Take Five With Dena Taylor

Dena Taylor By

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Meet Dena Taylor: Ask jazz vocalist, Dena Taylor, about turning 62 in October and the relevancy of her music in an age of youth and she'll first respond with one of the brightest smiles you could imagine. Then she'll shake her head and, most likely, respond that she hadn't counted on making it to 62 no less still making music. A jovial spirit with a contagious robust laugh is what you will find if you're fortunate enough to spend any time with her.

Dena spent twelve years abroad in the military, combining her years of service with a series of low-profile concert and event gigs. She also accepted invitations to sing with touring USO shows whenever it was compatible with her military schedule.

Taylor's road to success has been hard-won, even inspirational. Upon leaving the military, she found herself in a violent car accident that left her with a severe brain injury requiring a full two years to regain her ability to speak and walk again. And, since that time, she has also waged her own personal battle against breast cancer.

Having relocated to Central Florida, her pairings with some of the regions finest musicians resulted in her award winning CD, Round Midnight, made with Ron Teixeira, Ron Pirtle and Dave Dunscombe.

Now based in Austin Texas, she released her 2nd CD, Certitude, in March of 2010 including notables Grammy winner Redd Volkaert and Ernie Durawa. One of the tracks from this effort, Song for My Father, was rewarded with an IAIRA Certification of "International Top 100 Hit" shortly after its release.

In keeping with her philosophy that, "It's not enough for music to BE good, it also has to DO good!" Taylor lends her personal support to a number of causes that support others who have endured adversity or are in the midst of their challenges. Portions of all sales go to several charities she supports including Feeding America's Share a Meal and The Dog and Cat Cancer Fund (DCCF). Taylor lost her personal service dog, Sonny, to cancer several years back so DCCF is a very personal cause.

As for the new standards CD, The Nearness of You, released February 14, 2014, when asked about it an enormous grin breaks across her face and she can barely contain her enthusiasm! Guest artists include Grammy winner Redd Volkaert, Rick McRae, Ernie Durawa, David Chao and others.

Instrument(s): Vocals

Teachers and/or influences? I learned to love lyrics because of the folk music I listened to and learned the beauty of "notes" from opera. I have VERY 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, longing—I want them to be songs I can relate to since I think it allows me to be believable as the interpreter of those songs or atleast interpret them as they pertain to me!

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 several years 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. As a vocalist, I love making that individual connection with the audience.

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? 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:
Del Castillo—Del Castillo
Duke Elegant—Dr. John
Songbird—Eva Cassidy
Fiddler on the Roof—Cast Album
Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall

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. I see so much classism .. horns "dis" drums or instruments "dis" vocalists. Bands without vocalists tend to think bands with vocalists aren't as good or as "real." A lot of younger talent out there gets discouraged because their musical strength & calling 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. I recently talked to some teenagers about music .. they said "my" style was old and boring. That I could semi-understand, heck .. back in the day, I remember listening to the Beatles or some rock-n-roll and then having to listen to my parent's music and rolling my eyes before dramatically falling over and shouting, "Stop .. it's so boring!" Didn't last long before I developed an ability to appreciate both. I still do .. I don't think kids get an opportunity to develop that appreciation. But then that exposure happens in the home AND in school and with the way music is being dropped from schools, it's not unexpected.

What is in the near future?

Having finally wrapped and then released my newest CD, The Nearness of You, the focus is on getting it out there and heard. Right now I'm enjoying some of the attention it is getting like getting 5 nominations for the 2014 Indie Music Awards and planning a trip out to LA for the event. I'm in that state of completion AND preparation where I'm actually starting to think about another CD inspite of my saying .. that's it .. I'm done .. never again! And continuing to search for that little jazz club with clinking ice cubes, blue spot lights and a slight haze in which to sing!

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: Heaven only knows!!

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