I was dismayed this week to learn of the passing of Kenny Rankin, one of the smoothest and most sophisticated singer/songwriters of the past 40 years. Kenny was a masterful singer and guitar player, his instrument accompanying his voice with a blend that few other musicians have been able to achieve. Although her preferred very simple arrangements of his songs, his style was deceptive. An educated musician, Rankin was able to hover gracefully over the categories of pop, folk, and jazz, gently blending the styles into one that can only be described as Kenny Rankin.
I was introduced to Kenny's music by Jim Thornber, my college roomate (another debt of gratitude I owe you, Jim) in about 1982. I would count that as a seminal experience for me as I began my migration toward jazz. One of the first things that seduced me about Rankin's music was his use of the nylon string guitar as an accompaniment. To that point in my life, the nylon string guitar belonged either to the classical world, or to ill-educated folkies who ploughed flatpicks through the strings with little regard to subtlety or grace (apologies at this point to Willie Nelson who also uses a flatpick on a nylon string guitar, but does so with emminent skill). Kenny Rankin defied my pre-conceptions, using his fingers to elicit a tone from his guitar that so perfectly matched his voice it was difficult to tell where on ended and the other began. His music was perfectly at home in any venue, as great skill always is!
To those who are not familiar with Kenny Rankin, let me recommend the following albums.
- "The Kenny Rankin Album," 1985
- "Silver Morning," 1975