Primary Instrument: Guitar, acoustic
KJ Denhert is a unique artist, singer, guitarist and songwriter who calls her music Urban Folk and Jazz. Her voice is powerful, her lyrics full of intelligent insight, and her musicianship is impeccable. Her eclectic yet unified performances reach out to many different types of audiences without compromising her music and beliefs. She is heard at her best on her most recent recording, Lucky 7 and is known to be especially good live. She performs the unusual feat of being both highly individual and quite accessible.
KJ remembers, “I picked up a guitar when I was ten and immediately I started writing music. I loved Sergio Mendes’ songs, liked John Hartford on the Glenn Campbell Show and really got into James Taylor and Joni Mitchell who I still consider my two main influences. I also loved the singer-songwriters of the time including Carole King and Laura Nyro and later fell in love with Steely Dan’s music, and just wore out my copy of Hubert Laws’ Rite Of Spring. I was completely self-taught, by llistening to records and playing them over and over, teaching myself tablature from a great James Taylor book and modal tunings from Joni Mitchell’s For The Roses song book. I didn’t really do anything but play guitar through my teenage years.”
In the 1980s, KJ Denhert toured for six years as the lead guitarist and occasional vocalist with an all-female band called Fire, playing rock and top-40 music throughout the US, Canada and Europe. After the group ran its course, she worked at a day job while continuing to write and play music. While working in Cleveland as a financial analyst, she started the Mother Cyclone label and made her first recording. Moving home to New York in 1997, she formed the NY Unit, a group that she still performs with. “I look for players who have an ability to groove and have lots of drama in their playing.
Lucky 7 (which is set to be released in September 2007) is KJ Denhert’s seventh recording to date. “I left my day job three years ago and this is the record that I’ve been wanting to record ever since. It combines all of the styles that I grew up with and enjoyed, going all the way back to Sergio Mendes. It has a bit of acoustic guitar, some r&b and it grooves in what I hope after seven recordings is a signature of my style. I took the chance to tip my hat to Steely Dan for the first time in a recording and James Taylor’s influence comes through me in the solo guitar and voice rendition of Sad Song.
Lucky 7, was recorded and mixed by Ben Wisch (Marc Cohn, Jonatha Brooke) bringing more focus to KJ’s vocals than previous recordings. She also teamed up with keyboardist and producer Bennett Paster to co-produce five tracks after they worked together in Italy last summer. There are 11 originals and a sensitive version of Over The Rainbow ”When people hear me perform that standard, they regularly ask me if I am going to put it on a CD, so I did”. Among the many other highlights are the funky opener Little Problems the swinging Lucky Seven, the spirited He’s Not Coming Home, the infectious three-part “What‚s My Name, the powerful I Got Time, the wistful Beautiful and Man As A Man, KJ’s unaccompanied performance of Sad Song and the exuberant Rivera which has a passionate electric guitar solo from Sheryl Bailey.
Among KJ Denhert’s many accomplishments, in addition to running her own band and label, are three highly successful appearances at Umbria Jazz (“the audience response was very gratifying”), an ongoing residency since 1999 at The 55 Bar in NYC, winning many songwriting contests (including being named among the six winners of the Kerrville New Folk Song contest in June 2006 for Private Angel and the Mountain Stage Newsong contest in August 05 for Little Mary), and successful appearances at other festivals and clubs around the world. Her previous recording, Another Year Gone By, Live won the 2006 Independent Music Award for Best Live Performance.
“ For me, the highpoints come from playing and working with people who I really respect.
My bassist, Mamadou Ba who is originally from Senegal, has been with me the longest since 1997 when I started the NY Unit. Other long term members include drummer Ray Levier and keyboardist Peter Vitalone, both of whom have been with KJ since’98 and ‘99. I am always interested in stretching myself and performing my music in different ways. The Lucky 7 recordings feature some wonderful pairings of great players that I don’t always get to tour with but who have appeared in with me at The 55 and are wonderful friends too.
KJ manages between 120-140 performances a year. New music, places to play and new festivals are what she’s about these days “… so we can keep on performing for new audiences. I can’t stop, this is what I do.”
A crowd pleaser whose music is impossible to classify but very easy to enjoy, KJ Denhert is in her own special category.