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Barbara Dennerlein: A Study in Contrasts

Alan Bryson By

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Her Dream Band

AAJ: Now I've got one of those fun questions, imagine your dream band for one night, a septet, only playing the music of one composer, which musicians and which composer would you pick? Rule: only musicians who are no longer with us, and no one you have played with previously.

BD: Okay, I've thought about this question because you warned me. It wasn't difficult for me because I immediately thought of Charlie Parker, because he is one of my heroes and I love his compositions, so that's easy to answer because I would love to play his bebop songs. So I would love to have Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, of course Dizzy Gillespie, and if I wouldn't play the bass lines I would have Ray Brown, that's funny, because when I practiced my bass lines I found a small book with bass lines—oh no sorry, that was Ron Carter! I mixed it up, it was Ron Carter, and I practiced with the bass lines from Ron Carter, and I learned a lot...

AAJ: He's also great.

BD: He's fantastic too, so that would be, and oh yes! Max Roach [drums], and it would have been fun to play with Thelonious Monk [laughs], and Coleman Hawkins.

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The Blues—Derek Trucks and Eric Clapton

AAJ: Let's switch gears and talk about the blues, something I love very much. The B3 is a very prominent part of many blues bands, perhaps much more common than in jazz bands, but on the other hand, the blues is dominated by guitar players. If I think of major blues headliners, I might be able to come up with a list of thirty blues guitarists, but the B3 seems to be relegated to a more supportive role.

Barbara Dennerlein

When I listen to your playing on something like, "All That Blues" it reminds me of what I love about many of my favorite blues guitarists—it has the same energy, speed and edge, and personally I hope someday you'll do a blues CD with musicians from the blues scene. So, from the perspective of a jazz musician who plays the blues, I'm really curious what you think of some of your musical cousins from the blues family. For example, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Michael Bloomfield?

BD: You know, growing up I always got very excited when I heard the blues. You know, I mean it's basically always the guitar, the blues guitar, you know the king of blues guitar B.B. King of course with Lucille [laughs]—it's fantastic I love that sound and the feeling they have. It is something that touches you, but in a way the sad side is so many of them died very early. But yes, I like their sound very much, the feeling they had, and the energy.

I also love Blind Lemon Jefferson, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and let's not forget Bessie Smith.

AAJ: You know I love the slide guitar...

BD: [Laughs] Yes I know.

AAJ: ... because it doesn't have distinct notes, it has this fluid sound...

BD: Exactly, and it's a different kind of playing. You can stretch the tone and you can get a special sound and an intense feeling. I like that very much and it's a special kind of blues playing, you know what Duane Allman did was so innovative and special. And I'm really fascinated by the recordings I've heard by Derek Trucks, who in a way followed his [Duane's] position in the Allman Brothers Band. He has so much energy in his playing, and he has so much feeling, and blues feeling. I saw this video clip of him playing as a young boy, and it knocked me off my chair what he was playing at such a young age, simply incredible, he already had that feeling for music and the blues, and he already had his sound—at age twelve!

AAJ: I know you've seen the DVD of the new Allman Brothers Band with Derek, and as a jazz musician I'm curious what you think of them?

BD: I like them very much, and I like the interaction they have, and of course I love their Hammond sound.

AAJ: I think Gregg Allman is a very tasteful player.

BD: He is very tasteful and I think he really loves the Hammond sound, I think they all communicate very well with each other, and they play together in an interesting way. I like that the music is quite open, the flow of time, the variety, and I think Derek gives the band a different sound again. You know, it's not just following up Duane Allman, Derek has his own personality, energy and his own style of playing, and a strong blues feeling that I love, and I think you can hear that he's also into jazz music. I heard him play some jazz compositions with his own band and I liked the way he did it, and I think this is something too, when he plays blues you can feel that he's not only into blues, he's extending his abilities so he can do different things.

And he's a very modest person on stage, I like that, because mostly the people who are that way are great players. No big show, you know what I mean.

AAJ: How about Eric Clapton?

Barbara Dennerlein BD: He's a god of blues guitar anyway, when I think about it there's almost no blues guitarist he hasn't played with. It's incredible. I mean, he's played with everyone. He's a fantastic player and I'm so—there was a night when I was invited to the Clapton concert in Munich by Derek's manager, and I wanted to see Derek Trucks with Eric Clapton and all the band, and I had just came back from a tour, and so I was able to go, but my car broke down on the way to the concert! I did everything I could to make it to the concert, but I had to be towed from the Autobahn. In the end I couldn't make it, and I was so sad, it was my chance to finally meet Derek personally and talk, and of course to hear them play live, and live is always a special experience, much more impressive than seeing someone play on a DVD or such.

And I think it is great that Derek got to play with the god of the blues guitar.

AAJ: I think too, that in a way that shows what kind of a musician Eric Clapton is, that he sees someone so talented and he's prepared to stand next to him.

BD: Exactly, back to before, that's how I wish it had been with Jimmy Smith. Derek is a fantastic player and it's wonderful that Eric Clapton accepts another great guitarist next to him on stage—and not only accepts, in a way he featured him. I think Eric is fantastic for doing that.

AAJ: It was a great show.

BD: Absolutely, I could really—when I think about it—it really makes me sad.

AAJ: You had the blues.

BD: [Laughs] Exactly, I had the blues, that's funny! And I really hope God gives me a second chance someday! [laughs]

But I also want to say that I really do hope that one day I'll have a chance to play with one of the real blues guys, I love that guitar sound, that feeling, and I mean the blues, not the jazzy kind of blues, but the more traditional kind of blues.

AAJ: I think of jazz and blues as brothers. Blues is the younger, wilder brother, who's out lookin' for a good time on Friday night—he's rougher around the edges. Jazz is also a fun guy, but he's gone off to college, he's more mature and sophisticated...

BD: Yeah that's right. You know that I sometimes play with a couple of guys who have a blues duo, and they play traditional blues and boogie woogie. And for me it's always different because I come from jazz. I love the blues, you know that, but the harmonies are much more complex in jazz, so when I play with them and come back to the roots, I really have to let go of things and not play the extensions and harmonic stuff I play in jazz music, or even when I play a jazzy blues, it's all too much. You have to really concentrate on the simple things, and this is also a kind of challenge.

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