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Kevin Mahogany :: «B» in the cube and two saxophones
by Veronika Plekhanova, August, 2005
Photo by Veronika Plekhanova

What else should God do to wake me up – I thought at the concert of Kevin Mahogany and Igor Butman (March, 2005). Supposing nothing else to do. Just listen to some jazz… That very moment I came to understanding that changing this notorious life missing improvisation can exactly jazz.

Before the concert taking the advantage of the reporter’s right I came up to Mahogany to make a photo with him and said that I had never seen such a big man in my life, that I would never forget his body. While the break after I had heard Kevin I promised also never to forget his voice.

But what did I have to do if even in Moscow I couldn’t find any disc of Mahogany but I had a wish to listen to him refreshing my memories? Should I fly to America to do it?!

Being a normal fan – and jazzmen have a very specific type of fans – they do not go insane about their idol, they develop to be somewhat like him (for example personally I started to learn English and to read the book by Collier “Duke Ellington”)… So I entered Mahogany’s site
( http://kevinmahogany.com/ ) and realized that the only possibility to hear him again is to go to Poland where he was having his tour together with saxophonist Peter Baron. To go there on my own money, with no office payments for the trip, but… with the right of a reporter. To speak frankly I did not know what publishing agency I would represent. Having nothing to believe in I wrote Kevin with the help of the same site asking details and permission to interview him in my bad English. One of the best world jazz singers – just this way he is introduced in the press – he answered that he was ready to meet me in Wroclaw where he supposed to have more free time.

One more thing that I understand is the fact that jazz fans have one serious advantage – their idols are easy to access to. Accordingly the words “fan” and “idol” I automatically throw away from the jazz lexicology. Both sides stay for the equality. Yes I took into account that I being a journalist had definite privileges. But later on I saw that generally speaking there are no privileges – after the concert practically everyone can touch the legend. I was even more lucky – at one moment thanks to Peter Baron I turned out to be in the tour situation and had a chance to touch upon not only the legend but rather… to the legendary lifestyle.


The best way to listen to the jazz is alive, that is to watch it. For example to watch Butman improvising with his sax easily and briskly but… working out literally to his getting wet through. Literally! His hooligan style under close survey (at the first row) requires so many efforts that it simply takes my breath away.

To watch the European-like restricted (restrained) playing of Baron free of any special effects. His saxophone leads to nowhere: even improvising Baron keeps to the very gist of the thing he is going to bring to us. And finally to watch Mahogany… I called him “B” in the cube” – Big Black in Black. In “Rura Club” he occupies half of the scene. And his voice occupies half of your heart… I took a cocktail in advance to prolong my pleasure from a small pipe. And nothing could spoil it… What is the extreme situation in jazz? It is when a technical problems take place and Mahogany’s baritone turns into noise and sound operator starts hustling across the scene. First huge Kevin’s eyes turn to the audience, and then Kevin does the same being a real astonishment.

- Was that me?!

The hall room all broke out! After that there was no distance between us. The scene and the audience become the common club. Baron asks spectators to keep the rhythm in their hands:

- Don’t just hurry me up, it is blues indeed, - saxophonist laughs. The spectators “go down deep”.

I was sitting next to the speakers. It felt like jazz was inside my body. They say Hippocrates healed depressions with magician’s method: he brought all the seek people in the cave and prevented them from sleeping making up deafening musical background. I turned up to be in the same situation: speakers, club cellar, sleepless mode (01:00 a.m. in Poland, 04:00 a.m. im my native Izhevsk). By the way indeed no depression. But I told myself never to sit in front of the speakers – I lost my voice indeed. And Kevin asked me afterwards: “Was the sound really good?” I could only nod my head to say yes. I was lucky when a girl came up to us – a Polish acquaintance of Mahogany (he was there for the fourth time).

- Hi, Kevin, nice to see you! I am here in the club with my husband and friend. Creeping between them like a snake, - absolutely fluent English…

I am watching the other musicians of the quintet (besides singer and saxophone in the tour took part Kazemir Jonkish – drums, Mikhail Tokai – keyboards, and Adam Kovalevski - counter bass). People come up to each of them, shake hands, speak to them…

People speak! Having no language barrier using the language of music. About two hours after the concert were spent for the live collaboration.

Wroclaw club is not so pathos as for example “Le Club” of Igor Butman. There you will find simplicity and minimum of comfort. Especially for musicians. After the concert Baron comes up out of underground where one will find no conditioning and swallows the air in:

- With no air it is impossible to play saxophone!

But still he did play! And the quintet had a deafening success. What means deafening? It is when the public to deafening (crashes) musicians with the applaud! This is exactly described by Russian writer Sergey Dovlatov. Having visited the concert of jazz improviser Oscar Peterson (piano), Dovlatov wrote, “I applauded louder than the other. My watch had even stopped”. It cannot be said more expressively.


Have you ever tried to undress … jazz? It is not easy to do not knowing what it is wearing. On the scene jazz looks just like elegance. But what does it wear under the suit? I will tell you! Mikhail Tokai puts emphasis on sport shoes – they are bright red like goose leg. This is funny. To entertain they can read inscriptions on one another’s T-shirts. For example: Professional Drum Shop (Kazemir Jonkish), Wroclaw Jazz School (Peter Baron) and Jazz Police. Sing and Swing (all of a sudden Kevin Mahogany is radical).

- Do you like police? – I ask him.

Oh, - Kevin says, - this is a special type of police. We limit the bad music.

Following his words there are only two types of music – bad and good. If you like it – it is a good music. If you don’t – accordingly. And in this issue he seems to be too democratic because some people like music of the bad quality… But Kevin is unlikely to talk on this topic. He prefers to make his business forcing nothing to nobody.

- My life is a circle, - he laughs. - I find some work, go away to do it, then come home and again seek for the work. I traveled half the world and the only thing I can tell is that I like to be at the place where I am paid more.

Such pragmatism justifies itself taking into account that in recent trips there is much routine. The absolutely remarkable album of Mahogany “Another time, another place” of course misses this routine. When I see Mahogany on the scene I don’t think that this man has just arrived from the other time zone, that he using some express method has to adapt to the 9-hour difference in time. Only afterwards I realize how hard these constant trips are, constant lack of sleep or oversleep. Alas! Limiting the bad music you have to limit yourself ... In Wroclaw Mahogany had his only day-off – and he had it slept through! I had an impression that the only thing Kevin does is sleeping and singing! He sings in clubs and sleeps on the way to them – in planes, in buses, in hotels…

- It is funny. It occurs I fly away at 10:00 a.m. and come back again at 10:00 a.m. It feels like there is no time. Or it is “vanishing” in the time of flying and turns to be half less than it should be.

Creatures gulping space and time – “Langolliers” by Stephen King – at once come to my mind. He turned out to be the favorite writer of Mahogany.

- Do you know the poet Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin? – I tried to incline Kevin closer to Russia. For example I showed him the process of uncorking the bottle with the help of a knife (it was a case when having no opening device by hand). Or ask with a pathos (prick): “How can ypu live with no snow around like that?!”. (He answers that he feels much better without snow). Now I put in some words about Pushkin…

- And do you know that the uncle of the great Russian poet was … a black man?

And it was a real news for him! I hope a nice news.


In the menu of “Le Club” they have a link to the guitar player Larry Coruel who marked out the label dish of the club “Sushi assorti”. But if they treated Mahogany with this dish they would hear abrupt “no”. No Sushi! And less fish.

- Kevin, you reside in Miami on the ocean shore where sharks are often met. It is a simple principle: you eat them or they eat you!

- No, I got some kind of agreement with them: I don’t eat them and they have no deals with me!

Weighing 120 kg Kevin keeps no diet and freely eats cholesterine. Once I phoned his hotel room and asked to have breakfast. You know what stirred me? A small glass of yogurt on the background of grilled sausages, omelet and “Fanta”.

And here is the lunch of Peter Baron: meat, macaroni and a verse by Konstantin Simonov.

- I ordered fish for my wife, saxophone player jokes. – And the fish says: “Wait for me and I will come back…”. And then following the text. The verse is long, by its end Mrs. Baron at last had got her order.

By the way – a few words about Elizabeth Baron. Meantime I could imagine Kevin Mahogany’s wife examining his broad wedding ring incrusted with diamonds (and knowing that she is a studio photographer), Igor Butman’s wife – on the basis of “Waltz for Oksana” (and extra knowing that she is a former podium model), Peter Baron’s wife appeared to me not in the shape of the abstract but administrator of the tour. She spoke Polish to me, and I spoke English and Russian and we could hardly understand each other. But on the level of feelings I remembered Elizabeth as a beautiful light person and a very happy woman. I saw her and her husband take care of each other, having no murmuring, and I remember well the enthusiasm with which he cited Simonov to her - all this to prevent her from dull time waiting for the fish.

Following the fish theme I opened a Russian newspaper before them all in which Igor Butman unveils the secret of cooking crayfish. Mahogany who plans to come back to Russia to record a disc with “Big-Band” and Baron who played jam with Butman this spring became lively.

- Igor is a good guy, - Peter recollects. – Maybe we could get together some time. Kevin, I will translate this interview for you...

By the way, Baron knows Russian quite well! There was a time when Russial was taught in Polish schools as a compulsory subject. As the saxophonist himself joked if you want to speak – speak Russian.


On the way Wroclaw (from Moscow through Brest goes a direct train) I was exchanging sms with Peter Baron: Mahogany gave me his number because Kevin’s mobile was not working in Poland all the time. Later we used to joke with almost advertising slogan: Peter – connecting people! So Peter finished or started all his messages with the same «God bless you!». This meant two things at least. The first one – Peter is catholic although he wore his wedding ring on his right hand as the Orthodox do. “The difference between these directions is clearly administrative”, - believes Peter. He says a prayer before having meals (by the way Butman in one of his interviews said that recently he felt like having a prayer as well) and considers Ioann Pavel II to be the best Polish man and the worst one – Dzerjinskiy).

The second one – God really helped me with Baron’s and his wife’s prayers. I wrote above that I entered a trip situation due to Peter Baron. I just came up to him asking to buy a return bus ticket – on the station I stumbled in Polish utterly… Certainly I felt uneasy to ask him and I started timidly:

- Peter, will you be so kind to tell me...

- There is so lot of me* (* There are two forms of appeal in Russian language, official - to appeal to a person in plural form), - he was surprised, - Why so officially? You can call me Pet’ka. And I will call you Chapaev! If speaking about the way back I can offer to go to the East with us tomorrow. It is within 50 kilometers to the boarder of Ukraine. While travelling we will think how to get you across the boarder.

We were going to the boarder for 12 hours. It is the longest way I have ever covered by bus. And the easiest one. The reason of it is the ideal highways, good company and... the light hand (encouraging energy) of the Polish saxophonist. The characteristic example. We are catching up with a huge van. Its driver shows us fuck gesture for this. In return Baron peacefully waves his hand and says, “He showed me only one finger, but I showed him five!”.

When I asked him of the peculiarities of this tour Peter pointed towards Mahogany:

- The only peculiarity is that the best singer in the world takes part in this tour. And everything goes easy.

I had to be in Lvov to get on the morning train. Elizaveta more then once got in touch with the needed people and Peter and her thought over different variants of the route. I have always known that people who play jazz have a good combinatory thinking. The Barons chose the best suiting variant. But due to me they had to turn aside from the direct way and come to some little Polish town from where I was successfully taken by bus to the boarder. Moreover, when I tried to exchange dollars for zlots to buy a ticket Baron said, “That won’t do. They’ve got a bad exchange ratio. We wil buy a ticket for you”. The bought a ticket for me. They told the driver to take care of me on the boarder and help me get to the other bus. They made me promise to keep them informed of the stages of my trip. To cut it short they were doing for me the things that NORMAL people used to do! But it is such a rare thing these days...

Answering the next SMS of Baron “How are going things?”, I say:

- In the ideal way. While you are thinking of me I am totally safe.

And I say to myself: until we have jazz we will ever have a place where to move...

Miss Poland…

published 03.10.2005© 2005 jazz news :: home page

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