Kendra Shank's “delectable voice” (Time magazine), rich polychromatic tone, elastic phrasing, and powerful musicianship have won her rave critical notices and fans internationally. Hailed by The New York Times as a "superbly skilled vocalist" and by The New Yorker as “imaginative and daring,” Shank is based in New York City and headlines at top venues and festivals across the U.S. and abroad. Her seven CDs have garnered numerous “Best of the Year” citations, a New York Times Critics’ Choice, DownBeat poll recognition, and charted on radio. Captivating audiences with her genuine warmth and depth of storytelling, Shank combines modern jazz, standards, originals, world, folk, French chanson, and open improvisation in an adventurous, genre-bending concept that inspired Gary Giddins to call her "one of New York's most original performers" (Jazz Times).
Originally a folk/pop singer-guitarist based in Seattle, Kendra Shank comes to performance naturally. Born in California to a playwright father and actress mother, Kendra was acting in plays at age 5, picked up the guitar at 13, and at 19 began her music career playing in Parisian subways and sidewalk cafés (she has a BA in French). After several years on the west coast folk music circuit, a Billie Holiday recording inspired her to pursue jazz.
In 1989 Shank began studying with jazz vocalist Jay Clayton in Seattle, while keeping dual residency in Paris, France where she gigged in jazz clubs. Her jazz career blossomed quickly and in 1991 she was hired by Bob Dorough as vocalist-guitarist-percussionist for his west coast tour. She soon caught the attention of jazz legend Shirley Horn, who invited Kendra to perform as her guest at the Village Vanguard in New York and co-produced Shank's critically-acclaimed debut compact disc Afterglow (Mapleshade, 1994), featuring pianist Larry Willis and saxophonist Gary Bartz.
Ms. Shank relocated to New York in 1997 and recorded two albums for Jazz Focus Records. Wish (1998) was endorsed by another of Shank’s mentors, jazz icon Abbey Lincoln who wrote “Kendra Shank is an original; a singer with a sound,” while Terry Teachout raved in Time magazine "get in on the ground floor, this lady is going up." This was followed by Reflections (2000), which made Bob Blumenthal’s Top Ten List for the Boston Globe: "This vocalist makes lyrics believable, invents like an instrumentalist, and has an ear second to none for little-known and unknown tunes."
Reflections debuted The Kendra Shank Quartet, her working band for 16 years, featuring pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Dean Johnson, and drummer Tony Moreno. This ensemble, in which Shank focused on improvisational group interplay, is also featured on her ground-breaking 2007 release, A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook (Challenge Records). The first recording ever to focus solely on Lincoln’s compositions, it charted on jazz radio and received numerous "Best of the Year" citations, a New York Times Critic’s Choice, 4 stars in DownBeat, and was hailed by Entertainment Weekly as a tribute “both reverent and creative, illuminating new possibilities for these songs and shedding new light on their composer.”
Described as having "a practically telepathic integration...these four people appear to have emerged from the same womb" (Jazz Now), The Kendra Shank Quartet reached new depths of creative expression on their 2009 release Mosaic (Challenge Records), where they were again joined by multi-reedist Billy Drewes and guitarist Ben Monder. This album unifies Shank's rich and varied musical journey from folk singer-guitarist to jazz improviser to boundary-less performing artist.
Shank’s love of group interplay and spontaneous creation attracted new collaborators for her next two projects, both in co-led duo settings. New York Conversations (TCB, 2014) features guitarist John Stowell with Shank employing live looping to create multi-layered voice collages. Hailed as “magical” by the Wall Street Journal and “a thrilling excursion” by Jazz Times, it includes original compositions, standards, and free improvisations. Half Moon (Ride Symbol, 2016) featuring Grammy-nominated pianist Geoffrey Keezer and praised as “mesmeric… uplifting…powerful” by Jazz Times, was recorded live in concert and captures the deep musical chemistry and in-the-moment conversational interaction that thrills audiences at Shank’s performances.
In addition to her recordings as a leader, Shank was guest guitarist on Abbey Lincoln's CD Over the Years (Verve, 2000), sang vocalise lines on Peter Leitch's Blues on the Corner CD (Reservoir, 1999), and is a vocal guest on albums by Jeremy Siskind; Randy Halberstadt; Norman Hedman; Sangeeta Michael Berardi; and in the documentary film “Playing with Parkinson’s” by Burrill Crohn. She has also performed and/or recorded with Fred Hersch, Gary Versace, Bruce Barth, Jay Clayton, Joe Locke, Bud Shank, Steve Wilson, Victor Lewis, Matt Wilson, and Mark Lamb Dance, among others.
Listed among the top female vocalists in DownBeat magazine polls (1999, 2006, 2007), Kendra Shank has been featured on National Public Radio's JazzSet and Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland. She has toured in Europe, Japan, Australia, South Africa, Canada and across the U.S. with festival appearances at JVC Jazz, Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz, PDX Jazz, Jazz Port Townsend, Bumbershoot, Jazz à Vienne, Jazz in Marciac, Wangaratta Jazz, Calgary Jazz, and Edmonton Jazz. Club appearances include Blue Note, Birdland, Iridium, Jazz Standard, Blues Alley, Scullers, Regatta Bar, Jazz Bakery, Jazz Alley, The Green Mill, The Dakota, and countless others. She has taught clinics at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, The New School (New York City), Brooklyn/Queens Conservatory of Music, and the Jazz in Marciac Festival (France).