Take Five With Dena Taylor
One of the brightest smiles you could imagine is worn on the face of Dena Taylor. A jovial spirit with a robust laugh is what you will find if you're fortunate enough to spend any time with her.
In addition to her career in the U.S., Taylor spent twelve years abroad combining her years of employment with a series of low-profile concert and event gigs. She also accepted invitations to sing with touring shows whenever it was compatible with her work schedule.
Dena has appeared on stage as one of the gold-star cast members of the Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse appearing in productions of Kiss Me Kate, Meet Me in St. Louis, Fiddler on the Roof. From there, she went on to establishing herself as a solid solo performer. Her pairings with some of the regions finest musicians resulted in her award winning CD, Round Midnight, that she made with Ron Teixeira, Ron Pirtle and Dave Dunscombe.
Her reputation also makes her a frequent guest vocalist of regional jazz and blues groups wherever she travels.
Teachers and/or influences? I learned to love lyrics because of the folk songwriters, learned the beauty of "notes" from opera. I have pretty broad musical tastes and I get something from everything I listen to.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I discovered that I could actually sing rather than just mouthing into my hairbrush pretending I could. My hairbrush microphone was fun but growing up and being able to really make music was delicious.
Your sound and approach to music: My sound is solid and without a lot of vocal gymnastics. My approach to the music I sing, regardless of the genre, is to find songs that I can inhabit. I want to feel them... happiness, anger, joy, sorrow, indifference, love, hate, longingI want them to be songs I can relate to since I think that allows me to be believable as the interpreter of those songs.
Road story: Your best or worst experience: It would have to be a worst experience but best band memory. Dena & Company was performing at Lou's Blues Upstairs in Indiatlantic, Florida. This is a club where the 2nd floor overlooks the main floor. It's a great club on the beach and it's frequented by a great mix of people and there's ALWAYS motorcycles. Well, there we were performing and recording a live album right in the middle of the NCAA Basketball Playoffs so, quite regularly, the crowd would roar at the game and stomp their feet which, of course, made the floor vibrate. We were doing pretty well at staying on track until a biker incensed by the way the game was going... backed his massive Harley up to the double doors, had a couple friends hold the door open and filled Lou's Blues Upstairs with not only sound of a revving Harley but exhaust fumes. We all just looked at each other and fell over laughing. The sound engineer wasn't quite so amused, however, poor guy! We each kept a copy of the recording and we still fall apart when we listen to it. Up until his death a few months ago, John Fitzgerald (our bassist) and I never could look at each other during subsequent gigs without breaking up.
Favorite venue: I don't have a specific venue that's a favorite but a "type." They are the small, intimate places that are reminiscent of a 40-esque jazz club where people come to sit close to each other, enjoying the ambiance of the room and letting the music and the musician be a part of their experience. Especially as a vocalist, I'm able to make that individual connection with the audience and that let's me go deep musically.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why? Round Midnight (Thelonious Monk) from my CD, Round Midnight. I love this song lyrically... I think the words are exquisite and describe perfectly a situation that so many people have found themselves in one time or another. And it's a song where the music has that perfect balance of dark and lonely and longing and hope. I picked this song because I loved it and it made me reach in order to do it justice. Plus, I was working with some of the finest musicians I know and who I was also privileged to call my friends.
The first Jazz album I bought was: Truthfully, I can't remember but I know when I first got "the bug." I was given a box of records by a friend who found them while cleaning out her father's house after he passed away. She said, "You want any of these old things." I sat in front of my record player for that entire weekend. The deeper I got into the box, I started separating those records with band singers and, from that point on, I was hooked.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I think that I am showing that a song doesn't lose it's ability to move and to touch both the musician and the audience just because it's fallen out of vogue or style. I invite people to come into the music with me rather than just trying to impress them.
Did you know... I'm addicted to old black & white movies!
CDs you are listening to now: Burn by Albert Castiglia (Albert Castiglia) Relationships by Bebe & CeCe Winans (Sparrow/Capitol Records) Songbird by Eva Cassidy (Blix Street) Tigerman by Kim Wilson (Discovery/Wea) Softly with These Songs by Roberta Flack (Atlantic UK)
Desert Island picks: At Long Last by Rosemary Clooney with The Count Basie Orchestra (Concord Jazz) Anything by Joe Bonamassas I Refuse to Be Lonely by Phyllis Hyman (Volcano) Trouble by Steve Thorpe (Lost Gold Records) Judy At Carnegie Hall by Judy Garland (Capitol Records)
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
I've noticed a great sense of snobbery within the different "sub-genres" of jazz. Could that it's more of a societal issue than a music one... just sad. A lot of younger talent out there gets discouraged because their strength might not be in vogue so they don't get the opportunity to build up their talent (and confidence) to a degree that they can step up and outside their "zones."
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Getting kids exposed to and involved with ALL of the different incarnations of jazz. Too, I don't think it's just a case of simple exposure but to teach them a broad appreciation of all those different incarnations not just as they are now but from the roots.
What is in the near future?
I'm really excited about a new project. I've begun working with international recording artist, Jonathan Emile, to develop a cross-genre single. He sings many styles including jazz but he's best known for his hip-hop and rap work so we've picked a classic standard, "My Baby Just Cares for Me." I'll be doing "my thing" and then Jonathan will be laying beats and rap behind it. This will be an Internet release with proceeds benefiting The Ronald McDonald Houses in the U.S. and Coast-to-Coast, a Canadian non-profit organization supporting children with cancer. Cancer is something that both Jonathan, his business partner and myself have dealt with personally so this is a cause terribly important to both of us.
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: Heaven only knows!!