Barbara Dennerlein: A Study in Contrasts

Alan Bryson By

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Ray Charles

AAJ: After the Oscar winning movie based on his life, Ray Charles is more popular than ever. Did you ever have a chance to meet him?

BD: Yes, very briefly, because I opened for him at this AVO Session in Basel, Switzerland and this was one of the last concerts he did, it was really exciting to go on before Ray Charles. It was really great, but our meeting was short, no chance to really talk.

AAJ: Did you stay to watch his show?

BD: Of course [laughs] it was fantastic, it's also astonishing with human nature, when people have a handicap like Ray Charles, or Michael Petrucciani they compensate and they have a lot of energy and go really deep into their music. Ray Charles, he was just so into his music...

AAJ: He had that quality that everybody absolutely loved him. He even did a country western album...

BD: [laughs] He had charisma.

AAJ: ...and there was an authenticity to him...

BD: Right, this is the point, you realize that people are authentic and they really like what they are doing and are doing it honestly. I think this is something the audience really feels, if it is coming naturally with a natural energy. And this is the same thing I see when I'm listening to a concert and they play well, but it doesn't touch me. That's the quality of a concert, if it touches you or not.

AAJ: Clint Eastwood did a movie about your childhood hero Charlie Parker...[Bird, 1988]

BD: Of course I know that [laughs] I've got the soundtrack and everything. I liked the movie and the music too. It's incredible what they did. They extracted his solos and the musicians, like Herbie Hancock, played with Charlie Parker, I really liked that.


Dennis Chambers and Carlos Santana

AAJ: You've had the great Dennis Chambers on several of your records and you've toured together. I've read that Dennis has no formal training and doesn't read music, yet you are known for highly complex time signatures and frequent tempo changes. Clearly it worked, but I'm curious what he is like in the studio, he seems like some kind of a genius.

BD: He is a genius. He's got an extraordinary memory, and of course as a typical German, I'm well prepared, when I did my recordings in New York I prepared everything in advance. I had all the music in the computer, I played the drums on the keyboard, and I played the parts for the horn players, the guitar, and bass. So I had a finished recording of my music and I sent it to everyone with the sheet music, except Dennis, he just had the recordings, so he had plenty of time before the session to listen to it, and to know exactly what's going on, and he came well prepared. It went really fine. I love him; he's such a nice guy and a great player. I love that photo on my website where I'm in his arms and you almost don't see me anymore. And he has perfect timing.

AAJ: You know Santana, he always has such great rhythm sections anyway, but Dennis was on Carlos Santana's last tour—I think if I ever saw you, Dennis Chambers, and Carlos Santana together, Saint Peter would be the person collecting the ticket stubs—because that would be music heaven.

BD: That would be heaven for me too because Santana was one of the bands I really appreciated in my youth, they were in Munich then at the Olympia Hall and I was there. I really loved that music because of course they had the Hammond organ and I remember when I was thirteen and foruteen I played "Samba Pa Ti" and "Europa"—I played a lot of songs from Santana—I love him.

AAJ: And he's really done a lot for jazz.

BD: Oh yes, exactly, so yes that would be fantastic to play with them, a dream.


Ronny Jordan

AAJ: And I happen to know Ronny Jordan loves your playing...

BD: And this is vice versa. I know his work from the very beginning...

AAJ: The Antidote (Island, 1992)

BD: Yeah, I really like that because I like the groove and his playing. Yes, from that time on I think I have all his CDs.

AAJ: So do you think that maybe someday you two might get together?

BD: Well I would love to if we have the occasion to do that. As far as I know he would like to too. I think we should really do it. So this is an official invitation to Ronny. [laughs]


On Being Left-Handed

AAJ: The first time I saw you in concert I was totally surprised to see you signing autographs with your left hand. The keyboard was designed for right-handed players, so that their dominant hand can perform the more demanding tasks. For example, it is difficult to imagine a left-handed painter who was required to paint with his right hand becoming a great master. When you started out did you realize you were at a disadvantage?

BD: No I never thought about it, I just practiced and learned. Very often people ask me if I play bass so well because I'm left handed. Maybe. I think the advantage left-handed people have is that in their lives they are very often forced to do things with their right hand. So you get trained much more with both hands and I never felt like this was a disadvantage.

AAJ: So now you probably couldn't solo with your left hand.

BD: No because, I mean I try to practice with my left hand and play melodies and become more independent that way, I do this a little bit, but it is a special kind of interaction between my [left] hand and my feet which I've developed, and I have a strong rhythmical left hand, which is very important.


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