Jazz Town
Singer's background comes to the fore
Kathy Kosins' style emerges from household sounds

By JOE KLOPUS
The Kansas City Star

"I think jazz found me. I wasn't looking for it," says singer and songwriter Kathy Kosins.

Her work behind a microphone has the self-confidence that eludes many other singers, but Kosins didn't turn to jazz until she'd already been a professional musician for nearly a decade.

As she was growing up, there was jazz around the house Yet she didn't pay conscious attention to it.

"But I think, subconsciously, in some very old part of my brain, I tuned in," she says. "I forgot about it for many years, and then it resurfaced."

She was trying to break into the New York songwriting scene when jazz sneaked up on her.

"We had a stable of writers, writing R&B, hip-hop, pop, with hopes of trying to get some of those songs placed with other artists," she said. "I hooked up with a couple of New York writers. Jeff Franzel, who I wrote pop tunes with, was really into jazz. He asked me to demo a jazz tune. It was very dark and film noiresque. I demoed it and felt it was my calling. I felt that maybe it was time to take jazz a little more seriously."

Working with her songwriter friends, Kosins created a batch of songs in the same style, and that led to her first CD, released in 1995. But the start of her jazz career was slow.

"I didn't have a tour manager or the support of a label," she said. "I put myself out on the road, signing up for festivals, playing a club here or there."

It was a difficult learning curve in those years of breaking into the jazz scene, including a seven-year wait to make her second CD. But she persisted. She's gained the endorsement of Kevin Mahogany, a guy who knows great singing when he hears it. He's released her third CD on his own Mahogany Music label.

They're planning a tour together this summer.

Kosins is still pursuing her career as a songwriter. One of her compositions, which she calls a real hip-hop tune, appears in the Snoop Dogg movie "Soul Plane." (Oh, well, it's a screen credit.)

And even at her jazziest, she's never far from her Motown roots. She said she may even make an R&B record with jazz elements.

But tonight there's Kosins, the real jazz singer, performing at the Blue Room with pianist Roger Wilder, bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Tommy Ruskin.

TONIGHT: Kathy Kosins performs at 7 tonight at the Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St. Cover is $5.

ONLINE: Hear songs from Kathy Kosins on Preview Extra at KansasCity