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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, June 29, 2000

Singing gives shape
to story’s song

By Tim Ryan


Crooner-turned-jazz singer Kenny Rankin says he's "paid to travel, leave home, sit on an airport tarmac for two hours, accept canceled flights, live in a room he's never seen before or will ever see again.

"The singing I do for nothing," Rankin says, "And I've never had it so good."

Rankin, who performs Saturday on the Big Island at the Hilton Waikoloa's Dolphin Days Summer Fest, possesses one of the purest voices in music. Whether he presents an original composition like "Haven't We Met" or "Peaceful;" interprets Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" or Jo Stafford's 1947 hit "Sunday Kind Of Love," Rankin's focus on tones and blending lyrics with a rhythmic cadence seems to defy category and genre, though these days he calls himself "a jazz singer."

"When I pick a song it's about what's being said; I hardly listen to music at first," he said in a phone interview from his home in California. "What draws me is the lyrics, the story, the pictures, the images. Then I take poetic license as an interpreter and shape it in a different way."

Rankin said a song's notes are "not pragmatic little marks on paper ... but aspects of the tonal spectrum which, to me, are colors. That's what gives rise to whatever note I, without thinking, come up with. It's in my head."

Rankin, who doesn't read music and never studied voice, recorded his first song at age 17, then signed with Decca in 1957, releasing a handful of singles over the next decade.

Fame as a recording artist was elusive, but Rankin made a name as a songwriter. Peggy Lee recorded his "In the Name of Love;" Carmen McRae recorded "Haven't We Met," also recorded by Mel Torme. Rankin's "My Carousel" was the B-side of Andy Williams' 1965 hit "And Roses and Roses."

In the mid-'60s, Rankin performed on "The Tonight Show" some 25 times over two years. Host Johnny Carson became such a fan he wrote the liner notes for Rankin's 1967 debut album, "Mind-Dusters."

That's about the time Rankin taught himself to play guitar. Three years later, he was playing rhythm guitar for Bob Dylan on "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Maggie's Farm" for the landmark "Bringing It All Back Home" album.

Rankin says he's been influenced musically by "everyone."

"Thelonius Monk said 'If it's good it's good,' " Rankin said. "Whether it's rap, Lauro Nyro, Sting or Shania Twain, though I don't understand Neil Diamond or Garth Brooks."

Rankin muses that he would like to hear singers and groups sing a cappella without using technology to correct voice flaws.

"I like to record music; they like to make records," he said. "I'm not in a business but part of a musical community. Business puts you in a competition; I'm not in competition with anybody."

Dolphin Days Summer Fest

Bullet What: A benefit for Shriners Hospital for Children and Pacific Marine Life Foundation
Bullet When: Today through Sunday
Bullet Where: Hilton Waikoloa Village, Big Island
Bullet Call: (808) 886-1234

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