Born: March 20, 1972 Primary Instrument: Piano
Continuing in a tradition while pioneering new ways of viewing the world around them has always been the daily work of artists, whether they be jazz musicians or religious mystics. In the case of pianist/composer/vocalist Deanna Witkowski, the paths of practicing the disciplines of living as a jazz musician and as a person of faith have converged in her beautiful, genre-defying fourth recording, From This Place. Marrying ancient and modern sacred texts with the richness of jazz, Ms. Witkowski has saved her most honest and soulful music for this new release.
From This Place finds Ms. Witkowski leading a core quartet, with Donny McCaslin on saxophones, John Patitucci on acoustic and electric bass, and Scott Latzky on drums. Her previously documented wide-ranging stylistic and emotional palette is broadened by the addition of guest vocalists Laila Biali, Peter Eldridge (of the New York Voices), and 2009 Grammy-nominated Kate McGarry. With its emphasis on breathing new life into texts from nineteenth century poets, the Mass, scriptures, and her own pen, Ms. Witkowski shows another side of her considerable talent: a stunning gift to find the essence of a text and to translate that essence into sound along with a contemplative spirit as an original lyricist.
Ms. Witkowski’s previous three releases, Length of Days (2005), Wide Open Window (2003), and Having to Ask (2000) clearly demonstrated her prowess as “one of the best of the new generation of jazz pianists” (Jazz Journal International) and showcased her rich fusions of jazz, Brazilian, and Afro-Cuban music. Her “consistently thrilling playing” (All Music Guide) was publicly confirmed in 2002 when she won the Great American Jazz Piano Competition. Subsequent invitations to appear on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz followed in 2003.
Ms. Witkowski’s 2009 itinerary includes a return appearance on Weekend Edition Sunday on Easter Sunday (April 12th) and a May appearance at the Kennedy Center with her project, Moving with the Spirit: The Sacred Jazz of Mary Lou Williams. Moving with the Spirit is the official educational component of the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, and has also been presented at Duke University and at the International Association for Jazz Education conference.
Ms. Witkowski also embodies a love of Brazilian culture. Fluent in Portuguese, she has toured twice in Brazil, most recently appearing at the Recife Jazz Festival. Her travels have also led to performances at the Tel Aviv Opera House and Espaço Bis in Rio de Janeiro. She spent the summer of 2004 touring internationally as the pianist for vocalist Lizz Wright, and since 2006 has been the pianist in the BMI/New York Jazz Composers Orchestra, led by Jim McNeely. She holds a M.A. in jazz piano performance from the City College of New York and a B.M. in classical piano performance from Wheaton College (IL).
Awards:2005: Grant recipient from New England Foundation for the Arts/Meet the Composer 2002: Winner of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition
If, among contemporary pianists, Brad Mehldau and Bill Charlap represent the gold standard, then Deanna Witkowski deservedly ranks as their sterling sister. -Christopher Loudon, JazzTimes
One of the best of the new generation of jazz piano players. -Bruce Crowther, Jazz Journal International
Witkowski is not far from jazz stardom with her keyboard techniques, her imaginative composing and arranging, and her wordless vocalizing. Remember her name. -Harvey Siders, JazzTimes
As a Sideperson
Uncle Wiggly Suite
John Savage, Mark Dresser, and others.
James Finn Quartet
James Finn, Leon Lee Dorsey, Klaus Kugel
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New York, NY
Willing to teach:
Advanced students only.
In 2008, Ms. Witkowski's clinic, "Moving with the Spirit: the sacred jazz of Mary Lou Williams" was featured at the 2008 IAJE conference. To download a press release with more info on this presentation that combines trio performance with spoken historical narrative, visit http://deannajazz.com/sacred.shtml Recorded samples from the clinic are available on request. In addition, Ms. Witkowski offers clinics on Brazilian music, rhythm section interplay, and on effective accompaniment for vocalists. She is fluent in Portuguese and is especially interested in teaching opportunities in Brazil.