Denny Zeitlin's Solo Voyage


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Will the real Denny Zeitlin please stand up.

Since the mid-60s, Jazz listeners have known Denny as an imaginative, audacious pianist who has led Trios, collaborated with bassists Charlie Haden and David Friesen, and mandolin maven David Grisman, and played some wonderful solo music.

All this while also serving as a full time psychiatrist, and wait, there's more. He's a Professor at the University of California in San Francisco, as well. In his free (!) time, the Chicago native passionately pursues his hobbies, wine, mountain biking and flyfishing.

I first heard Denny on Jeremy Steig's immortal Flute Fever, and have followed his career ever since, through thirty CDs, and a particularly memorable film score for the remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," in 1978.

His third solo recording, Solo Voyage, has just been released by MaxJazz, and it features an engaging amalgam of his originals and compositions by some of his favorite composers, including Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter.

The centerpiece of the recording is the title track, a twenty nine minute suite that includes eight compositions designed to be played all at once, or separately. In addition to acoustic piano, Zeitlin augments this unique musical montage with some very tasteful synthesizer. Zeitlin created Solo Voyage as a homage to his lifelong friend, Bill Young, who passed away during the recording and the music has a strong emotional component.

When Denny Zeitlin called me to discuss doing a website, last fall, at the recommendation of Jazz Email King Jim Eigo, it began a unique collaboration that includes Denny's new website, which debuts later this month, and a video we produced over Memorial Day weekend at Denny's cozy Marin county crib.

I've been to many musicians' homes, but never the thirty year plus residence of a pianist and practicing psychiatrist. In fact, Denny Zeitlin has been involved with music and medicine since he childhood. Instead of choosing between these two amazingly demanding disciplines, he has made a life in both. Although I've never been on his couch, I suspect Denny's skills as a shrink are a good match for his piano chops.

Telling Denny's story proved challenging, because he is a rather complex person. Not surprisingly, his home is a reflection of his diverse interests. At Chez Zeitlin, in addition to a studio complete with acoustic piano and synthesizer, and an office where he sees patients, you'll find a temperature controlled wine cellar, his mountain bikes and his flyfishing equipment.

The surrounding area is lush with vegetation so I decided to shoot the interview segments in his garden, which had been loving cultivated by Denny's wife, Josephine. Against the verdant backdrop, Denny spoke of his new solo project with great articulation and animation. His decades of experience in music and medicine, and his natural communications skills enabled him to offer a thorough explanation of his creative process.

Watch a ten minute video that details Denny's unique life, where he talks at length about the process of creating this new music, and also features several Solo Piano performance excerpts from the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1983.

Listen to and purchase Solo Voyage at Amazon or CD Universe.

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