Jazz Music – An arresting, unforgettable voice … May 15, 2011

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It’s rare. But it happens. You’re barreling down the freeway and suddenly out of your car’s sound system pours the voice of a jazz singer you have not heard before, and yet, there is a distinctively familiar quality in the voice that says; you must have. You have to solve this mystery; but the radio station likes to play the game of ‘three or four songs in a row’ and then reel off a gaggle of names in the back announcement. So you sit there patiently waiting to hear who is this dynamite song stylist. Finally the DJ comes up for air, and gets around to killing the suspense. He gives you plenty rap about record labels, who’s playing which instrument, recording dates and venues; he neglects to mention the name you are listening for, and deftly moves on to another music triple-shuffle: You’re reduced to pounding on the car’s steering wheel in vexed frustration. There was a charm in the singer’s voice that spoke of seduction, vocal poise, cool alluring hipness; she possessed exquisite intonation and a nice expanse of vocal pitch range. I later discovered it all belonged to Denise Donatelli. I became one of her fans in a single moment and I was anxious to see and hear this jazz singing siren, up close and personal. But first I checked into who she was and how she got here. Denise Donatelli was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which also gave the jazz world, pianist/composer Keith Jarrett. On the whole, Pennsylvania has produced an impressive mixture of iconic jazz artists: Singer Billie Holiday, saxophonist John Coltrane, The Heath Brothers, drummer Art Blakey, organist Shirley Scott, to name some. With such rich histories and legacies to explore, the glow of exciteIt’s rare. But it happens. You’re barreling down the freeway and suddenly out of your car’s sound system pours the voice of a jazz singer you have not heard before, and yet, there is a distinctively familiar quality in the voice that says; you must have. You have to solve this mystery; but the radio station likes to play the game of ‘three or four songs in a row’ and then reel off a gaggle of names in the back announcement. So you sit there patiently waiting to hear who is this dynamite song stylist. Finally the DJ comes up for air, and gets around to killing the suspense. He gives you plenty rap about record labels, who’s playing which instrument, recording dates and venues; he neglects to mention the name you are listening for, and deftly moves on to another music triple-shuffle: You’re reduced to pounding on the car’s steering wheel in vexed frustration.

There was a charm in the singer’s voice that spoke of seduction, vocal poise, cool alluring hipness; she possessed exquisite intonation and a nice expanse of vocal pitch range. I later discovered it all belonged to Denise Donatelli.

I became one of her fans in a single moment and I was anxious to see and hear this jazz singing siren, up close and personal. But first I checked into who she was and how she got here.

Denise Donatelli was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which also gave the jazz world, pianist/composer Keith Jarrett. On the whole, Pennsylvania has produced an impressive mixture of iconic jazz artists: Singer Billie Holiday, saxophonist John Coltrane, The Heath Brothers, drummer Art Blakey, organist Shirley Scott, to name some. With such rich histories and legacies to explore, the glow of excited confidence must wrap itself securely around Donatelli, and clearly outline her chosen career path as a jazz singer.

A current resident of Los Angeles, California, she has been thrilling audiences coast-to- coast. She has made notable appearances at New York’s Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center, The Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival, Seattle’s Bake’s Place, Los Angeles’ Steamers and Catalina’s Jazz Clubs, San Diego’s Birch Theatre, Hermosa Beach’s Lighthouse Cafe, Northern California’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society Revue and the San Jose Jazz Festival.

Armed with Two Grammy Nominations for her 2010 Savant release, “When Lights Are Low,” this critically acclaimed Jazz Singer appeared with pianist/producer/arranger Geoffrey Keezer’s trio at Yoshi’s Oakland Jazz Club on Sunday May 15, 2011 for a 7:00pm evening concert. This is where I encountered her.

The day started out with showers and some hail. By evening it had cleared up considerably. It was cool, clear and comfortable; the perfect evening for some fine dining and good music. Since Yoshi’s had a spectacular Japanese restaurant in the club, I decided to avail myself of its cuisine and delve into the culinary philosophy of Chef Shotaro ‘Sho’ Kamio, which is: Seasonal, Simple, Surprise. For the ‘Seasonal’ I sampled, wild Atlantic Salmon, grilled on cedar plank, with house made terriyaki sauce, preceded by an appetizer of smoked wagyi beef carpaccio, seared rare with grated dailcon radish and sesame ponzu. The ‘Simple’ was a bowl of steamed rice, and the ‘Surprise’ came in the form of a small carafe of warm Junmai Sake. Now! I was ready!

THE SHOW The Geoffrey Keezer Trio comprises Hamilton Price on bass; Jon Wickan on drums and Geoffrey Keezer on piano. This is a very dynamic and accomplished group of musicians.

Bassist Hamilton Price was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas and has a B. A. degree in classical double bass performance from the University of Texas at Austin. He has played with many important figures in jazz: Billy Childs, Eric Reed, Joanne Brackeen, Patrice Rushen, Dewey Redman, Ravi Coltrane, Tom Scott, Kevin Mahogany, T. S. Monk, Randy Brecker and more.

Drummer Jon Wickan was born in Petersburg, Alaska, grew up in Seattle. His influences include drummers Tony Williams, Billy Higgins, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones and Victor Lewis. He has worked with Buddy Collette, Mark Murphy, Kurt Elling, Jessica Williams, Karrin Allyson, Pat Labarbra and others.

Pianist Geoffrey Keezer was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. At 18, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He has worked with singer Dianna Krall, saxophonist Joshua Redman, bassist Christian McBride, pianists Kenny Barron, Chick Corea and collaboratively with pianists Benny Green and Mulgrew Miller. His professional career spans many genres and projects. He is a recipient of Chamber Music America’s 2007 New Works Grant. One of his recent musicals, Aurea (2009) is a multinational Afro-Peruvian/Jazz recording project featuring players from New York City and Lima, Peru. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award (Best Latin Jazz Album)

The bona fides of the trio speak for themselves.

The crowd that attended this show was not large, but it was engaged and appreciative. The trio came first came on stage and warmed up the audience with an uptempo adaptation of Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” This also allowed the players to unwind after traveling long distances to arrive at the Jazz Club. Denise Donatelli was then introduced to the audience and she immediately took charge of the night. She came out swinging with Harold Arlen’s “My Shining Hour” and the trio was ready, they responded with fire, infectious enthusiasm, intense rhythm, and maneuvered the small crowd right into their corner; now it was just a matter of keeping them there.

Donatelli then reached into her Grammy Nominated CD “When Lights are Low” for the title selection, written by the late jazz alto saxophonist Benny Carter. By her account, this was the first time she and the trio performed the tune since the nomination and it was her first visit to Yoshi’s. She seemed eager to reach deeper into the lyric. This was one of the selections on which bassist Hamilton Price’s warm reassuring bass colors shone brilliantly through and spread an inviting, seamless, musical palette over which Donatelli’s vocal pitch range undulated effortlessly.

For her first ballad of the evening, Donatelli pulled out the evergreen “Never Let Me Go.” Becoming more comfortable with herself and the audience after each ballad she sang: Ivan Lins “Kisses,” Billie Holiday’s haunting “Don’t Explain,” delivered with a swelling pathos and deep interest in the lyric, and for which, pianist Geoffrey Keezer received a Grammy nomination for ‘Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist’ category. “Why Did I Choose You” from the Broadway Show “The Yearling.” With Keezer’s penchant for subtle colors and non-intrusive piano accompaniment, Donatelli simply sang from her spirit, her heart, her experience, her feeling-center; eschewing cluttered, distracting histrionics. She ended each ballad with the tenderness of a mother’s lullaby coaxing an infant to sleep. Her forte is cemented in the ballad, each one executed with flawless clarity, and artfully shaped to emerge as a collective highlight of the evening’s performance.

Donatelli was generous and gracious to the trio, she allowed them lots of opportunity and space to stretch out during her uptempo numbers; especially drummer Jon Wickan, whose attack was sustained, relentless and sharp whenever he found openings on Rogers and Hart’s intriguing “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn’s catchy “It’s You or No One” or, the evening’s finale, Cedar Walton’s wonderful “Enchantment (Firm Roots)” with lyrics by John and Paula Hackett. Donatelli further displayed a singularly delightful touch of transforming her voice into a harmonious, malleable instrument that synced beautifully with Keezer’s piano to add verve to the coda of each standard.

It was a pity more people did not turn out to see Denise Donatelli on this night; to enjoy a memorable performance of wonderful songs that seemed to be written just for her. She swung with an impish flair; interpreted the ballad with disarming fluency; was at ease and in control at any tempo. She is a refreshingly convivial warbler and a talent to watch. She and the Geoffrey Keezer Trio are not to be missed. d confidence must wrap itself securely around Donatelli, and clearly outline her chosen career path as a jazz singer. A current resident of Los Angeles, California, she has been thrilling audiences coast-to- coast. She has made notable appearances at New York’s Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Lincoln Center, The Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival, Seattle’s Bake’s Place, Los Angeles’ Steamers and Catalina’s Jazz Clubs, San Diego’s Birch Theatre, Hermosa Beach’s Lighthouse Cafe, Northern California’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society Revue and the San Jose Jazz Festival. Armed with Two Grammy Nominations for her 2010 Savant release, “When Lights Are Low,” this critically acclaimed Jazz Singer appeared with pianist/producer/arranger Geoffrey Keezer’s trio at Yoshi’s Oakland Jazz Club on Sunday May 15, 2011 for a 7:00pm evening concert. This is where I encountered her. The day started out with showers and some hail. By evening it had cleared up considerably. It was cool, clear and comfortable; the perfect evening for some fine dining and good music. Since Yoshi’s had a spectacular Japanese restaurant in the club, I decided to avail myself of its cuisine and delve into the culinary philosophy of Chef Shotaro ‘Sho’ Kamio, which is: Seasonal, Simple, Surprise. For the ‘Seasonal’ I sampled, wild Atlantic Salmon, grilled on cedar plank, with house made terriyaki sauce, preceded by an appetizer of smoked wagyi beef carpaccio, seared rare with grated dailcon radish and sesame ponzu. The ‘Simple’ was a bowl of steamed rice, and the ‘Surprise’ came in the form of a small carafe of warm Junmai Sake. Now! I was ready! THE SHOW The Geoffrey Keezer Trio comprises Hamilton Price on bass; Jon Wickan on drums and Geoffrey Keezer on piano. This is a very dynamic and accomplished group of musicians. Bassist Hamilton Price was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas and has a B. A. degree in classical double bass performance from the University of Texas at Austin. He has played with many important figures in jazz: Billy Childs, Eric Reed, Joanne Brackeen, Patrice Rushen, Dewey Redman, Ravi Coltrane, Tom Scott, Kevin Mahogany, T. S. Monk, Randy Brecker and more. Drummer Jon Wickan was born in Petersburg, Alaska, grew up in Seattle. His influences include drummers Tony Williams, Billy Higgins, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones and Victor Lewis. He has worked with Buddy Collette, Mark Murphy, Kurt Elling, Jessica Williams, Karrin Allyson, Pat Labarbra and others. Pianist Geoffrey Keezer was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. At 18, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He has worked with singer Dianna Krall, saxophonist Joshua Redman, bassist Christian McBride, pianists Kenny Barron, Chick Corea and collaboratively with pianists Benny Green and Mulgrew Miller. His professional career spans many genres and projects. He is a recipient of Chamber Music America’s 2007 New Works Grant. One of his recent musicals, Aurea (2009) is a multinational Afro-Peruvian/Jazz recording project featuring players from New York City and Lima, Peru. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award (Best Latin Jazz Album) The bona fides of the trio speak for themselves. The crowd that attended this show was not large, but it was engaged and appreciative. The trio came first came on stage and warmed up the audience with an uptempo adaptation of Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” This also allowed the players to unwind after traveling long distances to arrive at the Jazz Club. Denise Donatelli was then introduced to the audience and she immediately took charge of the night. She came out swinging with Harold Arlen’s “My Shining Hour” and the trio was ready, they responded with fire, infectious enthusiasm, intense rhythm, and maneuvered the small crowd right into their corner; now it was just a matter of keeping them there. Donatelli then reached into her Grammy Nominated CD “When Lights are Low” for the title selection, written by the late jazz alto saxophonist Benny Carter. By her account, this was the first time she and the trio performed the tune since the nomination and it was her first visit to Yoshi’s. She seemed eager to reach deeper into the lyric. This was one of the selections on which bassist Hamilton Price’s warm reassuring bass colors shone brilliantly through and spread an inviting, seamless, musical palette over which Donatelli’s vocal pitch range undulated effortlessly. For her first ballad of the evening, Donatelli pulled out the evergreen “Never Let Me Go.” Becoming more comfortable with herself and the audience after each ballad she sang: Ivan Lins “Kisses,” Billie Holiday’s haunting “Don’t Explain,” delivered with a swelling pathos and deep interest in the lyric, and for which, pianist Geoffrey Keezer received a Grammy nomination for ‘Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist’ category. “Why Did I Choose You” from the Broadway Show “The Yearling.” With Keezer’s penchant for subtle colors and non-intrusive piano accompaniment, Donatelli simply sang from her spirit, her heart, her experience, her feeling-center; eschewing cluttered, distracting histrionics. She ended each ballad with the tenderness of a mother’s lullaby coaxing an infant to sleep. Her forte is cemented in the ballad, each one executed with flawless clarity, and artfully shaped to emerge as a collective highlight of the evening’s performance. Donatelli was generous and gracious to the trio, she allowed them lots of opportunity and space to stretch out during her uptempo numbers; especially drummer Jon Wickan, whose attack was sustained, relentless and sharp whenever he found openings on Rogers and Hart’s intriguing “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn’s catchy “It’s You or No One” or, the evening’s finale, Cedar Walton’s wonderful “Enchantment (Firm Roots)” with lyrics by John and Paula Hackett. Donatelli further displayed a singularly delightful touch of transforming her voice into a harmonious, malleable instrument that synced beautifully with Keezer’s piano to add verve to the coda of each standard. It was a pity more people did not turn out to see Denise Donatelli on this night; to enjoy a memorable performance of wonderful songs that seemed to be written just for her. She swung with an impish flair; interpreted the ballad with disarming fluency; was at ease and in control at any tempo. She is a refreshingly convivial warbler and a talent to watch. She and the Geoffrey Keezer Trio are not to be missed.