deanna witkowski
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deanna witkowski

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"Length of Days- Jazz Times"

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, 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
- JazzTimes

"Length of Days- Irish Times"

DEANNA WITKOWSKI Length of Days (ArtistShare) ****

Witkowski is an emerging and impressive pianist, singer and composer on the New York scene, whose influences probably include Chucho Valdés and Lyle Mays. Her sheer musicality is abundantly evident, from a well-developed sense of line and harmony in composition, to the airily individual takes on standards like Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo, In the Still of the Night and I'm Beginning to See the Light. Although she's a good singer with a light, almost artless delivery that is, in fact, highly artful, it's her piano and composing that register most strongly. The four Witkowski originals are full of character, and the album benefits enormously from the presence of the marvellous Donny McCaslin on tenor and soprano, with Dave Ambrosio (bass) and Vince Cherico (drums) making up a formidable quartet playing music that manages to combine complexity with accessibility.

Ray Comiskey
- Irish Times

"Length of Days- All About Jazz"

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 (Orchard, 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.

-John Kelman

- All About Jazz


As a leader:

Length of Days (ArtistShare- 2005)
Wide Open Window (Khaeon- 2003)
Having to Ask (Jazzline- 2000)

As a sideperson:

Great Spirit (Not Two- 2005)- James Finn Quartet


Feeling a bit camera shy


33-year-old pianist/composer/vocalist Deanna Witkowski, winner of the 2002 Great American Jazz Piano Competition and a past guest on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, looks to diverse musical worlds in her fusions of jazz, afro-latin, classical, and sacred music. Her 2003 recording, Wide Open Window, led reviewers to praise her playing as “consistently thrilling” (All Music Guide) and to name Witkowski as “one of the best of the new generation of jazz pianists” (Jazz Journal International). Highlights of Witkowski’s 2004/5 schedule have included leading her group at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Tel Aviv Opera House, and the Jacksonville and Rochester Jazz Festivals; touring as part of vocalist Lizz Wright’s quartet in Europe and the US; and teaching a course in jazz arranging in Frankfurt. Her new quartet release, Length of Days, has just been released on ArtistShare in November 2005.

Trained as a classical pianist and flutist, Witkowski didn't discover jazz until attending Wheaton College, in Illinois. Upon graduating she attended DePaul University in Chicago, but left her degree program to perform full time. Her wide-ranging interests expanded beyond jazz and classical: in 1996, she taught piano for a semester in Kenya, and shortly thereafter developed a fascination with Cuban music, studying with pianists Chucho Valdés and Hilario Durán. The results of her travels are in ample evidence on her first recording, Having to Ask, which received unusually strong reviews for a debut in the international jazz press.

Witkowski’s musical interests took another turn when she began coordinating an annual jazz service at Chicago’s LaSalle Street Church. Her interest in composing for the liturgy led to a three year position as music director at All Angels' Church in New York, where she moved in 1997. Her tenure at All Angels’ led to an extensive catalog of new liturgical music, including two jazz masses. Witkowski now serves as music director at Church of the Redeemer in Astoria, Queens, and continues to present her sacred music in churches around the country.

A sampling of Witkowski’s recent accomplishments illustrate the growing interest in her skills as a performer, composer, and bandleader: her quartet has performed at the Kennedy Center’s Women in Jazz Festival, the International Association for Jazz Education Conference, and on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday; she is a member of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop; her choral commission for the Rochester based choir, Concentus, received a November 2004 premiere; and she has performed with Fred Hersch in a duo piano series at New York’s Jazz Gallery.