...an exceptionally gifted pianist as well as a sultry and intelligent singer, she has the audience at her feet..." --San Francisco Chronicle
Dena DeRose began as a pianist who fell in love with Red Garland and jazz. At the age of eighteen, she would tell her mother she was going to the mall, but instead would grab a friend and drive four hours from her upstate New York home down Route 17 into Greenwich Village to hear Hank Jones, Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller play late into the night at the legendary Bradley's. Afterwards, she'd drive back and start practicing.
Now she'll be coming from Queens to the Blue Note on September 23rd to headline and preview her new CD, Love's Holiday. Joining her will be: Jim Rotondi, trumpet; Steve Davis, trombone; Joe Locke, vibes; Peter Washington, bass; and Matt Wilson, drums.
Dena's weathered some detours to get there. Unfortunate - and very early - bouts with carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis interrupted her career in her early 20s. For two years, she could not play piano at all, nor was she sure she would ever play again. And that's how she discovered she could sing. Her ability to sing is made quite clear on Love's Holiday (Sharp Nine - September 24, 2002), which features special guest, pianist Bill Charlap, and a tribute to one of her early inspirations, Marian McPartland.
Dena explains: I was hanging out at a club with some musician friends. Someone said, 'Hey, Dena, get up and sing,' so I got up and sang. Then everybody starts clapping, and thought, 'Wow! That was fun. Weird, but definitely fun.' So I started to think about doing it for real, and a few weeks later, I was going around town booking gigs as a singer in all the places where I'd been playing piano before.
For two years following, Dena worked exclusively as a jazz vocalist and after making a full recovery, began to integrate the piano. Her late start as a singer - and the fact that she never listened to many singers - may explain why her style is so individual. Understandably she became a much different pianist too. I could feel a difference in my playing right off the bat. Even when I was playing an instrumental number, it'd sound like I was singing it." So in 1992, as a fledgling 25-year-old pianist-singer, she made her dream move to New York City and started taking any gig she could get: gigs as a pianist, gigs as a vocalist, gigs as a pianist backing vocalists, gigs as a pianist-vocalist. The fruits of her labor - her moving compositions, intelligent arrangements, voice and piano finesse - are beautifully showcased on Love's Holiday, a CD that confirms Dena is like no one else performing.
Lover" from Rodgers & Hart features an old stride feel, Dena's trademark altered time signatures and her crystal clear, intimate voice. Her take on the Mercer/Van Heusen classic I Thought About You" reveals how expertly she tells the story of the song, while Peter Washington's bass adds to the sultry, poignant feel. I Didn't Know What Time It Was", another Rodgers & Hart tune, shows why Dena has a reputation for making well-known standards sound brand new with startling vocals and inventive arrangements. Dena melts into The Good Life" and makes the tune - closely associated with greats like Frank Sinatra and Shirley Horn- completely her own. Sara Della Posta, on French horn, completes the full, lush sound of the brass choir aided by Tony Kadleck on flugelhorn and Steve Davis on trombone. With Close Your Eyes," Dena adds a surprising Middle Eastern feel that she explains in the CD's liner notes. The Iris" is an original composition she wrote for her partner Sheryl - also a musician. Dena's vocalizing here is mesmerizing and provides more insight into her artistry as an instrumentalist, both through her voice and the piano. Joe Locke's vibes emphasize the soothing feeling she was seeking.
The second half of the disc begins with Dena's brisk reworking of On Green Dolphin Street," propelled by Matt Wilson's drums. Birk's Works" (in Dizzy's honor) begins and ends with a funky backbeat, framing some straight-ahead blowing from Jim Rotondi and Dena's compelling vocalizing. Her duet with trumpeter Brian Lynch on another Van Heusen song, But Beautiful," uncovers the nuances and hidden emotions of the song. Her second original, Marian's Mood," is a rousing, instrumental tribute to her love of piano and one of its great players, Marian McPartland. Dena begins Lamp is Low" with a deliberate reading of the verse before taking the rhythm at a breakneck tempo. She closes with the great Hoagy Carmichael song, The Nearness of You," meeting up with a fellow great pianist, Bill Charlap - one of Dena's ardent admirers.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Dena began her formal piano training at the age of three after her mother heard her pick out melodies on a toy chord organ. She studied classical music before building a career as a jazz pianist, performing with artists such as Major Holley, Slam Stewart, Randy Brecker and Jacky Terrason. She tours frequently and is currently featured in a special series, Made for the Movies," with pianist Eric Comstock and veteran jazz singer, Bill Henderson. An experienced music educator, she's a member of the faculty at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, New York's New School for Social Research, Long Island University and SUNY Purchase and teaches in Holland.
Shirley Horn's former manager-producer and now jazz critic, Joel E. Siegel, says that Dena is, the most creative and compelling singer-pianist since Shirley Horn." This may be why many vocalists still ask for Dena to accompany them and why recently she was selected as Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" in DOWN BEAT Magazine's 2002 Critics Poll. Sharp Nine reissued Dena's self-produced CD, Introducing Dena DeRose, in 1997. Another World and I Can See Clearly Now followed. A dynamic and innovative jazz pianist, an original singer as well as a sophisticated composer and arranger - Dena DeRose is a true triple threat.
www.sharpnine.com / www.denaderose.com
Dena DeRose @ Blue Note - September 23
Where: 131 W. 3rd Street, New York City
Showtimes: 8 pm / 10 pm
Tickets: Admission TBA / call (212) 475.8592 for reservations