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Take Five with Dennis Winge

AAJ Staff BY

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Meet Dennis Winge

Dennis is a professional guitarist living in Ithaca, NY and performs in a variety of musical settings throughout the Finger Lakes including his jazz ensemble, The Way (rock cover band), Matrix flute & guitar duo, Dupree (Steely Dan cover band), solo work and more.

Having started to learn guitar at age seven, he played his first bar gig when he was 16, and has been a bandleader since his early 20's. He's played with Bill Crow, Gene Bertoncini, Shunzo Ohno, & David Budway.

As for off-Broadway productions, he has played in the pit for Les Miserables, All Shook Up, Footloose, 13, Smokey Joe's Cafe, as well as portions of Rock of Ages, Wicked, Aida, All That Jazz, Jeckyl & Hyde, and In the Heights.

Dennis has six instrumental albums as a leader and has appeared on several other albums as a sideman.

Instrument:

Guitar

Teachers and/or influences?

My jazz teachers were Jack Wilkins & Ron Parmentier and I have been influenced by everyone from Joe Pass to Joe Satriani. :-)

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

When I was a kid I used to sit at the dinner table and think "when I grow up I'm going to make a song that goes like this ___(hums melody to himself)___." Never did it occur to me that I'd need to write it down to remember it.

Your sound and approach to music.

It may not sound like it on this or any recordings, but I'm constantly trying to lighten up my touch, so that I can play chords, diads, lines, and all different kinds of techniques with equal fluidity and volume control. From Pat Metheny talking about Jim Hall: "With the guitar, you really have to model in your mind this wider thing; you're trying to create the illusion of a bigger dynamic range. The guy who defined that, on guitar, was Jim Hall, who opened up five or six degrees of dynamics on both sides by picking softer."

Your teaching approach

If you teach life first, music second, you'll never have to work a day in your life. What does that mean? Meet the student where they are; speak in their language when possible; explain things how they can best understand; make them do it rather than just understand it; and most of all, make it fun.

Your dream band

Well, once I got over feeling intimidated, I'd have Herbie Hancock on keyboards, Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums, Joshua Redman on saxophone, and Avishai Cohen on bass.

Road story: Your best or worst experience

Once I was hired to play a college fraternity's theme song with a band. I only had the changes which I had transcribed earlier. During their spirited singing, I kept on thinking how awfully out of tune everyone sounded. It took me quite a while to remember that in rehearsal the key was changed, and that I didn't change my chart because I thought it'd be "good practice" to transpose on the fly.

Favorite venue

My quartet used to play Jules Bistro on St. Marks' Place in NYC every other Saturday night. It was very lively and we could always play whatever we wanted without having to crowd-please. They had good beer and delicious mussels. In between sets I used to do the 'walk of shame' and get additional tips for the band. Once a guy said "I'll give you a tip: stay out of mutual bonds."

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

I listened for the longest time to Sco's live trio album EnRoute. It is still my favorite of his to this day. His ability to integrate chords & lines with a light touch as I mentioned above, and his ability to fuse jazz with rock, funk, blues influences is unparalleled.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

George Harris from Jazz Weekly wrote two words at the end of his review of my new album What Are the Odds?, and they are "playful playing." Assuming he means what I think he means, I think my contribution is an ability to explore openly without pretense. That's why I've always been drawn to improvisational styles like jazz because as Miles said "there are no mistakes."

Did you know...

In addition to the six instrumental albums I have as a leader, I also have four albums of sacred chanting under my spiritual name Damodar Das, although there is an Indian artist on Spotify of the same name with whom I am erroneously linked.

The first jazz album I bought was:

Undercurrent with Jim Hall & Bill Evans? Or maybe it was Wes Montgomery's Smokin' at the Half-Note. I don't remember.

Music you are listening to now:

I have been listening to a lot of heavily percussion-influenced music lately, like Babatunde Olatunji, Airto Moreira, Peter Magadini, plus polyrhythmic composers like Grieg & Conlon Nancarrow.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Constantly exploding with new possibilities and frontier-exploring.

What is in the near future?

Now that What Are the Odds? is finished, I still have two dozen finished originals that have never seen the light of day, plus there's a handful of ones I recorded live before COVID that I could release. Or, I might do a modal album called 63 Modal Impressions for Guitar. Or all of the above.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

The only thing I have to fear is... fear itself.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

"Hanuman Chalisa." (Not necessarily one of my versions, although I have over 121 original melodies of it recorded on Damodar Das' Bandcamp page.)

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

The Irish Spring commercial from the '70s. LOL!

By Day:

I run Guitar Lessons Ithaca.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

An insurance salesman, God help me. (That's what I was for five years when I wasn't doing music.)

What do you want to be remembered for?

I once saw this question asked of Nile Rogers, who answered "as a composer." I doubt that my guitar playing is so innovative or original that I will be remembered that way, but some of my tunes are catchy. Even the simpler songs from my earlier originals albums such as Just the One of Us or One Small Step are fun to play, and it would be amazing if a well-known artist would cover one of them some day. Of course, being remembered as a great husband / father / teacher / friend / citizen would be just as important if not more.

Are there any creative endeavors that you might want to engage in some day?

I want to write a book called Spirituality for the Average Slob. In the book's foreword, it'll say something like this: "The problem with most spiritual books is that they are written by spiritual people. The rest of us think 'well, that's good for you, but my life is different...' so we don't adopt the ideas or practices as much as we could..."

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

Jesus Christ. I suspect he is potentially the most misunderstood / misrepresented figure in history. It would be amazing to hang with him for a while. I'd even cook (which is something I rarely do)!

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