After 30 years as a powerhouse behind the scenes creative force for some of pop, R&B and contemporary jazz’s most iconic performers, multi-talented keyboardist, composer and producer Kevin Flournoy is quickly building momentum as an emerging artist in his own right. When he decided at last to turn the spotlight on himself, one of his driving missions was to reach out to the influential greats he has worked with throughout his career and incorporate their trademark vibes into the fresh tracks he is creating.
His latest release, the melodically and rhythmically infectious, perfectly titled “Smooth It Over,” marks a special reunion with one of these legendary collaborators, saxophonist Ronnie Laws.
Set to drop December 21, “Smooth It Over” is the third lead single from Kevin’s upcoming, highly anticipated independent debut album Vers•a•tility.
It follows “Tell Me If You Still Care,” a re-imagining of the mid-80’s Jam/Lewis composed Top 5 R&B S.O.S Band hit featuring vocals by Phil Perry and Shannon Pearson; and the original Kevin-penned R&B/pop vocal track “You’re All I Need” featuring Filipino singer Orion Song, Anja Nissen (winner of The Voice Australia), and Christine Noel. The YouTube video of a live presentation of “Tell Me If You Still Care” has 2.5M+ views on YouTube and earned Song of the Year honors from the Orlando Urban Film Festival.
“The song ‘Smooth It Over’ is an extension of everything I’ve ever done musically and creatively, another true window into my writing in a style that’s not just pure jazz but includes many pop elements as well,” says Kevin. “The song has a hip-hop groove to it and fresh chord progressions. The vibe of ‘Smooth It Over’ made it the perfect one to have Ronnie play his soprano sax on.
“As a composer, I want to be able to write Whitney Houston style songs as well as traditional jazz pieces, and this instrumental is somewhere in the middle of those styles. Over time, I have developed an identifiable production style some folks I know say ‘sounds like Kevin.’ That’s always been my goal – to create a style where people know it’s me right away. It’s the foundation upon which I want to keep building.”
Kevin’s versatility as a keyboardist proficient in playing both pop and jazz made him the perfect fit in the wheelhouse of Laws, who has been fusing together elements of jazz, R&B and pop since the start of his career. In the early 90’s, a few years after graduating from UC San Diego and moving to Los Angeles, Kevin began touring the U.S. regularly with the saxophonist – including a performance at Carnegie Hall. He has been Laws’ first call keyboardist for gigs over the decades since while recording and performing with countless other artists in many different genres. In 1998, Kevin produced the saxophonist’s Isley Brothers tribute album Harvest for the World for Blue Note Records.
Kevin recorded the first tracks for “Smooth It Over” with a band at East West Studios, then later invited the late Ramon Stagnaro (Andrea Bocelli, Seal, Celine Dion, Patti Labelle) to another session to add his memorable foundational guitar part. Finally, the keyboardist had Laws come to a later session at United Recording on Sunset Blvd. to complete it with his soprano sax. He set up the mics and Laws recorded his parts in a single run through – while sitting down. Kevin provided a chart and initial direction on piano for the verses and hook of the tune, while the second half features Laws creating amazing ad-libs while vibing intuitively with the keyboardist’s sparkling, adventurous improvisations. When Kevin suggested they play it through a second time, Laws replied that they already had the perfect take.
“Working with Ronnie on ‘Smooth It Over’ was a memorable experience in many ways,” says Kevin. “The roles were flipped from the way we usually do things, with me being able to direct him and tell him what I needed after years of me doing his music under his direction. As I always expect when working with artists of his caliber, he took the song to another level. It was so exciting to hear it come to life in ways I never expected and witness everything go down. Depending on the artists involved, studio work can often be a struggle, so to watch a legend create the perfect solo the first time he played the tune was a beautiful thing.”
Starting with Laws, The Emotions and Teena Marie, Kevin has written, performed or recorded over the past three decades with Chaka Khan, Babyface, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Jeffrey Osborne, The Pointer Sisters, Jennifer Hudson, Howard Hewitt, Jamie Foxx, The Jazz Crusaders and contemporary jazz greats Boney James, Norman Brown, Kirk Whalum and Harvey Mason. In the 2000s, Flournoy toured with Donny Osmond for six years.
In addition to his work with these artists and working on numerous TV projects including American Idol, Kevin is the creator of an original video music-talk program called The K-Flow Show, a fresh take on the traditional music/talk show featuring organic live performances by celebrity and independent pop artists. Conceived as something of a mix between Hugh Hefner’s classic TV show Playboy After Dark, MTV Unplugged and Daryl Hall’s Live from Daryl’s House, The K Flow Show – which takes place in an intimate, living room type setting – will also spotlight instrumental performers and TV and film actors. Kevin has brought a live version of The K Flow Show to the Miracle Theatre in Inglewood, CA and in January 2024 will bring the special presentation to the Blues and Jazz Festival in Ghana, Africa.
Kevin is also deeply involved in a philanthropic effort as producer of a celebrity recording compilation On a Very Special Note, which will benefit The Art of the Olympians and the World Harmony Run/Peace Run – a project that will ultimately benefit people all over the globe. The original songs for the project have been composed by Kevin for each celebrity participant. A very important strategic promotional alliance with the Peace Run organization was forged when Kevin was honored with the Sri Chinmoy-Torch-Bearer Award, given to individuals who support and contribute to making the world a better place. Previous recipients include Archbishop Kevin Tutu, Russell Simmons, Carl Lewis and Billie Jean King.