Kenn Hicks ImageBio - kenn hicks -

When Kenn Hicks made his New York recital debut at Alice Tully Hall in 1984, the critic for The New York Times wrote, “With guidance – but not the kind that would turn him into one more efficient, standard tenor – Mr. Hicks should be able to carve out a special niche for himself.” In the 20 years since, the American-born tenor has carved out something more than that special niche for himself, forging a one-of-a-kind career that has taken him from the great opera houses of Europe to the high-stakes world of pop recording, where he has worked musical magic for such pop superstars as Jennifer Lopez, Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Sting, Diddy, and The Spice Girls. As vocal producer on the album for Oprah Winfrey’s Pop Star Challenge, Hicks also served as both artistic director and vocal coach for the contestants. With Avanti, Kenn Hicks calls upon all his experience to give opera a new sound, filtered through the prism of jazz.

The word “avanti” means “before” or “forward,” and a step ahead is where Avanti greets the listener. The title was suggested by a conversation Hicks had as a young singer with the soprano Renata Tebaldi, who was one of Decca’s legendary recording artists, when he was singing in Plácido Domingo’s vocal competition in Barcelona. The glamorous Tebaldi drew him aside and praised his voice, adding, “You must make them hear you. You must be avanti.”

Staking out a new place in the musical landscape, Hicks delivers on this recording some of opera’s most beautiful and popular tenor arias without diluting their style, then commends them to the imagination of Marcus Miller, who conceived the project with him. A producer, film composer and virtuoso bass guitarist who has worked with hundreds of recordings for artists ranging from Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin to Luther Vandross, Bryan Ferry and LL Cool J, Miller has found a cool but dazzling jazz context for the big classical melodies on Avanti. He also brings in some A-list collaborations to play on the album, chief among them the legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock.

The word “avanti” means
“before” or “forward...”

Among the arias Hicks and Miller transform are such classics as Puccini’s “Nessun doma” from Turandot, “Recondita armonia” from Tosca and “Ch’ella mi creda” from The Girl of the Golden West, Massenet’s “Pourquoi me reveiller” from Werther, Bizet’s “Je crois entendre encore” from The Pearl Fishers, Handel’s “Ombra mai tu” from Xerxes and Verdi’s “La donna è mobile” from Rigoletto, as well as “Nebbie,” an unusual art song by the 20th century Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. Herbie Hancock can be heard with Hicks on “Recondita armonia” (as well as its reprise) and “Nessun dorma.” The disc also features a pair of newly arranged American spirituals by Hicks – “A City Called Heaven” and “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me” – and two original pieces by Hicks, the vocalise “Solitaire” and the song “The Longest Road.”

Avanti a unique and – given the tenor’s prodigious career and experience – apt inspiration that grew out of “what-if?” conversation with Marcus Miller. What if opera arias served to inspire jazz treatments? In time, Miller became intrigued by the concept, discovering that the links between the two styles were stronger and more interesting than anyone had imagined.

Hicks recalls that when he sent Miller Respighi’s “Nebbie,” Miller thought the chords in it were pure John Coltrane.

Most young American opera singers, especially those who go to Europe to build their careers, do so firmly within the hierarchical world of opera. A curious and restless musician from childhood – Hicks grew up in Texas, with frequent trips to New York with his mother – he found himself working in the alternate universe of chart-topping pop music quite by accident.

The tenor has a solid foundation in the world of classical music, where he began serious study toward a career in opera when he was only 15 and spent his earliest years as a singer with the Houston Grand Opera. In addition to winning the prestigious Marian Anderson Award, he has been a top finalist in two of Italy’s premiere

"The tenor has a solid foundation
in the world of classical music..."

vocal competitions – the Luciano Pavarotti Competition in Modena and the Carlo Bergonzi Verdi Competition in Busseto. Hicks’ career has taken him to the recital, concert and opera stages of London, Paris, Milan, Rome, Stuttgart, Dresden, Frankfurt, Warsaw and other European cities, and he returned to the U.S. in 1993 to premiere the piano version of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with pianist Cyprien Katsaris and mezzo-soprano Ewa Podles.

A little over a decade ago, in a break from his European career, Hicks found himself in Los Angeles visiting friends, who took him to a recording session of a major pop star. He happened to arrive when the session was encountering a moment of crisis, and quickly tweaked an arrangement for them that was threatening to derail the whole session. This bit of last-minute wizardry led to his being hired to lend his sophisticated musical skills to the freewheeling process that yield today’s pop hits. He became a key member of the artist development staff at Motown Records and eventually formed his own company, Les Artistes Entertainment, Inc. Hicks never turned his back on opera, though. Today he says with a laugh, that he always wondered if “the record business would get weird enough” to let him blend his lifelong passion with his other “day job.” It was Mme. Tebaldi who told him where it would happen. With the release of Avanti, the dream is a reality.


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