Kevin Mahogany takes Johnny Hartman to a wider audience.

By Bob Karlovits

Kevin Mahogany is a man on a mission.

"Singers like Johnny Hartman," he says. "People call him a singer's singer. But I'm hoping to take him to a wider audience."

Mahogany, a baritone with a stunning voice and a great grasp of song, will be doing his Johnny Hartman tribute Downtown this evening. It is part of his effort to take Hartman's music to more people. That effort will lead to an album early in 2007.

Mahogany says he thinks Hartman (1923-83) was one of the best balladeers ever.

"He had a rich voice with a great sense of song that we may not have had since," he says.

Hartman was primarily a balladeer who sang to pop-music fans, so he wasn't necessarily considered a jazz singer. He did the 1963 album "John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman" that moved him more in that direction.

"Of course, having John Coltrane around didn't hurt," Mahogany says.

While that album may have some jazz fans, Hartman's acclaim still was limited, the singer suggests. Clint Eastwood used some of his music in "The Bridges of Madison County," and that made more people aware of him, Mahogany says.

"They realized what a stylist he was," he says.

The show doesn't restrict Mahogany too much in his presentation of song because he uses much of the same music in his repertoire, he says.

It leads to him doing a song such as "Centerpiece," which he performs, and Hartman also did.

"But that might change the interpretation of the song," he says.

While a tribute can shape a concert, he says, it doesn't necessarily define the way the songs are presented. He might be doing Hartman-related songs, but he still is presenting the music as Kevin Mahogany.

The Kansas City, Mo., native is capable of presenting a wide range of music, from ballads such as "My Romance" to jazz classics such as "I'm Walkin'" or "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat."

He is comfortable working with a small group and this evening will be with bassist Chuck Bergeron and pianist Doug Bickel, son of pianist Ron Bickel from Shaler.

But he also does a big-band tour, focusing on arrangements of his colleague, the late Frank Mantooth.

He had been teaching at the University of Miami in Florida, but that position was phased out. As a result, he says he is concentrating on his performance work and doing some teaching at classes on the road.

But he's not complaining. The Hartman tribute, his big-band gigs and what he calls his "catch-all show" are keeping him busy on the road.

"But that's far better than the opposite," he says.