Finally at the end of my day; Denise Donatelli. I made my way over to Cafe Stritch and was greeted by an impatient, hungry line of over 70 people clamoring to see this 4 time Grammy nominee vocalist. Hey, with a line like this, how am I going to get into this place? But wait. Mike gave me a Streetwise press pass. With a sticker. I walked right up to the door and flashed the pass.
"OK," she said, "and uhh...oh yeah, you got that sticker."
I went into an empty room with the stage lights set up just right and the band was doing their mic checks. I snapped off a few shots to get my exposures down and after I burned enough frames I notice a cat tuning the piano. I was floored. I've never seen that before. I mean they always tune of for Yuja Wang and Daniel Barinboim but I've never seen a tuner for jazz or pop music. So when he was done I go over and talk this spritely Japanese dude dressed in ninja black.
"So you tune before every gig?"
"Naaa", he says, "I just hang out here cus' I love the jazz. I tune because I really want them to sound good. But a lot of guys don't appreciate it...and some guys; even really good musicians, can't even tell the difference,".
"I know man, it's sick !".
"But I just tune cus' I love it", he said, "and I want to give something back to them. So if they can't enjoy it to hell with them man." We laughed our guts out like long lost brothers.
Then I said, "So you tune ... that means you play."
"Yeah, I play", he said, "but I'm a really bad player."
"We're on the same page", I said, "It takes me two years to learn something that my 16 year old son can learn in two weeks. So if you still want to listen to me, to hell with you!!" Our laughter was broken by a KCSM dj putting in a big plug for the station and introducing, let's say it right here, the amazing Denise Donetelli.
Then Denise comes on stage and immediately has the audience in her back pocket. She's like that smooth cocktail you reward yourself with at the end of a hard day's work. The clarity of voice, the effortless sustains, the inviting warm embrace of this wonderful singer. She uses her insturment to bring new life to standards such as Green Dolphin Street and fresh interpretations of comtemporary tunes like Soul Shadows , No Better, and A Promise. I especially enjoy her rendition of the bossa nova style tune Ange where she combines latin rythms with minor discordant harmonies, not unlike the great jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, all with comfortably pure tonality and an effortlessly clear voice.
According to Wikipedia, Denise Donatelli started as a classical pianist at the age of three and studied for 15 years. For three consecutive years she won first place in competitions held by the National Federation of Music Clubs. After college, she married and had sons. To remain with her family, she did not begin to sing professionally until the boys reached their teenage years.
She has recorded studio spots for episodes of The Simpsons and television promos for Frasier, Card Sharks and Turner Classic Movies as well as national and international commercials for CNN, Hyundai, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and many more.
She has performed with Bill Mays, Roger Kellaway, Tamir Hendelmen, Bob Sheppard, Joe LaBarbara, the Stan Kenton Alumni Band. She tours extensively, performing at jazz festivals; like the San Jose Jazz Festival, jazz clubs, performing art centers, and with university jazz bands where she conducts master clinics.
Her next gig is in La Jolla, CA with Geoffrey Keezer and Friends who she records with. Donatelli has released five albums; three have been nominated for Grammy's. Although this singer's voice is truly a reward in itself, no one will be surprised if Denise Donatelli's next album finally wins the recognition this fine singer deserves.
Tom Wing Wo