Denise La Grassa
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Denise La Grassa


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"April Dreams Review"

November 1, 2009

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic, Chicago Sun-Times

A veteran of the Second City Touring Company, suburban Chicago native Denise La Grassa made her mark in that talented troupe with a bit called "Make-A-Song," writing and performing tunes on the spot based on any topic the audience shouted out. That loose, carefree and immediate vibe still permeates her third album, the recent DIY release "April Dreams," but don't let it fool you into thinking the music is tossed-off.

With an impressive but never showy range and a self-assured, conversational delivery that brings to mind a jazzier Aimee Mann, La Grassa offers uniquely personal and melodically powerful takes on romance in standout originals such as "Yesterday's Replay" and "Best Day," while local producer Matt Thompson (the Mighty Blue Kings, Frisbee) captures the spare but perfect accompaniment of a four-piece backing band.
- Chicago Sun-Times

"April Dreams Review"

By Matthew Warnock
June 29, 2009

April Dreams is a sultry album of original pop/jazz vocal compositions by Illinois-based singer Denise La Grassa. Featuring the solid rhythm-section work of guitarist Scott Tipping, bassist Matt Thompson, drummer Gerald Dowd and pianist Ben Lewis, the album is both tasteful and emotionally engaging. With catchy melodies, a strong ensemble performance and well-written lyrics, April Dreams weaves its way through the entire spectrum of modern pop/jazz in a highly entertaining fashion.

All of its songs, with the exception of one, were written by the multi-talented La Grassa and arranged by Matt Thompson, the ensemble's bassist. La Grassa's writing style is a direct reflection of the multitude of influences and inspirations that she draws upon as a performer. There are Beatles-esque numbers such as "Get Home & Give Me Love," deep-grooving bluesy numbers that would make Leonard Cohen proud such as "Deep Down Love," and emotional ballads including Matt Kanelos'"String of a Kite," which features a softly spoken groove in five that accentuates La Grassa's smooth vocal line. Thompson's arrangements are firmly based in the American pop tradition with just enough jazz, blues and soul to keep things from becoming monotonous. His use of strings on "April Dreams" and the seldom-used baritone guitar on "Best Day" add just the right timbre, highlighting La Grassa's vocal ability without getting in the way or burying the melody line in a mountain of sound.

La Grassa's melodic interpretations bring an emotional connection to each lyric and melody line, while her ability to make large melodic leaps with ease—with spot-on intonation—provide for some very interesting melody lines, often more reminiscent of a saxophone or guitar than a vocalist. One reason why the album avoids any stagnation is La Grassa's constantly changing vocal tone and timbre: she moves between dark and sultry to light and breathy, and everything in between, with the greatest of ease and without sounding disjointed or unrelated.

April Dreams is entertaining on emotional and musical levels. The lyrics are masterfully crafted, the melodies sticky and the band tight. While the album is not going to fall into the modern or traditional jazz categories, the mixture of jazz, pop, blues and folk is a catalyst for highly creative and emotionally charged playing.

Denise La Grassa at All About Jazz.
Visit Denise La Grassa on the web.

Track listing: Get Home & Give Me Love; April Dreams; Deep Down Love; Yesterday's Replay; Best Day; Sweet Talk; Perfect Little Girl; Waited a Lifetime; String of a Kite; Loving for Loves Sake.

Personnel: Denise La Grassa: vocals; Scott Tipping: guitar & baritone guitar; Ben Lewis: keyboards; Gerald Dowd: drums; Matt Thompson: bass; Clifford Bivins: keyboard & guitar.

- All About Jazz

"April Dreams Review"

By John Ziegler, Duluth News-Tribune
May 21, 2009

Denise LaGrassa is a Chicago-based singer, songwriter and keyboardist who makes her first visit, with her trio, to the Grand Marais Jazz Festival this weekend.

Her new release, “April Dreams,” showcases her sultry voice and her pithy compositional abilities. But, intriguingly, there was something in the mix — like a secret ingredient — that set her style apart from the many other jazzy song sorcerers out there, and it took me a while to put my finger on what it was.

She’s got a serendipitous pop flavor to the topics she chooses to flesh out. There’s a jazzy fragrance to her vocal phrasing, even though nothing on “April Dreams” would be considered jazz to a purist who favors Ella or Sassy (Sarah Vaughn). There’s a pungent soulfulness omnipresent … but there was just something that infects each song I couldn’t identify until it hit me: show tunes!

Denise LaGrassa’s new disc sounds like it could be the score to some impassioned new play on Broadway. I can almost visualize, in my mind’s eye, how the scenes would be blocked and lit on the musical theater stage.

“Get Home & Give Me Love” has a frothy sing-song style with prissy drums, vampy acoustic piano, snarky guitar and lyrics of fervent longing for her man who is needed … now. The theater production would be a vibrant mix of male and female dancers with arms and legs flying and bodies twirling.

“Deep Down Love” has this murky vibe that reminds me of the late bluesman John C. Campbell. There’s a veil-like shroud that the organ creates while the drums punctuate from below and the vocals flutter on top. This would feature black-clad dancers with cat-like moves gliding from side to side.

“Sweet Talk” has the rueful gypsy-rock feel of Sophie B. Hawkins complete with translucent lyrics that incisively describe the narrator’s feelings for a lover.

“Waited a Lifetime” has a devilishly angelic feel, with propulsive energy, guitar chordal punches and a quivering guitar solo that sounds as if it should be accompanied visually by a ’60s strobe light.

The vivacious “Looking for Love’s Sake” is a reminder not to take your significant other too lightly and points out the importance of loving for the correct reasons. It’s got a summery groove, wailin’ B-3 ride, tangy guitar and drums that pack a wallop.

With elegant musicianship, a batch of “love-gone-right” songs, her warm expressive pipes, butter-smooth arrangements and the feel of the theater always hovering, “April Dreams” is multidimensional.
- Duluth News-Tribune


April Dreams (2009)
Pieces of Peace (2002)

April Dreams received airplay on 75+ stations in the U.S. beginning in late 2009



With the release of April Dreams, her third CD of original tunes, Denise La Grassa can't help but look back on her childhood in suburban Chicago. Her infectious laugh bubbles out of her as she remembers the beginning of her songwriting career. "I was 5, maybe 6 years old and I was writing songs like mad. Once I had a fistful ready to go, I would head out and knock on my neighbors doors and sing the songs right there on their doorstep! I was hoping they'd like the songs enough to buy them. I thought if I sold enough songs, I could buy birthday & Christmas presents for my family. I tell you, I was on my way, but once my family phone started ringing with those, ahh, entertained neighbors, my Mom, uh, politely asked me to stop. But I did get a few dollars in my pocket, and more importantly, I got confidence at an early age as a songwriter."

Her song-selling may have been stopped prematurely, but Denise continued writing. "In third grade, I decided to tackle playwriting. My teacher, Mrs. Collins, read my stories, thought I was pretty good and arranged a meeting with the elementary school principal. She allowed me and my group of third grade thespians the chance to perform a Christmas play for the school. We rehearsed in the library after school, we got parents involved typing scripts, finding props and designing costumes. The play was a huge success and I was on my way to fame and fortune. But then, 4th grade blindsided me. My new teacher was, how should I say this, a wee bit underwhelmed by my endless creativity. I did write a few plays and songs, but my grades suffered, and I was "diagnosed" as a hyper-creative child. Back then I was misunderstood. I still wrote songs and plays, but when I was done, I tucked them inside my piano bench. I was really bummed."

On break one summer from college, Denise traveled to a place called The Second City in Chicago and discovered a school for performers and writers. "I couldn't believe what I found. A SCHOOL for people LIKE ME!!!! I left college and soaked up improv writing and acting. Within a year I was traveling with The Second City Touring Company and having the time of my life. One of my favorite improv techniques was called "Make-A-Song." The audience would shout out topics and ideas and I had to make up songs on the spot. I had a blast writing and singing melodies & parodies under pressure. My only regret is that I don't have recordings of those performances ... then again, maybe that's a good thing!"

Following her stint at The Second City, Denise continued to work in professional theater, performing in plays and musicals. She also wrote and produced two musical One-Person shows. In between musical theater, she landed small parts in a couple of made for HBO movies, including Hometown Boy Makes Good with Anthony Edwards (She's the funny secretary). And you can still occasionally catch her portrayals of real life people on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries. Despite her busy acting schedule, Denise made time for her music. She performed with her band at nearly every Chicago music venue, and produced two CD's of original music. The Tracks was released in 1999 and Pieces of Peace three years later. "My old Professor and mentor Bill Russo, who was a big band arranger - he arranged for Stan Kenton among others - kept telling me that I was a talented songwriter and that I should keep writing songs. So I produced those CD's myself and shopped them around to a few labels. But I was so busy acting and performing my One-Person musical shows that I wasn't able to give it the big push that it needed."

Just over two years ago, Denise moved downstate to Bloomington. "Boy that move forced me to focus on songwriting, I sure wasn't going to get cast in movies or TV living in Central Illinois." The move turned out to be a blessing. "Overall, these are the best songs I've ever written." You can hear those songs on her April Dreams CD. "I feel like I've returned to my early years of skipping door to door selling songs to raise money, except now people are on MY doorstep/website where they can sample and buy my new songs!"