Friday, October 10, 2014

Leaving Shadows Behind, Kiki Ebsen Steps into Spotlight on ‘Scarecrow Sessions'

The thing about musicians is that they are never satisfied with status quo. If they're recording, there's always one more take they can try for, another song to write for an album, or they might completely change up an arrangement of a song that has served them well for a long time. Not all musicians are composers, and not all composers are touring musicians. Kiki Ebsen is a singer, and she's also a songwriter, and she's a touring musician--all of those, individually, or together depending on what genre of music is needed.
Photo credit: Donavan Freberg

She's toured with Christopher Cross, Boz Scaggs, and Chicago in the pop rock/classic rock vein, she's been on tour with Wilson Phillips, Tracy Chapman, and Belinda Carlisle, playing keyboards and singing backing vocals. In jazz, she's found a home on stage with Boney James and Al Jarreau. In the music industry, they categorize her as a first-call musician. In 2014 Kiki has given her full attention to her latest love, jazz, and she's just released her CD entitled, "Scarecrow Sessions," a tribute to the favorite music of her dad, Buddy Ebsen, beloved TV character actor ("The Beverly Hillbillies," "Barnaby Jones," and various music specials), as well as motion picture actor and vaudeville performer.

Music flowed through the genes of the family Ebsen and landed squarely on Kiki, whose CD is finding fast acclaim and new recognition for this established artist. "Scarecrow Sessions" is Kiki's 6th individual release. She's also a featured artist on several rock/adult-contemporary/jazz recordings as well.

It was a pleasure to do a feature story on Kiki and hear of how "Scarecrow Sessions" is being embraced by all who are discovering it. Her album is now in consideration for the ongoing Grammy Award process and she's putting together a performing schedule for 2015.

Story (originally published on 10.10.2014) follows:

It was never clearer that 2014 has been a whirlwind year for dynamic singer-songwriter Kiki Ebsen than when she posted on her Facebook page, on Oct. 8, 2014, that she had decided that her upcoming show in the listening room of the trendy Los Angeles bistro, Genghis Cohen, would be free. That’s her gift back to friends and fans who have been her enthusiastic supporters this year on the most exciting musical journey she has had thus far in her illustrative career.

Likely you already know Kiki Ebsen, if only for her background vocals and bright keyboards on stages across the country and around the world. Her passport has about as many stamps in it as the U.S. Post office, ever embodying the traveling troubadour label that befits her. You would have seen her on stage just about anywhere, but you might not have known it was Kiki until the headliner artists did their obligatory band intros.

She began her touring career offstage; no seriously, she was off the stage, or more accurately, behind it, out of site. Ebsen accepted a serendipitous invitation to go on the road with classic rock band, Chicago, in one of their tours years ago, as their MIDI technician and playing keyboards, sight unseen. When Robert Lamm or Bill Champlin would step forward on stage to sing, Kiki took up the keyboard slack and no one had a clue she was there. She said, during a conversation last March for, that this experience was really incredibly helpful to show her the truest side of a musician's journey.

If you have enjoyed live concerts featuring the jazz sounds of Boney James, the grooves of Tracy Chapman onstage at the Grammy Awards, the harmonies of Wilson Phillips, the searing soul of Boz Scaggs, the driving rhythms of Belinda Carlisle, or the amazing Al Jarreau, you have heard and seen Kiki.

And you would never have suspected her versatility and talent as a solo artist unless you’d heard and seen the legendary Christopher Cross in concert. Cross brought Kiki into a featured role on stage singing together with him on “Open Up My Window,” “Spinning," and "I Know You Well."

In the past 11 years, this creative artist has stayed true to her musical muse, having written hundreds of her own songs, of hope, of looking to the future, and about the joy and the pain of falling in love, falling out of love, and finding the joy in between. Her songs were recorded by other respected musicians, including Boney James, Eric Marienthal, and Jessy J. Once you know her name, you naturally want to know her music. You can find her albums all on her website, but you have to look beyond the discography to discover the journey.

Yes, in 1993 she recorded “Red,” and she created the artwork for the CD, covering music and canvas with color. At a vibrant point in her career, she released “Love Loud” in 2000, anthems to her feelings at the time. It was actually named to Muse’s Top 10 albums not long afterwards. She found time to gather friends including Joy Bonner and Tracey Brown and release “Music Heals, Volume 1,” in 2001.

In 2005, she released the self-titled, “Kiki," There are so many treasures on this CD, but the production is such that you don’t have favorite singles, because you’re playing it from start to finish and they all blend together so well. In 2010, she released "Cool Songs, volume 1,” which was her take on standards that she loved, which she styled in her own, original way.

In 2011 her piece de resistance was released. Titled “The Beauty Inside,” it is arguably her best work until now. Every song had a special meaning to Kiki, as a road map of a path she personally traveled. Song highlights include “Darling,” “Better Friend,” “Weird Fascination,” and more. On the strength of this album, Kiki began constructing her own mini-tours, made up of festivals, house concerts, and venues that were geographically nestled and scheduled on her days off from touring with the headliners. Her own following burgeoned forth, and she was content.

And in the meantime, when she was home in California, she found purpose and inspiration in an entirely separate activity, in a project known as The Healing Equine Ranch. This is a nonprofit educational organization that funds equine growth and brings learning programs to the community. Of special note is that all the horses they use in teaching are rescue horses that have been abandoned or considered not worth saving.

Kiki targeted the unwanted horses to use for teaching, as she believes each of the horses that came to them were worthy of being fought for. Her advocacy, or dream, is realized through programs offered at The Healing Equine Ranch such as “Horse Mornings.” Classes are held for both women and men, and it’s a time of strengthened communications, building trust, and understanding interpersonal skills.

In the training, you unplug your electronic devices and concentrate strictly on communicating with the horse one-on-one. Looking for how the horse responds and communicates in its own way, the "be here now" premise overtakes the participants, and they emerge as exceedingly more insightful. In a workplace setting, imagine the impact The Healing Equine Ranch has, organizationally speaking, on the supervisor who (previously) could not communicate well. Following the various training programs, the participant emerges as both better listener and better communicator. The curriculum is exceptional and is worth reading more on their website. There are also videos well worth review.

Participants come to The Healing Equine Ranch in skill levels ranging from knowing about horses by watching “Mr. Ed,” all the way up to having those who may have ridden when they were younger. Being at T.H.E. Ranch is a way to clear your mind of the tension and trauma of daily executive pressures and to find that peace and quieting of spirit that restores and heals. The programs and activities here are, in part, funded by Kiki’s music, as well as other fundraisers, so each album and CD has made it possible to expand, grow. Makes buying her music an even more exciting option when you know how it makes a true difference, beyond beautiful art for art's sake.

So there you have it, the career of Kiki Ebsen until and through 2013, safely tucked away in the shadows of anonymity and continuous production, high quality output, and journeying through life just merrily enjoying the ride and whatever kismet came her way.

But that all changed earlier this year. The thing about creative people is that they are never satisfied with “status quo.” In fact, that’s quite an ugly phrase to them, implying stagnation or resting on one’s laurels.

Digging through a rediscovered box of forgotten memories and mementos, Kiki found some 1930s era scripts and sheet music compositions of her father’s. Yes, Buddy Ebsen also wrote music, in addition to being a song-and-dance vaudeville entertainer, movie actor and TV star. Kiki’s mother was passionately devoted to community theatre.

Now, picture a talented lady with an inspiration, to create a new gift of music and dedicate it to her father, for Father’s Day. Buddy and Zeke Manners co-wrote a tremendous song, “Missing You,” and that song became a centerpiece around which she gathered other songs that were significant to her dad, or of relevance to his career.

The mosaic of music formed quite a masterpiece. Click on Kiki’s website, and see for yourself the honest feedback from critics and reviewers. You’ll soon see proof that this particular album is the highlight of Kiki’s career, to date. It only surprises people who are hearing her sing for the first time that the acclaim for “Scarecrow Sessions” is flowing in from all over. Her longtime fans simply expected it would be this good.

How the album went from concept to reality is a path of 30 days’ length. A Kickstarter project called “To my dad, Buddy Ebsen, for Father’s Day. Love, Kiki” was launched in March, 2014, and only 30 days was available to complete a project goal of raising $12,000, which she did on Apr. 3. That amount was set but it was only part of the cost to create and produce the CD, which would have to be delivered by June 15, Father’s Day.

You’ll love the story behind how the incredible talent was brought together for the CD. The impetus for the timing was the renowned producer David Mann, a music colleague whom Kiki regards highly. Rather than read more about it, instead, listen to Kiki visiting with Trish Hennessey on her “Hybrid Jazz” radio program. Of additional importance is to hear jazz specialist Hennessey relate how just one time hearing Kiki singing, “If I Only Had a Brain” compelled her to invite Kiki to her program. It’s not surprising that all it has taken, so far, was this first single from the CD to find the all-important radio play that all artists need to be successful.

When you listen to “Scarecrow Sessions,” the CD title that stemmed from Buddy Ebsen’s won (and lost) movie role in “The Wizard of Oz,” you will encounter a musical journey that will invite you to revisit the album again and again. The musicians who make the magic include Chuck Loeb (electric and acoustic guitars), John Patitucci (acoustic and electric bass), Henry Hey (piano and organ), Clint de Ganon (drums), and David Mann (saxophone and flute).

What’s different, special, memorable, and important about “Scarecrow Sessions,” though, is that it is a showcase for the strength, style, and gentle power of Kiki Ebsen as a solo vocalist. You’ve never heard her this way before, no matter where you’ve heard her in concert or on CD. Every song has a more special meaning to her as it fits into the outline of a message of love, daughter for father. Two important backers, of the 180 who joined together to help make her dream come true, are her sister, Bonnie, and her brother, Dustin, who are as excited for her project as she is.

A highlight of the successful Kickstarter program that exceeded its goal was the Father’s Day concert, which was broadcast live and streamed to supporters, on Father’s Day 2014. If you missed it, Kiki's website has selected video clips from that day that you will enjoy.

Since June, a whirlwind of acclamation and support has almost overwhelmed Kiki. And that’s simply what comes with being discovered, being embraced by strangers who have been so touched by her music that they feel like they’ve known her forever, and the music keeps getting added to the radio playlists, from formats of smooth jazz, to easy listening to adult contemporary. All across the radio dial, and up and down the downloads, Kiki Ebsen is becoming more known and beloved than she ever, ever imagined.

She’s close to being caught up in a temporal vortex the way things are moving so quickly. But in the world of entertainment, that’s a good thing, a very good thing. As just one example, “Scarecrow Sessions” is now under voter consideration for Grammy Award nominations in several categories. To those who've listened and excitedly approved her work (see her website), this latest CD seems to fit right in with what is called the Great American Songbook.

During the summer, Ebsen performed in a first wave of concerts in support of the album, including a two-week tour in Scotland, which she found invigorating. She came home to devote some serious time to The Healing Equine Ranch before the road beckoned to her to again venture out.

For her upcoming Oct. 13 show, Kiki wants it to be one more celebration of a dream coming true, which is why she’s made it a free show. The unique bistro, Genghis Cohen, got its name thanks to the iconic Artie Wayne, rock producer and former Warner Brothers executive, whose sense of humor and storytelling are legendary. The restaurant, a New York-style, American-Chinese restaurant and music venue in Fairfax, Los Angeles, was opened by the late Allen Rinde, and many legendary musicians have long held this venue close to their hearts as one of "their own."

It’s also the first public concert where Kiki will actually be able to showcase all the songs from “Scarecrow Sessions.” If you’re anywhere near Los Angeles, be there Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Witness for yourself the transformation of a keyboard player and backing vocalist, who came to the forefront occasionally on national tours with Christopher Cross, Boney James, Belinda Carlisle, Tracy Chapman, Michael McDonald, or Chicago. Today, Ebsen is ready to add a new adventure to her list of "can-do" loves.

She's the complete solo singer, keylight kind of stylist, who's being received and embraced as such. It didn't take long for that to happen, but it's nice that it occurred as a result of her generous gift of time and talents offered out of love. Just seven months after she said, “I’d like to create something for my father,” Kiki Ebsen has an exceptional CD product in “Scarecrow Sessions.”

Further, and most importantly, this CD adds an entirely separate, new dimension for audiences to meet and know her. Even if you knew her as just one kind of singer before, "Scarecrow Sessions" is the breakout vehicle she's needed to reach that next performance level that was waiting for her. Kiki Ebsen's versatility now encompasses the singer-songwriter of original love songs, whom most have come to know, backing artist and musician for household names in rock and pop; a first-call recording artist for supporting work in rock, jazz, blues, and pop; and now, as a solo chanteuse who can deliver the jazz standards beloved by three generations as though they were her first, and only, repertoire. Any father would be proud, especially the one for whom she dedicated 2014 to honoring.

And so it is, where Kiki Ebsen's musical journey is now beginning to enter a new dimension, yet again. She remains the same person, just viewed under different spotlights. It hasn't changed her a bit. Kiki is ever as understatedly modest, generous with praise for her colleagues, and simply excited to be creating something that’s being discovered as “a new treasure.” She’s been there all along, same talent and creative capacity, but you just might have missed her before, because she was so at home behind the scenes. With "Scarecrow Sessions" she has reached new heights, and her future is indeed bright, with more dreams yet to be realized. At last, Kiki Ebsen has moved out of the performing shadows, into the spotlight, where she belongs.


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