Harvey Siders/Jazz Times
Once upon a time – don’t ask a singer when; she won’t tell you anyway – a wee little King named Katie made an impressive “debut” and the world soon discovered she had a unique voice. This happened in Northern California, where, thanks to her family, Katie heard lots of music at home: mostly symphonic.
At age eight, the little princess wisely chose to follow her parents and siblings when they moved to Eugene, Oregon. There, at eleven (she remembers the moment with great clarity); Katie had an epiphany in a record store when she first heard the haunting voice of Billie Holiday. As Katie recalls, “I felt she was preaching to me and I was the only one in the congregation. All my friends were into rock then and they considered me some sort of freak.”
From that moment on, Katie concentrated on a hipper set of “friends:” jazz singers she worshipped on a first-name basis – Billie, Ella, Sarah and Carmen. They didn’t know at the time, but they were the mentors who helped shaped Katie King’s career…and still do. To her everlasting credit, Katie is responsible for the instinctive way she became a distillation of those four giants.…
In 1985, Katie moved to Seattle, where her gradual acceptance into the local jazz scene accelerated her learning experiences personally and professionally. She was blessed by exposure to very different accompanists. “Pianists Bob Nixon and Billy Wallace had very different personalities and approaches, but that kind of diversity so valuable to an up-and-coming singer. They taught me so much. Bob spurred me on to learn blues correctly; Billy had a thing about keeping tunes in a particular realm.’ Jeff Johnson showed me how to be in the moment; his passion blows my mind. Talk about passion and soul: I’ll never forget how much Floyd Standifer (trumpet and tenor) taught me about versatility, and playing to a club.
Those are just a few of the great Seattle musicians I’ve worked with, but Seattle is such a great jazz scene, I’m afraid I’ll leave out many important players: pianist-arranger Bob Hammer; guitarist Veneet Davidson, Harry Holbert; instrumental gap fillers such as trumpeter Jay Thomas, saxophonist Rick Mandyck and Brian Kent, bassist Clipper Anderson, Chris Clark and Mike Barnett, Combo Craig ( The most creative Craig Flory, Ron Weinstein and Mike Stone) ; drummers Brian Kirk, Ken French, Reade Whitwell and Steven Bentley. By the way Steve came up with name Sophia for my daughter. My husband and I couldn’t come up with one eight years ago. Watch out for that little ham. She’s always singing and dancing. And there are newcomers like Chris Symer, bass, and D’Vonne Lewis drums.”
Katie also realizes that the mechanics of her art are equally important. “Maestro David Kyle was my techniques teacher, and another wonderfully intense jazz instructor was Jerome Grey, who taught me phrasing and timing.”
Now, Katie is gaining a well-deserved reputation for her teaching skills. Her home in Renton a few miles south of Seattle contains a comfortable, high-ceilinged music room where she not only gives private piano lessons, but also presides over a semi-private group of aspiring local jazz singers. Katie also has classes at Seattle Central Community College, where for nearly a dozen years she has been sharing her on the job experiences with vocal students and emphasizing breathing, rhythm, intonation, how to begin and end a song, finding and remembering the right key for each tune, and above all, how to use your uniqueness as your strongest tool.
Considering King’s growing consort and her expanding database of fans and students, Katie is strengthening her bonds and spreading her message throughout the Northwest venues. “I must have sung in 90% of the clubs in this area. Some that stand out include Dmitriou’s Jazz Alley, The Four Seasons, The Fairmont Olympic, The Sheraton, Pampas Club at El Gaucho (where I learned so much from Floyd), the KPLU Jazz Cruise, Bumbershoot, Serafina’s, Tula’s and so many intimate restaurants that I can’t remember them all, and, naturally, all the weddings and private parties.”
Katie’s CDs reveal a cross-section of material, back-up musicians and production values. Katie can be relied on to take the necessary time to choose carefully and not repeat herself in any way, except quality; she has a reputation to maintain.
She may surprise her followers and eventually issue an album that on her most desired goal: self accompaniment. If she succeeds it would require navigating the less traveled road taken by Diana Krall, Norah Jones and above all Katie’s idol, Shirley Horn. “Ever notice how different they sounded, how personal their singing became, when they played for themselves?”
If Katie masters that, she’ll be a complete, self-sufficient: the usual array of colorful scarves and wigs, plus those knowing blue/green eyes; the smoky, sensuous voice, and of course the abilities to belt a jazz live or tell a story with her insightful command of lyrics. The constant that will most please her followers: a quality known as (if you’ll pardon a dyslexic pun) the King of swing.