Deanna Witkowski
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Witkowski's playing is consistently thrilling, and her musical imagination seems boundless.
-Rick Anderson, All Music Guide - AMG


JazzTimes- February 2006
Deanna Witkowski
Length of Days (ArtistShare)

If, among contemporary pianists, Brad Mehldau and Bill Charlap represent the gold standard, then Deanna Witkowski deservedly ranks as their sterling sister. Echoing Mehldau’s genre-blurring vivacity and Charlap’s harmonic sophistication, the classically trained Witkowski textures her increasingly assured playing with the Latin and African influences she adores and the sacred themes she lives by. That she sings, too, in a reedy voice that’s no match for her keyboard authoritativeness but is intriguingly arresting nonetheless, is simply enrichment to her hearty musical stew.

On this, her third album as leader (available only at deannajazz.com), she teams with saxophonist Donny McCaslin, bassist Dave Ambrosio and drummer Vince Cherico on an intoxicatingly bubbly “Straight, No Chaser,” infuses “In the Still of the Night” with starlight twinkle and filters “I’m Beginning to See the Light” through a multihued prism. It is, though, two less obvious choices- the jaunty “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo,” lifted from a 1953 Leslie Caron musical and slowed to a snail’s pace, and the Sherman brothers’ winsome “Feed the Birds” (from Mary Poppins)- coupled with the self-penned title track (based on the biblical account of St. Paul’s conversion) that best reflect the gentle humanity of Witkowski’s jazz soul.

-Christopher Loudon
- JT


DEANNA WITKOWSKI
Wide Open Window (Khaeon)


Remember the name Deanna Witkowski. The 31-year-old New Yorker is not far from jazz stardom with her keyboard techniques, her mastery of exotic time signatures, her imaginative composing and arranging (much of her writing includes sacred music) and her wordless vocalizing. The latter is most impressive on Wide Open Window (Khaeon), her second CD as leader. The title tune is a blues-drenched jazz waltz, allowing for clever interplay between piano and Donny McCaslin's tenor. She takes Cole Porter's "From This Moment On" over a slow Latin beat, blending her voice with McCaslin's soprano sax. The way-up samba "A Rare Appearance" blends wordless voice again, this time with tenor sax. Her blazing straightahead technique comes through on Porter's "Just One of Those Things," with great support from bassist Jonathan Paul and drummer Tom Hipskind. She cleverly fashions bookends from a Chopin etude for a solo version of "You and the Night and the Music," and ends in a heavenly mood, singing "Sanctus," from one of her jazz masses. Remember her name.

-Harvey Siders - JT


Deanna Witkowski- Wide Open Window

Ms. Witkowski's pronounced imagination on her second CD as a leader reminds me of how often I change my mind about a long-ago McCoy Tyner trio performance of Thelonious Monk's "Ruby, My Dear" - sorry, I forget what 1980s Prestige Records session it was but I know it wasn't SUPERTRIOS - anyway, in that arrangement Tyner threw so many grace notes in his playing of the theme, it was as if he was trying to make of it a Maurice Ravel melody. Sometimes I dig it, other times I'm like, "It's what Monk left out that made that tune, man!" Well, there's a similar rhapsodic sense of pure invention to be heard in WIDE OPEN WINDOW: you have to be in the mood for much of this CD, but if you are, it'll hook you and never let you go. Other times you may, "Hmmmm, I don't know" For example, Cole Porter's "All Through The Night" gets a slightly-up-tempo Bill Evans-like treatment with a modal feel, keeping my eyebrows at 12 o'clock high; it's ingenious and it proves that there's very little Ms. Witkowski can't do. It's just a question of whether you want to hear Porter's classic weeper reimagined to this extent. Tom Hipskind's drums are especially fluent here, matching Witkowski 16th note for 16th note. Other members of this well-rounded band include Don McCaslin (saxophones) and Jonathan Paul (bass); I think Paul may be a bit undermiked but he backs the group with a delicious tone and no small presence, particularly on the blues-flavored title track. Ms. W. seldom fails to find hidden tonal depths wherever she chooses to look: even Rodgers and Hammerstein's delightfully corny "A Wonderful Guy" starts off with a quiet, meditative reading with an undercurrent of near-religious joy. So McCaslin's throaty jump out of the gate once the rhythm section kicks the piece into gear is a surprise of near Cannonball Adderly-like fervor. Very nice surprise, as long as one is receptive.

Elsewhere the force of Ms. Witkowski's argument is undeniable and simply has to be admired, or what do you listen to Jazz for, anyway? A solo "You and the Night and the Music" has the perfect diction of a Beethoven sonata. The closing "Sanctus," a more direct ecclesiastical statement, is the Christian prayer set to glowing accompaniment, deriving from a mass written when Ms. W. was music director for an obviously very hip Episcopal church in Manhattan. I like her singing, it's natural and affecting and breathy: exactly what the music called for. And Porter's "Just One Of Those Things" has the melody stripped off and the undercarriage exposed (you have to look again at the CD listing to see what song this really is) but no one can argue with the facility with which Ms. W. completely takes the song's chords apart and reassembles them in the break. Paul's bass solo thereafter is simply ferocious, and the trading of 4s before the coda is also not done just because we're following the tradition slavishly. It's done because it was supposed to be.

Art is not necessarily something about which we decide what we think and then go on to something else, and never change our minds about it. It will hit us at different times in different ways. WIDE OPEN WINDOW will refuse to allow you to file it away and forget about. It’s too different and too vital. Bravo, Ms. Witkowski.

- Ken Egbert
- Jazz Now


Length of Days
Deanna Witkowski | ArtistShare
By John Kelman

Brian Camelio’s ArtistShare model, allowing music to be distributed without the inherent loss of profitability that comes from dealing with all manner of middle men, has taken off in the past two years, with releases by artists like Maria Schneider, Jim Hall, and Cuong Vu.
By placing more control in the artist’s hands, he’s made it possible for the kinds of sales numbers associated with jazz’s more marginalized position to not inherently result in financial
loss. And while the idea of internet-only sales is relatively new, the success of many of ArtistShare’s releases proves that people are willing to accept innovative ways to get their music.

It’s an especially important concept for less-known artists like pianist/vocalist Deanna Witkowski. While her first two albums--Having to Ask (Jazzline, 2000) and Wide Open Window (Khaeon, 2003)--demonstrated an emerging talent, Length of Days is her most fully-realized to date, and consequently a perfect fit for the growing reputation and influence of ArtistShare.

It’s no surprise that Witkowski studied with Chucho Valdés and Hilario Duràn, as her own writing clearly reflects an interest in Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music. But she’s equally informed by the more detailed compositional approach of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. The airy two-chord vamp that provides the foundation for her solo on “Beautiful Hands” sounds, in fact, like an outtake from Pat Metheny Group (ECM, 1978), specifically the popular “Phase Dance.” But her conception is all-acoustic, incorporating her wordless vocals in the same way that Metheny would on later albums like Still Life (Talking) (Geffen, 1987).

Still, while Witkowski retains strong ties to the music of Brazil, her references are subsumed in a distinctively soft veneer that isn’t afraid to apply bolder contemporary harmony. When she sings lyrics, as she does on the little-known MGM tune “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo” and her own title track--a melancholy ballad which still possesses a clear optimism--she remains whisper-like and understated.

The overall ambience of Length of Days is relaxed and gentle--introspective, even--although the quartet’s look at Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night” has a slow burn to it, as does the aforementioned “Beautiful Hands.” And while Witkowski’s piano style bears little of Monk’s quirkiness on the classic “Straight, No Chaser,” her ending--where she and saxophonist Donny McCaslin take the final phrase and reiterate it on a continual ascension into the stratosphere--shows that she’s not without a sense of humour.

Witkowski’s playing is considered but never contrived. Though she reflects some of Lyle Mays’ romantic impressionism, she’s a more steadfastly economical player. McCaslin, on the other hand, generates real heat on “Beautiful Hands” and meshes beautifully with Witkowski’s voice on “Song for Sarah” and in playful call-and-response fashion on ”Prayer for Linda.”

The depth of Witkowski’s approach is almost concealed by her elegant delivery, but she’s another contemporary jazz artist who successfully masks complexity in an undeniably accessible sound. Length of Days is a high water mark in Witkowski’s career to date, and one well worth checking out.
- All About Jazz


Discography

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

Photos

Bio

Watch a streaming video of an August 2008 Kennedy Center performance online at http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium/artist_detail.cfm?artist_id=DWITKOWTRI

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.

For more information, visit deannajazz.com.