into this session, I knew Jonathan could invoke Charlie Christian on “Pocket Aces” without blinking an eye. Lucian could make the trombone absolutely sing as a lead voice, and Gordon would crush any plunger solo on the first take. I could count on Laura to deliver “Callous and Kind” with a quiet determination, then she’d turn around and bring the attitude on “My Well-Read Baby.” Chris would provide both tasteful fills and commanding stride solos. The tune “Cincinnati” only exists because I couldn’t resist giving Josh a woodblock feature! While I hadn’t met Seth before the session, I’d heard enough to know he’d bring the thump that tied everything together. What a great band. Thank you all for bringing your expertise, positive energy, and unique voices to this project!

This whole adventure was more of a risk than I wanted to admit. We only had two days to record a stack of untested material, and that was assuming the travel went without a hitch. Fortunately, all the pieces aligned beautifully, and you get a clear window into the weekend thanks to Miles Senzaki, Jason Richmond, and Steve Turnidge. When you listen to each track, you experience a new song coming to life, with a previous take or two as the only rehearsal. We close the album with the one exception, “The Dwindling Light by the Sea,” which I originally composed for the Mint Julep Jazz Band. I think you will hear the infectious energy as we explore each of these tunes. I hope it gets your feet moving!

Again, Keenan's album "Sneak Peak Party" will be 11/30 at Triangle Dance Studios and his Album Release Party will be on 1/6 at Sharp Nine Gallery. Citizens of Parma, Italy can check Keenan when he plays with The Campus Five on 12/8 at the Parma Swing Festival. Enjoy!