Professor Jeff Denson talks about teaching at the California Jazz Conservatory
Professor Jeff Denson talks about teaching at the California Jazz Conservatory
February 19, 2016 | CJC in the News

Jeff Denson is a musician on a mission. With three jazz ensembles, a full professorship at the California Jazz Conservatory and leadership of a nonprofit organization devoted to the enhancement of jazz in the Bay Area, the double bass master, vocalist and composer is among the busiest musical artists in Northern California. The Jeff Denson Quartet will perform Sunday at Silo’s in Napa.

Following a rich academic and artistic journey that took him around the country and the world, Denson accepted his appointment at the conservatory (then the Berkeley Jazzschool) in 2011 and moved to the Bay Area. On the phone from his East Bay home last week, he talked about the local jazz scene.

“I think there’s a fantastic scene in Northern California,” Denson said. “In many ways, it’s kind of an unsung jazz scene on the national and international scale. You have great musicians performing all throughout the Bay Area in large and small venues.

“If not many people know that it’s going on, though, it’s like if a tree falls in the woods and no one’s there. Does it happen? Does it make a sound? That’s one thing I would personally like to help with in whatever small way I can, trumpet and boost people’s awareness of the wealth of music we have here.”

As a bass player, Denson is regarded as a master in both jazz and Western classical traditions. He has recorded 10 albums as leader or co-leader of an ensemble, and a dozen more as a sideman. He has a cherished relationship in performance and in the recording studio with Lee Konitz, the veteran alto saxophone icon.

Denson spoke enthusiastically about the work of the California Jazz Conservatory, where he serves as director of its outreach program. “It’s a major center for jazz education and the only conservatory solely based on the study of jazz in the U.S.,” he said. “Any time you have a city that has a major jazz program, there’s benefits to that.

“Musicians have a place they can go and a community develops around it. You have young musicians going to study with their peers. They go in and out. They leave the school and they have a peer group that they can communicate with artistically and focus on developing a career together.

“We’re nurturing these young artists who are trained and passionate, and they’re going to keep pumping out new blood and new inspiration in the music scene. We have that here in the Bay Area now. That’s a really important component to be aware of. They’re always going to be generating this new vibrant energy.”

“And not only do you have students that are going to be young blood injected into the scene,” Denson added, “you also have people that want to see what’s going on. They’re going to want to go out and check out what the professionals are doing in the city. This helps bolster the audience base. It’s a great cycle.”

Denson’s pride was on full display when he talked about the members of his Quartet. “I have a really great band,” he said, “and we’ve worked a lot together developing a connection, a musical connection. I think that really shows in the recording that we just made, and you’ll hear it in the live show. It’s a great group.”

The Jeff Denson Quartet is Denson on bass and vocals, Dan Zemelman on keyboards, drummer Alan Hall and Grammy-nominated Paul Hanson, whom Denson regards as the world’s premier improvising bassoonist. Their upcoming CD is “Concentric Circles.”

“I really do hope there’s a lot of people out for the show,” Denson said. “This is very unique music we’re performing. It’s challenging, but I think it’s very special. Of course I’m biased, but it’s special music that brings together influences of many things. The true thing about it is the heart behind it, the integrity and the strength of the melodies.”

Sunday, Feb. 21, 4 p.m. Presented by the Napa Valley Jazz Society (NVJS). $45, $25 for NVJS members. Silo’s, 530 Main St., Napa. 707-251-5833.

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