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Blindfold Test: Dena DeRose


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With Dena DeRose you get the best of both worlds—a first rate jazz pianist who understands how to explore the rhythmic and harmonic potential of a song, and a superior singer capable of expressing every nuance in a lyric with intelligence and subtlety. Throw in her formidable skills as a composer, and you have a jazz artist to be reckoned with. DeRose's multiple talents are all on display on her fourth album, the superb Love's Holiday.

Dena recently sat down with All About Jazz for her very first blindfold test.

It Might As Well Be Spring

(Rodgers & Hammerstein)
Chris Connor (v), Fred Hersch (p), Stephen La Spina (b), Tony Tedesco (d)
Lover Come Back to Me: Live at Sweet Basil (Evidence, 1981)

Before: It sounds like Harold Mabern on piano. It's funny how live pianos are just never in tune. It's a fun way to do this tune. I like [the singer's] musicality. I know that voice. This sounds like it's from the 80s. It's great because it kept me listening, really wanting to hear what was coming next. The kind of energy they have, I like that. I know that voice. Anita [O'Day]?

After: [vocalist] I had a feeling it was Chris Connor. They have similar timbres. [piano] Great player, bad piano, out-of-tune. That's Fred Hersch! That would not have even been in the realm of possibilities for me. That's a lot more coming from traditional kind of playing. That's great. I've always loved his work, but I would never have thought that was him. It wasn't reharmonized. It was a more typical, on-the-spot arrangement although the ending had a little modulation. Great tune. Always a fun tune and I like when people play it with a samba feel. I liked it.

In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

(Hilliard & Mann)
Ben Webster (ts), Oscar Peterson (p), Ray Brown (b), Ed Thigpen (d)
Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson (Verve, 1959)

Before: Another out-of-tune piano. That's one of my favorite tunes actually. It's pretty. I can't tell who it is though. Phil Woods? I can tell he knows the words from the way he plays the melody. Actually, it sounds a little bit like Jerry Jerome. All of those guys knew the words. Some people don't play lyrically on purpose and they still know the words, but when they play like that, the way he puts the notes, it sounds like he is singing it.

After: Oh, Ben Webster. I was thinking that, but I kept thinking it couldn't be him. When was that recorded? It sounds like a more modern recording. That was so mellow for Oscar. It's usually all this stuff when he plays. Even with Ella, he plays all this great stuff, but you could take the voice away and it could be a piano record. That was great. Gorgeous. That had me in it. I always try to listen to everyone all the way through to see where they're coming from, but some people have that way of really keeping you involved whether its through dynamics or tempo. That tempo was beautiful for that tune. That was gorgeous.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours

(Wonder, Hathaway, Garrett & Wright)
Kevin Mahogany (v), Peter Eldridge (b), Gregory Clark, Todd Johnson & Gerald Trottman (backing vocals)
Pride & Joy (Telarc, 2001)

Before: I love this tune. Interesting. I have no idea who it is. I don't listen to many vocal groups. I had a hard time with the shift of the time. I don't know why they did that. It was hard to see the reason between switching the times. It didn't seem musically logical. Maybe it was just the way they switched, it was so abrupt that it didn't have a good flow. Scatting wise, I'm not a huge scat person when it comes to scatting like that. Of course, he was only scatting over two changes, but he wasn't scatting changes. The only reason it kept my interest was to see if it was going to do something interesting. You can do so much with any tune especially this tune. They could have modulated. They could have tried to keep the tempo and then shifted time feel over that, which would have made it more interesting.

After: That's Kevin! Kevin's a really good friend of mine. I kept thinking that sort of sounds like Kevin, but I didn't know if one of those voices was Miles Griffin. One of those tenors had sort of that raspier sound.

Love is a Necessary Evil

(Fisher & Segal)
Patti Wicks (v, p), Don Payne (b), John Yarling (d)
Room at the Top (Recycled Notes, 1997)

Before: I like the singer's voice. She uses her instrument like a horn, but still tells a good story. It's great. The voice has a sort of interesting timbre to it -mellow but with an edge. It's really clear, and you can hear all the words. I think the drummer was, for me, a little distracting. It may be the way it was recorded. He may have been too hot in the mix. It sounded like he was comping with the singer instead of working within the trio, but he was swinging. The pianist's an interesting player. Sounds more like a younger player.

After: Very interesting. I just met her. That's great. I'm going to have to get some of her stuff. An interesting tune. It seems like I know the tune, but maybe not. Her approach, the swinging part of it, is similar to Shirley [Horn]. I had a feeling the singer and the pianist might be the same person only because the comping was there when there was singing, and then when the person wasn't singing there was filling. She's great.


(B. Mehldau)
Brad Mehldau (p)
Places (Warner, 2000)

Before: That was really beautiful. I'm trying to think who that might be. It sort of has sounds that bring a lot of players to mind. Peggy Stern. Her compositions are similar to that. I like the shift in the harmony, and how the melody was leading to the next change -the bass notes were not while the middle was molding into the next change, shifting. Beautiful.

After: I was going to say Brad, damn it. I was going to say Brad except I kept waiting to hear, because I know Brad's playing, well I thought I knew Brad's playing, because I kept waiting to hear a few things he does a lot. Something like that is very composed. It won't change that much from each concert he does. I go between writing songs that are more arranged and songs that are less arranged. Some songs are written with just a melody and support changes above it and can sound totally different all the time. That's different than Brad's song where each piano part needs to be played to make the whole composition work. My latest record has a song called "The Iris" on it, and it is sort of in the gray area in-between. That's was great. I love Brad. I used to go see him in New York at the Village Gate with Leon Parker's band back before he was anyone. We all hung out in New York together. He lived with a bassist I used on my first record, Michael Zisman, and I'd go over to their house and hang out. You'd hear Brad in the practice room all day with the same trio, Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy. All they would do -literally 8 hours a day for days -is play odd time signatures. They would just pick a tune and play it in 7 or 11 or 5. Even here, I don't have the sheet music in front of me, but you can tell that he worked on that so much that he can coordinate shifts in time and modulations with one hand and not with the other. He's a genius. We've had some in our lifetime. Bill Evans is one. Miles Davis is another. Brad is another one.

The Tender Trap

(Van Heusen & Cahn)
Dominique Eade (v), Bruce Barth (p), George Mraz (b), Lewis Nash (d)
My Resistance is Low (Accurate, 1994)

Before: A lot of chord changes going by. I have no idea who that is.

After: I should just say what I'm thinking. I thought that was her. I don't feel anything from her singing. It doesn't sound like its coming from a musical standpoint. It's coming from a theoretical standpoint. Academic. She's got some nice qualities in her voice. Sometimes I wish she would sing a song; plain old sing a song. There are so many records out where these people have the same attitude of being a jazz singer. They're trying to be a "jazz" singer. What is jazz? What is a jazz singer? You should just sing a tune. These are great songs. The way the tune was done was cute because it was so fast, but the melody was not there, which is the song. The chord changes were going by so fast you couldn't understand the tune. It sounded like a big hodgepodge of mess.

The Nearness of You

(Carmichael & Washington)
Sarah Vaughan (v, p)
Live in Japan (Mobile, 1973)

Before: Ahhh (smiles in recognition). This must be from later in her career around the time that she recorded that Sondheim, "Send in the Clowns." Is she playing for herself? Sing it baby!

After: It's been written many times that she uses her voice like a horn, but when you hear her playing for herself, you can hear that what's coming out is coming from music. When I teach this kind of music to singers, I try to emphasize how important it is to be able to play an instrument. Sarah knew where to put notes. She knew scales and chords. She knew forms and basic harmony movements. She had some nice runs in there, but she wasn't a burning pianist or anything, but listen to that! It was unbelievable. Yes, there is knowledge of the theory behind it all, but it's coming from a genuineness of making music happen and flow. She did all of those tags and modulations everywhere and you're waiting to hear the next thing; it's just unbelievable. [AAJ: What about critics who say that Sarah didn't care about lyrics?] That's a weird accusation. I guess I can sort of see their point. She was able to do so many things with her voice musically -not gymnastics, but music —that it all came out. But she's still singing the story. The way she did those modulations and held certain notes out, that's emphasizing a certain word or just the idea of the story behind each phrase. That last line, "to feel in the night," and then she goes up a half step, "to feel in the night." It's emphasizing those lyrics through music instead of just through words. It's using music instead of just non-musical inflection. [AAJ: Do you prefer early or late Sarah?] I like all of her stuff. She's one and Billie Holiday is another one, because they were recorded to such a degree, you just see such change in their life and how it affected their music. Frank Sinatra's another one. They lived their music to such a degree, that's what people feel. Yes, you can be a great musician or have a great instrument, but it all comes down to storytelling. People say Sarah is not a storyteller, but I think she's a really big storyteller but in a different kind of way. That was great, wow. I love live recordings.


(W. Shorter)
Wayne Shorter (ts), Danilo Perez (p), John Patitucci (b), Brian Blade (d)
Footprints Live (Verve, 2001)

Before: I have no idea who that is, but it's great. That was definitely from the heart. There was such development all the way through. Each player was listening to each player and jumping off things they were doing. It was all going somewhere. I enjoy playing more avant-garde stuff, but I don't get a chance to do it too much. It's a kind of music that really brings out spontaneity in people's playing. I know that when I'm in a mode of playing this music on a regular basis, when you go back to playing regular tunes, you play so much better because you've pushed the envelope with time and keys. The canvas is completely blank. It really pushes you to get in touch with your heart when you're playing this kind of thing.

After: Wayne. He was a thought. Danilo, John, Brian Blade. They're great. I love Wayne Shorter. He's one of those guys where every song he ever wrote is great. You can have a Wayne Shorter book and just go page after page looking at these amazingly composed tunes saying, "I wish I wrote that tune, I wish I wrote that tune." Wayne Shorter is going to go down in history as another great American songwriter.

I'll Never Go There Anymore

(M. Charlap & Lawrence)
Bill Charlap (p)
Written in the Stars (Blue Note, 2000)

Before: Dreamy. Is that Bill? I can tell by the inner voicing that he uses.

After: Pretty tune. Bill is really an amazing musician. He knows a million tunes and all these tunes you've never really heard of. He knows most of the words to all of them. His mother [Sandy Stewart] was a great singer. He's on my new record, Love's Holiday. We do "The Nearness of You," which I've done for years and years and years. When the idea of having him on the record came up, I just knew exactly what song I didn't want to play for myself anymore. He really brought an incredible vibe to it.

On Second Thought

(Coleman & Leigh)
Sylvia Syms (v), Ellis Larkins (p), Jay Leonart (b), strings & woodwinds arranged and conducted by Dick Hyman
Lovingly (Collectables, 1976)

Before: Gorgeous arrangement. Beautiful song. It sounds like Cy Coleman. There was a song from City of Angels, "With Every Breath I Take," reminds me of the same feeling.

After: Sylvia Syms? It was beautiful. She really had a mood about the way she told the story. When you put it on, musically, I didn't know what was going to come, then when the singer started, to me, there was something, I knew it was a cabaret singer. I'd have to hear more of her work to know really where she falls. There was a bit of theatricality to her, just a little. I also heard a little bit of Rosemary [Clooney] at times, the way she would say a word. In general, cabaret singers come from a more Broadway, theatrical place than where I'm coming from. I'm coming from an instrumental jazz background where a sense of time and rhythmic ideas are brought into making a melody.

Glass Enclosure

(B. Powell)
Bud Powell (p), George Duvivier (b), Arthur Taylor (d)
The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 2 (Blue Note, 1953)

Before: Marian [McPartland]? Sounds a bit like Mary Lou Williams, but it's not. That's great. Bud?

After: Mary Lou taught Bud, which is why I thought it sounded like Mary Lou. I have this recording of Mary Lou with Cecil Taylor, live, it's coming from the same place. I've heard the tune before. That's classic.

I Don't Worry About a Thing

(M. Allison)
Mose Allison (v, p), Addison Farmer (b), Osie Johnson (d)
I Don't Worry About a Thing (Atlantic, 1962)

Before: That's great. That's a great tune. Who is that?

After: That's Mose? When was that recorded? His voice has totally changed. I thought a lot about each individual thing. I was thinking, "Whoever wrote this song is really clever." Then, "Who's singing? I love the sound." Then piano, I though, "Man, that's a great pianist." Even though he's popular, I don't think a lot of people know his stuff that much, me included. That's not by choice.

I Could Sing It For a Song

(A. Lincoln)
Abbey Lincoln (v), Brandon McCune (p), John Ormond (b), Jaz Sawyer (d), Joe Lovano (ts)
Over the Years (Verve, 2000)

Before: Abbey. I've heard this song. They play it on the radio all the time.

After: Abbey's great. I haven't really listened to the last few recordings. I think when I first heard her was in the late 1980s, and I thought she was great. Refreshing, yet she's coming from the tradition. Clever tunes. Great, meaningful stories. "Throw It Away." I used to do one called, "And How I Hoped for Your Love." I'm actually thinking of bringing the tune back into my repertoire because I think I can get more inside it. She writes great tunes. The lyrics are like poetry.

I Never Know When to Say When

(L. Anderson, Ford & Kerr)

I'm In Love Again

(Coleman & Lee)
Mark Murphy (v), Benny Green (p)
Dim the Lights (1996)

Before: Kurt [Elling]? It sounds a little bit like him. Oh, Mark Murphy.

After: I love Mark. I just heard him not long ago at Birdland. Sometimes I have a hard time following the story because he does so much with his voice. This was slow and he tended to stay on notes too long. He does so much with his voice, but it's not really about the story. He just does it because it's time to do the I-jump-the-octave thing. They are trademarks of his singing. He came to teach at Stanford a couple of years ago. Knowing him as a person, helped me to appreciate his singing. People play as they are. [medleys] He's one of those people who tends to do that. I have a list at home started where people have said you should sing this song with that song. [Green] Benny Green, right. I like Benny. He's good.

On Thin Ice

(C. Martin)
Claire Martin (v), Jim Mullen (g), Jonathan Gee (p), Arnie Somogyi (b), Clark Tracey (d), Iain Ballamy (ts)
Devil May Care (Linn, 1993)

Before: I don't know who that is.

After: I don't know her work at all. It's a nice tune. I hear a lot of different pop influences -Steely Dan and an almost '70s pop sound like Todd Rundgren. That's the feeling I get, which I love because I grew up in the 70s. There are some twists and turns you don't expect, but then there were ones where you knew it was going to happen. The sax in between the lines every time was a little bit redundant after a while. A cool tune. I sort of lost the story because there was so much musically going on. Between all the time shifts, chords and sax, I sort of lost the storyline. That may just be me. Some things you just have to hear a couple of times to get. I think, and I've heard a lot of musicians say this, that in the first two lines you can tell whether or not a singer is a musician. She definitely knows what she's doing.

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