Barbara Dennerlein: Internationally celebrated Hammond & Pipe Organ virtuoso.
Her CDs have won numerous awards, including the German Record Critics Award. Her CD "Take Off" (Verve/Universal) even reached number 1 in the jazz charts and was the best-selling German jazz album of the year. Barbara Dennerlein belongs to the small circle of German artists of international repute. On her recordings and in her concerts, she stands out as a member of a new generation of jazz musicians, and is regarded by her peers and her audiences alike as one of the leading representatives of her instrument, the legendary Hammond B3.
It is an awe-inspiring experience to watch Barbara live on stage. As the most important and most successful German jazz export, she is familiar with large international festival stages and intimate clubs alike. A list of venues where she has wowed audiences is as varied as it is long: the "Blue Note" and the "Sweet Basil" in New York, "Ronnie Scott's Club" and the "Jazz Café" in London and the "Blue Note" in Tokyo; Philadelphia, Berkley, San Jose, San Diego; the Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, and Victoria jazz festivals; European festivals in The Hague, the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands, the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland, the Molde Jazz in Norway, the Arhus Jazz Festival in Denmark, the Maastricht-Kortrijk Festival in Belgium, the Vitoria Festival de Jazz in Spain, and German festivals in Berlin, Frankfurt, Leverkusen, Nuremberg, Vilshofen, Burghausen, Freiburg, Hamburg, Hanover and many others. Besides her nearly endless live performances, Barbara has made numerous appearances on both domestic and international radio and TV.
Both with her own "Bebab" group and solo, Barbara is equally celebrated by critics and audiences alike on both sides of the Atlantic. The name "Bebab" is a play on "Bebop" and "Barbara" and indicates something unique for which there is no established term, no pigeonhole. She knows the value of tradition but is also at home in modern jazz, in the here and now. She is one of the few musicians who can make the connection between different styles and audiences, building bridges between the musical past and present. She is just as familiar with the grooves of youth culture as with the listening experiences of a generation that grew up with the Hammond organ boom of the fifties.
Swing, bebop, blues, soul, latin and funk - for Barbara there are no rigid boundaries, only fluid transitions. Audiences are captivated by her talent, her absolute mastery of the instrument, her taste, and not least, her warm personality. The B3, it would seem, is a seamless extension of herself. She understands better than anyone how to exploit her instrument to the full, creating a sound and a musical style that is unmistakably "Barbara Dennerlein".
Her brilliant technique has breathed new life into the venerable Hammond organ, an instrument long neglected in modern jazz. She can rightfully claim to have paved the way for the organ's current renaissance in jazz.
Born in Munich in 1964, she fell in love with one sound at an early age. While others were practicing "Für Elise" or strumming "All You Need Is Love" on the guitar, Barbara was fascinated by the sound of the Hammond organ.
She was eleven when the first home organ became part of the Dennerlein household. Her father, himself an organ fan, was acting a little bit out of self-interest when he bought the Christmas present. If Barbara lost interest, he could always play it himself! But it all turned out quite differently. Barbara never took her hands off the instrument again. And things didn't stop there either. The fourth instrument on which Barbara indulged in her passion was the "Holy Grail" of organs: an original Hammond long since out of production - the legendary Hammond B3.
And so began Barbara's own journey of discovery into the world of music. In addition to studying the classical repertoire of standards, she began to compose her own numbers very early on. Following first performances as a thirteen-year-old, she began to play in clubs at the age of fifteen. In the early eighties she was already celebrated as the "organ tornado from Munich". Later on, "Harper's Bazar" wondered:"How did this Fräulein get so funky?" and the Los Angeles Times headlined with: "German Organist Pumps You Up".
For years, Barbara has topped critics' polls in American jazz magazines and can call a worldwide community of devoted jazz friends her own. Yet through all this she has remained modest and uncomplicated, like the proverbial "girl next door", never failing to mention the support of her parents in interviews, and seeking emotional closeness to her audience as she takes them on a musical journey of discovery beyond the usual boundaries of fixed stylistic definitions. "To me", says Barbara,"jazz is a synonym for freedom. Freedom from prejudice and discrimination, freedom from constraints and convention. This is my own definition of jazz that I want to convey to the listener. Whether young or old, traditionalist or modernist, jazz fan or non-jazz fan."
Watching her perform, it is obvious that Barbara is a perfectionist, but clearly she is anything but a soulless technician. She attaches the greatest importance to musical integration in the collective. Her live bands play superbly together. Her CD productions feature hand-picked line-ups of prominent musicians versed in different styles; first rate musicians like Ray Anderson, Antonio Hart, Mitch Watkins, Randy Brecker, Jeff "Tain" Watts, David Murray, Howard Johnson, Frank Lacy, David Sanchez, Roy Hargrove, Bob Berg and Dennis Chambers.
Critical to her early success, was the support of respected record labels. Barbara's albums have been released by, among others, the prestigious labels Enja ("Straight Ahead", "Hot Stuff" and "That's Me") and more recently, Verve ("Take Off", "Junkanoo", and "Outhipped"). But early on, Barbara also established her own Label, Bebab Records, and has released numerous CDs over the years on Bebab as well.
To take the B3 beyond its traditional sound, Barbara combines her instrument with samplers and synthesizers using MIDI technology, which provides her with even more orchestral sounds. However, she never drifts off into some abstract musical science fiction but remains down-to-earth and groove-oriented. Despite her virtuosity, what matters to her most is intensity and communication with her musicians and her audience. Expressive ballads suit her just as well as high-speed escapades over the keys, or funky grooves. What's more, this energetic improviser also has made a name for herself with her own unmistakable compositions.
In 2001 Barbara set out in a new direction and released "Love Letters" on Bebab Records - a musical declaration of love with a multitude of emotions that gets under your skin and takes you on a journey into diverse musical worlds, and unique grooves and enthralling soundscapes. This was just another step in the development of an artist who never stands still and who continues to seek new challenges and directions in her music. This CD, recorded as a duo, is the result of many years of very intensive, creative collaboration with her drummer and percussionist.
In 2004 Barbara gave musical expression to her innermost thoughts and aspirations and captured these on a strikingly original and very personal CD. "In a Silent Mood" is a revealing and fascinating insight into her musical personality. Playing in her studio alone and free from interruptions or interference, Barbara really shines in this introspective solo CD performance. She augments the wonderful classic B3 sound with tasteful and subtle synthesizer and sampler sounds, all played "straight" with no studio tricks or overdubs.
If there is one thing that sets Barbara apart from all other Hammond B3 artists, it is her stunning bass pedal work that has to be seen to be believed. Listeners have often assumed she is accompanied by a bassist, but in reality those complex bass lines are Barbara's blindingly fast left foot. No one has even come close to matching her stunning bass pedal work! "The bass pedals are absolutely crucial to my way of playing the Hammond", says Barbara. "They enable me to develop a very special rhythmic structure which cannot easily be imitated by a bass player, because together with the two manuals I have a kind of rhythmic triptych at my disposal".
Equally unforgettable are the unique concerts with legendary pianist Friedrich Gulda together with Barbara on the Hammond organ in such renowned concert halls as the Philharmonic Orchestras of Cologne and Munich, the Brucknerhaus Linz, the Concert Hall and Musikverein in Vienna, the Kunstverein in Bregenz, the Tonhalle in Zurich and at the Viennese Festival Weeks. Gulda used his full musical genius to create a symbiosis of classical music and jazz beyond all limitations of style or genre. Barbara, who was a great friend of Friedrich Gulda's, takes the same approach to music in her work.
In recent years, Barbara has become increasingly in demand for TV performances. A notable example is on New Year's Eve 2000, when she presented 24 hours of jazz on the German 3sat TV network, taking her viewers on a musical journey right into 2001. On June 14th, 2007, she dazzled viewers on the Harald Schmidt show (Germany's equivalent of America's David Letterman Show). Harald's one-word response at the end of one piece was "Wow!"
Part of Barbara's appeal is that she is a passionate, charming musician, who always asks: "Do you like jazz? What is the meaning of jazz for you?" For herself, and this is what endears her to her audience, jazz is anything but a one-dimensional affair. "My music is as varied as my emotions or the world I live in, which influences and inspires me. One style or one direction would only express one small part of my musical world."
"It's Magic" (2005) features the tight interaction between organist and drummer, live in concert, full of charm and humour. Barbara is really at her best in live performances, and this CD will certainly make new fans, even those who may be somewhat sceptical when it comes to the music form known as "jazz".
Barbara has set out in yet another new direction, releasing her CD "Change of Pace" (2007) also on Bebab Records. This recording of exclusively her compositions is a collaboration between Barbara on B3 with saxophone and drums, and a full symphony orchestra: the State Philharmonic Orchestra of Rhineland-Palatinate, under the direction of the internationally renowned conductor Bernd Ruf. This remarkable CD unites the classic Hammond Trio -with Barbara's breathtaking footpedal bass- with full symphonic orchestra to spectacular effect.
In 2010 Barbara celebrated her 35th anniversary as musician with her Hammond Trio CD "Bebabaloo", a live album that has received several press awards. With her brilliant technique and her innovative and unmistakable style she clearly belongs to the crème de la crème of jazz. Listening to this CD, one can easily see how she has been credited for almost single-handedly being responsible for the recent organ renaissance in jazz.
But there is yet another side to Barbara's talent. Intrigued by her first pipe organ concert at the Bach Days in Würzburg in 1994, she began an intensive period of activity with the "queen of instruments", the mighty pipe organ. Thanks to her complete mastery of the pedals, Barbara has fully exploited the instrument's immense musical potential, mainly with works that she composed especially for it. The result is breathtaking, proving that the ponderous and sluggish instrument can really swing. Barbara has thrilled audiences on numerous great pipe organs, including the Dobson organ at the Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, the Spreckels organ Balboa Park in San Diego, the concert organs at the Philharmonics of Kaliningrad and Jekatarinburg and the International Performing Arts Center in Moscow, the Gewandhaus organ in Leipzig, the Klais organs in the Munich and Cologne Philharmonics, the Kuhn organs at the Essen Philharmonic and the Hofkirche in Luzern/Switzerland, the Konzerthaus in Dortmund and the Royal Opera House in Muscat/Oman, the Steinmeyer organ in the St Michaelis church in Hamburg, the Schuke organ in the Berlin Philharmonic, the Eisenbarth organ at the Dome of Passau, the von-Beckerath organ in the Hanover Market church, and the organ at the world famous Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis church, a Berlin landmark. The listener is carried off to new worlds of sound, a mixture of jazz in the widest sense and classical elements.
Long awaited by fans, "Spiritual Movement No.1" (Bebab 250970) was released in 2002, recorded for the first time exclusively on the pipe organ. A jazz passion for 2.400 pipes, recorded on the mighty Goll organ in St. Martin's church/Memmingen - Barbara Dennerlein has now finally brought jazz on the pipe organ to the world.
As an encore to her critically acclaimed "Spiritual Movement No.1", "Spiritual Movement No.2" (Bebab 250974) was released in October 2008, and takes jazz on the mighty pipe organ to a level never before heard. On this spectacular live recording, Barbara plays jazz compositions -mostly her own- on the massive Schuke pipe organ, in the world famous Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis Church in Berlin. For those that still cannot believe it's possible to make this 4-manual, 5000 pipe monster really swing, a few minutes spent listening to her ultra-cool version of "Satisfaction" will soon convince them otherwise. Only Barbara could take a tired old war horse like "Satisfaction" and breathe life (and funk!) into it on an instrument most people associate only with church music!
"Spiritual Movement No.3", (Bebab 250976), the third in the "Spiritual Movement" series, was released in 2012. This CD is a fascinating duo performance: a live recording of pipe organ and guitar, with surprising, yet tastefully subtle synthesizer accompaniment. Once again, most of the pieces are Barbara's own compositions, but with a nod to jazz tradition, listeners are treated to the old Dizzy Gillespie favourite "Tin Tin Deo". With this remarkable CD, Barbara works her magic, creating sublime sounds and delicate grooves, evoking a marvelous mélange of spirituality and down to earth "cool".
2014 brought "Barbara Dennerlein's Blues & Latin Project", in which she presented the Argentinian flamenco guitarist Hernan Romero, and two DVD releases on Arthaus, presenting two of her live performances together with Friedrich Gulda. One of them Gulda himself titled "I love Barbara, I love Mozart".
Three new productions appeared in 2015. Barbara composed and played the almost seventy-minute-long film score for the "The Big Picture", an experimental film whose impressive effect is achieved solely through the fascinating, partly alienated nature shots and the music. A concert recording (Hammond and drums) was released as a high-quality vinyl production on the Bauer-Neuklang label (the label of the famous Ludwigsburg-based Bauer Studios). At the end of the year, Barbara delighted her fans with a remarkable Christmas CD in collaboration with the Italian producer Nicola Conte and an international cast released on the legendary MPS label.
Looking ahead to 2016, it's clear that Barbara has no intentions to slow down! Already, a DVD is planned for release on Barbara's Bebab label, featuring her on both pipe organ and Hammond, and there will undoubtedly be more exciting projects as the year progresses.
Whether playing the B3 or the pipe organ; whether playing solo, or in duo, trio, quartet, quintet, or even with full orchestra backup, Barbara Dennerlein is in a class of her own; she is without question the First Lady of the organ.
Statements and Quotations
James Taylor: "I love her
playing. Go and see her,
you'll be amazed..."
George Benson: "Not only is Barbara an accomplished musician, her
music is quite different than any jazz organists I've ever heard. A difference worth checking out for any jazz lover."
Rhoda Scott: "Barbara is an amazing artist, best pedal technique of us all, and her creativity abounds! I love her playing."
The Take Off Recordings
The Junkanoo Recordings
"Wow, what a talent! She's in a league of her own, I can tell you that. She's just absolutely amazing. I'm constantly amazed by Hammond players who are good with their feet as well as their hands, and she certainly is."
Prizes, Awards, Charts
- 1985 "Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik" for LP - BEBAB (Bebab Rec.)
- 1986 "Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik" for CD - Tribute To Charlie (Koala Rec.)
- 1990 No.1 of the US Downbeat Critic's Poll, TDWR organ
- 1991 No.1 of the US Downbeat Critic's Poll, TDWR organ
- 1993 No.1 of the US Downbeat Critic's Poll, TDWR organ
- 1995 "Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik" for CD - Take Off (Verve/Motor Music)
- 1995 No.1 of the annual Jazz-Charts in Germany with CD - Take Off
- 1995 No.1 of the German Jazz-Charts for several months
- 1995 - 1999 Best organist in the annual poll in Rio de Janeiro's daily newspaper "Tribuna da Imprensa" (Press Tribune)
- 1995 1st Jazz Award for CD - Take Off
- 1995 2nd Jazz Award for CD - Take Off
- 1996 1st Jazz-Award for CD - Junkanoo (Verve/Motor Music)
- 1996 No.1 of the US Downbeat Critic's Poll, TDWR organ
- 1997 "Kulturpreis der Regierung von Oberbayern für besondere kulturelle Verdienste"
- 1997 2nd Jazz-Award for CD - Junkanoo
- 1998 No.1 of the US Downbeat Critic's Poll, TDWR organ
- 1999 1st Jazz Award for CD - Outhipped
- 2000 Nomination for "Jazz Award 2000" USA, fourth annual presentation of honors for excellence in jazz music and jazz journalism produced by the JJA (Jazz Journalists Association)
- 2001 2nd Jazz Award for CD - Outhipped
- 2001 No.2 of the US Downbeat Critic's Poll, TDWR organ
- 2001 "Love Letters", Barbara Dennerlein Duo, CD of the month, August 2001, Keyboards Magazine, Germany
- 2003 "Jazz Eaters Award 2003" for the best Jazz performance (Kaunas Jazz Festival/Lithuania)
- 2003 "1. German Jazz Ambassador" (1. Deutsche Jazzbotschafterin) for the DJF (Deutsche Jazzfoederation)
- 2004 Cultural Ambassador for the candidature of Regensburg as European Capital of Culture
- 2005 Organist Of The Month, IAJO (International Archives For The Jazz Organ)
- 2007 No.1 (best organist) in the 28th Annual Jazz Station Poll – The Best Jazz of 2007 in Rio de Janeiro's Jazz Station
- 2008 No.1 (best organist) in the 29th Annual Jazz Station Poll – The Best Jazz of 2008 in Rio de Janeiro's Jazz Station
- 2009 Shockwaves NME Award '09 (1 Million YouTube video views) - New Musical Express / Online Magazine
- 2013 Induction into the Charter Class of the HAMMOND HALL OF FAME
- 2016 No.1 (best organist) in the 38th Annual Jazz Station Poll – The Best Jazz of 2016 in Rio de Janeiro's Jazz Station
- 2016 "My Moments" - The Best 10 Jazz DVDs/Blu-rays in Rio de Janeiro's