Best known for his work in the celebrated cooperative trio Minsarah (which he founded with Florian Weber and Ziv Ravitz), the Berkeley-based Denson has also gained widespread notice through his six-year tenure in the Lee Konitz New Quartet.
“Jeff is an exceptional musician who is a creative force on the double bass and has an original approach and voice on the instrument,” writes Konitz in his booklet notes for Secret World. “He brings a fantastic sense of composition to his improvisations that allow him to transcend the role of the bass and make many unexpected choices. . . . He is always surprising and inspiring. . . . It is truly a rarity to find someone who performs and composes on such a high level.”
With his consummate technique and boundless imagination, Denson has found himself in demand by renowned masters and visionaries such as Bob Moses, Joe Lovano, Carl Allen, Kenny Werner, Anthony Davis, Geoffrey Keezer, Lionel Loueke, and Charles McPherson, as well as Konitz. But Secret World offered him “a chance to completely establish my own identity. I wanted to do something where I could write out a lot of my ideas.” Denson’s harmonically detailed, melodically ravishing music is well served by his remarkable band.
Jeff Denson, 36, was born and raised in the Washington, DC area. Starting out on alto sax in elementary school before turning to electric and then acoustic bass in his teens, Denson attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where his passion for music gradually eclipsed his interest in painting and photography. He earned a scholarship to Berklee and quickly fell in with fellow students Florian Weber and Israeli drummer Ziv Ravitz, soon forming the trio Minsarah.
When Weber returned to his native Germany, he set up a gig for the trio, which led to Minsarah being signed in 2003 by the German indie record label, Hubermusic, which released their self-titled debut album. A fruitful four-month tenure in Essen followed. Already touring widely when the trio released its critically hailed eponymous Enja debut in 2006, Denson managed to divide his time between the band and his academic pursuits.
While earning a Master’s in jazz studies at Florida State University, Denson discovered an affinity for teaching and continued to divide his time between performing internationally and school. He relocated to Southern California to pursue his doctorate (at UC San Diego) in contemporary music performance with an emphasis on composition. It was during a series of Minsarah concerts in Germany that Lee Konitz first heard the band—and hired them. The New Quartet debuted on Deep Lee (2008) and followed up with the widely praised Live at the Village Vanguard (2010), both on Enja.
Based since 2011 in Berkeley, where he is on faculty at the Jazzschool Institute, Denson has forged ties with some of the Bay Area’s leading players, including clarinetist Ben Goldberg and trumpeter Darren Johnston. In March he’ll be performing a series of Northern California dates with pianist Joshua White and Dayna Stephens; a German tour with Minsarah; and a West Virginia concert (3/28) with the Konitz New Quartet.
“I can make my living playing everybody else’s music being a supportive player,” says Denson, “but I’m most interested in doing something unique musically, pushing my own work. And I love teaching. So I can inspire people, and still focus only on what I want to do.”