Deanna Witkowski

Deanna Witkowski


Whether she is performing an original mass setting, singing an Ivan Lins tune in Portuguese, watching the rain in her heartrending version of "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo," or playing burning montunos in her songo version of Charlie Parker's "Au Privave," Witkowski consistently plays with joyous abandon.


Watch a streaming video of an August 2008 Kennedy Center performance online at

Winner of the 2002 Great American Jazz Piano Competition and a past guest on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, pianist/composer/vocalist Deanna Witkowski brings an exuberance and vitality of spirit to her fusions of jazz, brazilian, afro-cuban, and sacred music. Her April 2009 release, “From This Place,” is her fourth recording as a bandleader, and her first to exclusively feature her sacred jazz material with musicians including John Patitucci, Donny McCaslin, and Kate McGarry.

Witkowski’s road to jazz began as an undergraduate while she was completing a degree in classical piano at Wheaton College (Illinois). Her tenure in a salsa band during her days on the Chicago jazz scene in the mid-1990s led her to Latin jazz. Her desire to explore Africa led to a semester of teaching piano in Kenya. All roads converged in New York City, where she moved in 1997 and worked for three years as music director of All Angels’ Episcopal Church.

While working in the church, Ms. Witkowski continued to pursue her love of composition by writing new pieces both for church services as well as for her New York quartet, which she formed in 1998. Her second recording, Wide Open Window, led to an invitation to appear on National Public Radio twice: first, on Weekend Edition Sunday; and soon thereafter, on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz. The recording was listed on several best-of-2003 lists, and led one reviewer to name Ms. Witkowski as “one of the best of the new generation of piano players” in Jazz Journal International.

Ms. Witkowski 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 holds down the piano chair in the the BMI/New York Jazz Composers Orchestra, led by Jim McNeely. Ms. Witkowski also specializes in the sacred music of Mary Lou Williams. In 2008, her presentation Moving with the Spirit: the sacred jazz of Mary Lou Williams, was showcased at the International Association for Jazz Education conference as well as at Duke University, and will be reprised at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in May 2009.

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From This Place

Written By: Deanna Witkowski

I wake in the dark
Shell-shocked dreaming awake
I see you on a cross

My feet touch stone-cold earth
As I fall out of sleep
And wander towards your tomb
sunlight cannot pierce this darkness
It only shines on your tomb
It only shines on where the stone is gone

My feet touch stone-cold earth
As I run from this place
To tell the others you loved
That now no one knows where you are
It wasn’t bad enough we had to watch you die
But now even your body is gone
Weeping I stare into your tomb
And find two angels there
Who ask me why I weep

And I wonder if they want to hear the story of my life
The deadness that I’d carried before I met this Christ
My aloneness in hiding from the hurts that I’d received
My fearfulness in not knowing now in whom I could believe
But even as my mind is racing now I sense behind
I turn around to find a man is standing by my side
He asks me why I weep and who I’m looking for inside
I ask him if he’s taken the body of my Christ…

He answers me by speaking my name

And I know who he is
And he asks me to go
He asks me to tell you
That he is alive
And I stand on this earth
And I run from this place…

My feet touch stone-cold earth as I run from this place

Never Before

Written By: Deanna Witkowski

The angel said the Lord is with me:

The Lord is with me in a way he’s never been before;
His Spirit is my lover, his son shall fill my womb
With holiness and joy
And with life that I can feel kicking at my insides.

The Lord will stay with me in a way he’s never stayed before;
He will suckle at my breast and let me hold him in my arms.
He will run to me when he cuts his finger
Or wonders aloud at his Father’s creation in a brightly colored butterfly.

Oh, who is this child Lord who comes from up above,
Whose eyes will look beyond my own to a destiny I do not know?
Oh, who is this God boy whose hands shall clasp mine
And whose tears I shall wipe away with trembling fingers of my own?

The Lord will leave me in a way he’s never left before;
As a king whose time has come, as a son his mother loved,
As a boy whose laughter has filled my heart
And as a baby whose tears I have cried as if they were my own.

The angel said the Lord is with me.


2009: From This Place (Tilapia)
2005: Length of Days (ArtistShare)
2003: Wide Open Window (Khaeon World Music)
2000: Having to Ask (JazzLine)

Set List

Here is a sample 60-70 minute set list. Sets can vary in length depending on what the performance requires.

A Rare Appearance (Witkowski)- an original baião
New August Tune (Witkowski)
Straight, No Chaser (Monk; arr. Witkowski)- in 5/4
Selections from Evening Mass (Witkowski)
From This Place (Witkowski)
Pontos Cardeais (Ivan Lins; arr. Witkowski)
Feed the Birds (Sherman/Sherman; arr. Witkowski)
O, the Deep, Deep Love (Thomas J. Williams- public domain; arr. Witkowski)
Just One of Those Things (Porter; arr. Witkowski)