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Talkin' Blues with Barbara Dennerlein

Alan Bryson By

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If there were a Guinness World Records prize for jazz artist with the biggest organ, it could very well go to Barbara Dennerlein. No doubt, her Hammond B3 was a disc-crushing bane for countless roadies over the past three decades, but a B3 pales in comparison to what she's been playing lately. Imagine five organs with nearly 18,000 metal pipes, linked to one keyboard with over 200 registers—that's some seriously heavy metal. Welcome to the world of pipe organs.

Since our extensive career retrospective interview in 2007, Dennerlein's been traveling the world, bringing jazz and blues to pipe organ audiences. With the release of her third pipe organ album in the Spiritual Movement (Bebab Records) series that began in 2007, now seemed like a good time to check in with her.

Geography generally works against me with respect to my Talkin' Blues column. I live in the German Alps, so the "talkin'" is usually done over the phone or via Skype, but this time location worked in my favor. Because Dennerlein lives less than an hour from me, I was determined to come up with something special for All About Jazz fans. Thankfully, Michael Ricci, our publisher, agreed to a video interview for the site.

Now, truth be told, I'm not equipped for such a thing, but I figured a basic camcorder without any professional lighting was still better than a transcription of my conversation with Barbara Dennerlein. Her YouTube channel already has over two-and-a-half-million views, so clearly the world outside of Europe is catching up; but I've seen her play up close, and a two dimensional screen just doesn't capture the magic of what she does. Well, it just so happens that I bought an entry level 3D camcorder this year, and YouTube now supports 3D videos, so I have a real treat in store for you.

In addition to the interview, she also agreed to play her Hammond B3 for you in her studio and record the audio, so I was able to replace the crappy camcorder sound with high quality audio. While she was waiting for me to arrive, she came up with a blues piece she affectionately entitled "Talkin' Blues," that, thanks to a studio glitch, I watched her perform three times. She did a 2D version for those of you without 3D glasses, and also a 3D version—believe me, you need to get a hold of some 3D glasses.

It also turns out that she recently had an organ maker build a virtual pipe organ for her, so she performed on it to give you a taste of what she is doing on pipe organs. That video is only in 3D, but you can fiddle with the 3D controls on YouTube to get some interesting effects for viewing without 3D glasses (not 3D, but interesting.)

We are both very pleased with the musical clips, but the audio and video on the interview portion is a far from professional. The lighting in the studio was bad, so we opted to do the interview under the gazebo in the garden. Accustomed as I am to Murphy's Law, I used both of my camcorders for the interview, and it's good that I did.

Halfway through, one quit working, so the final half of the interview is from the backup camcorder which was overexposed and plagued by a light breeze we hardly noticed. It was especially frustrating because this is the segment where we talked about her association with Friedrich Gulda, the world famous Austrian pianist. Despite the recording quality, this is great stuff.

I didn't have the camcorder on when we were catching up, but we also spoke about Ben Webster, Jimmy Herring and Allen Stone, and even fantasized about what it would have sounded like if guitarist Lenny Breau and bassist Jaco Pastorius had played together.

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Photo Credit

Johannes Tichy, Courtesy of Barbara Dennerlein

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