Featured Musician - May 2008

Name : Sandy Dennison

Sandy Dennison

Instrument: voice

Early Years/Education: I was born in south Philadelphia and raised in Bucks County thirty miles south of Philly. My Dad was into country and classical (a combination I could never understand), and my Mom loved jazz songs and all the other pop music of the day, so I was exposed to all of it. Living in a hick town, music was an escape. My singing career started in my twenties when my
sister dared me to get up and sing with a local band. Every time I went to see them they'd get me up to sing, and eventually they hired me. This was in the 60s and 70s, so we were singing rock n' roll and top 40, whatever was hot. We'd just take it off the recording and do it. It was truly by listening to the recordings that I learned to sing, and back then the bands would play it just as it was on the record. Our gigs were in clubs, bars, hotel lounges, everywhere in the Philly area as far as Trenton, New Jersey. I did this for about seven years, and it got to the point where I couldn't do it anymore. I had a new marriage, two boys and a day job, I just couldn't keep up the pace. I gave it up and turned my need for creating things into art and crafts.

Portland: I started singing around here about seven years ago. My first husband was a forester for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and we lived in Washington and Oregon for a few years. I missed it so badly that when I met my second husband, we came here for a vacation and within a few months we were living here. What got me back singing again was spinal surgery. I popped a vertebrae in the back of my neck, and I had to wear a brace for three and a half months. I couldn't raise my voice above a low conversational tone, and the doctors said there was a chance my voice box was injured but I wouldn't know until I got the brace off. Well, that triggered something inside of me, it scared me to death -- I didn't want to never be able to sing again. I decided right there, that as soon as this brace was off I'd start singing again. So I got out my old charts and started practicing and discovered I could sing; six months later my girlfriend said, They 're having a singers’ jam at the Typhoon restaurant in downtown Portland, why don't you go? We walked in and Darrell Grant was there. I only had a couple of charts and he said don't worry, Steve (Christofferson) can play anything. That's when it started. 

Musical Influences: There are so many because it's through the decades. When I was a teenager it was “Bandstand” and all the music we heard on the show. At the same time my dad and mom had very eclectic taste. On a stack of 45s, I would have Elvis, Debussy, Brenda Lee, and Johnny Mathis. As a kid, it was Patsy Kline and Teresa Brewer. Later it was Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Lena Horne, Cleo Laine, Shirley Bassey, Donna Summer, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Stevie Wonder, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Bobby Darin,   Chicago, Blossom Dearie, Tierney Sutton, and right here, Shirley Nanette.
Most Satisfying Experience: I've had a few but definitely my first and second CD release parties. They are some of the most exciting days of your life. These release parties are like having a baby!  They took eight months, your friends come and they are excited for you ... the band is really up for it. Another satisfying experience was at Jimmy Mak's with Mitzi Zilka and the Portland Jazz Singers. I appreciate having the opportunity to do this, but also I'm able to really enjoy watching all those other talented people do this too. I'm like a fan. It really changed my entire life!

Favorite Recordings: This is a list of albums (many are compilations). I find listing songs from different performers doesn't tell the whole story for me because it is the essence of the performer and their abilities that leaves its mark; then I choose the song/s, from that album, that resonate with me, and perform them. Ella Fitzgerald: “For Sentimental Reasons,” “Ella & Louis,” “Take Love Easy.” Lena Horne: “Stormy Weather” and “Love Songs.” Sarah Vaughn: “Sarah Vaughn in Hi –Fi.” Doris Day: “16 Most Requested Songs.” Cleo Laine: “Cleo's Choice,” “Cleo Sings Sondheim.” Shirley Bassey: “EMI/UA Year's 1959-1979,” “Get The Party Started.” Blossom Dearie: “Jazz Verve Master 1951.” Nancy Wilson: “The Very Best of Nancy Wilson 1960-1976.” Tierney Sutton: “I'm With The Band.” Frank Sinatra: “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Classic Sinatra 1953-1960.” Dean Martin: “Live From Vegas.” Ray Charles: “The Birth Of Soul: 1952-1959.” Duke Ellington: “The Great Summit: The Master Takes,” with Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker: The Genius of Charlie Parker.” I also like “The Gerry Grant Trio,” “The Bob Markum Trio,” “Swing Easy Big Band” and “Bob Levy Quartet.”

Discography: “Love You Madly,” 2003, Sandy, vocals; Darrell Grant, piano; Andre St. James, bass; David Evans, sax; Mel Brown, drums; produced and arranged by Darrell Grant. This is my first CD, and it's dedicated to Duke Ellington and the men who worked with him to create music that never grows old, is never passe. “Jazzed!” 2006, Sandy, vocals; Vincent Frates, piano; Andre St. James, bass; David Evans, sax;  Derek Sims, trumpet; Mark De Florio, drums; produced and arranged by Vincent Frates.
Gigs: The Living Room Theater, (341 SW 10th, Portland) Friday, May 2, 8 pm; you can eat and listen to music before and after the movie. Tigard Covenant Church (a fund raiser to send kids to camp) 7-9:30 pm, Saturday, May 3. Wilf's, 8 pm, Saturday, May 17. Hunter's Grill, 6-10:00 PM, Thursday, May 22. 

Future Plans: Number one is enjoying learning from other people and continuing to take lessons. Benny Goodman took lessons up until the end!  This summer I plan on going to a jazz festival in Soriano, Italy, to improve my skills. Kenny Barron will be there too. Secondly, I'd like to sing at jazz parties here and around the world. I just want to keep working.

Other: When I get up and sing a song, I give it everything I can. Performing all the time forces you to get better or get out. Also, Art Abrams at KMHD-FM has been very good to me.

-- by Rita Rega


Copyright 2008, Jazz Society of Oregon