Joe Deninzon is soaked to the bone in music. He had a strong presence in Cleveland’s rock scene in the ’90s, playing guitar and bass and singing with various area groups — he even played violin for Michael Stanley — before moving to New York in 1997 to earn a master’s degree in jazz at the Manhattan School of Music. He got his undergraduate degree in jazz and classical violin at Indiana University’s world-famous conservatory program, where he also met his wife Yulia Ziskel, now a member of the New York Philharmonic. Before that, he studied with his father, a Cleveland Orchestra violinist, and at the Cleveland Institute of Music. (His mother is also a classical musician.) Deninzon has played with artists ranging from Sheryl Crow and Smokey Robinson to Les Paul and Ritchie Blackmore, performed for President Clinton, won the John Lennon International Songwriting Contest, written music for TV shows and the New York City Ballet, and released four CDs with his band Stratospheerius (he plays electric violin in the quintet). He’s now taken another turn with his latest release with the Joe Deninzon Trio, Exuberance. Deninzon, bassist Robert Bowen and guitarist Stephen Benson play acoustic jazz, influenced by Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt — and contemporary pop music. The CD includes a take on Steely Dan’s “Bodhissatva,” as well as a version of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug (Used to Be A),” giving an indication of the group’s range. The trio will celebrate the album’s release in Deninzon’s hometown at 9 p.m. at Nighttown (12387 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Hts., 216.795.0550), where they’ll be joined by Stratospheerius drummer Lucianna Padmore. Tickets: $15. — Anastasia Pantsios
A quick glance at Joe Deninzon’s MySpace page reveals a roster of influences that reads like the index for The Encyclopedia of Rock: Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Yes and The Police are all there.
Given that Deninzon’s main axe is a violin (whether it be acoustic, electric or fretted seven-string) and his primary musical thrusts are Prog and Jazz, it’s not unusual to find a few brothers of the bow (Jean Luc Ponty, Didier Lockwood, Stephane Grappelli) or bands that feature them (Dave Matthews, Mahavishnu Orchestra). But when you find Igor Stravinsky, Steve Vai and the Screaming Headless Torsos in the same list, you might be forced to make connections you never thought possible. A quick listen to Joe Deninzon’s music will do pretty much the same thing.
With his astonishing band Stratospheerius, the Russian-born Deninzon easily references all of the aforementioned and then some. His lightning fast runs seem less informed by his violin influences and more by his guitar heroes; the speed fingering of Vai, the delicate power of McLaughlin, the blazing invention of Zappa, the thundering bow mastery of Page.
But when Deninzon dials it way back, he’s a Jazz violinist of the first order and yet retains the skills and the mindset that make Stratospheerius a formidable Prog experience. With his Jazz Trio — bassist Bob Bowen, guitarist Steve Benson and drummer Lucianna Padmore — Deninzon has crafted a brand new album, Exuberance, which floats and flutters in the Stephane Grappelli style while offering a set list that seems like the textbook definition of sonic schizophrenia.
On Exuberance, Deninzon and the Trio tackle the music of Steely Dan, Django Reinhardt, Radiohead, Frederick Chopin and Alice in Chains — as well as a few excellent originals — as the violinist arranges each with virtuosic flair and puts his indelible stamp on every track.
Regardless of the direction he decides to twist the volume knob, rest assured that Deninzon reshapes musical boundaries with the freewheeling abandon of a New World mapmaker.
Dave Richards’ Music Muse: Joe Deninzon Trio to jazz up the Jive on Saturday
Rock violinist Joe Deninzon will stop in Erie for a rare free performance to show off his jazz side project.
The Joe Deninzon Trio, which includes upright bass player Robert Bowen and guitarist Stephen Benson, will play at the Jive Coffee Shop, 1014 State St., on Saturday at 1 p.m. Sitting in will be Lucianna Padmore, Deninzon’s regular drummer in Stratospheerius.
“This is a group I’ve had on the back burner for many years,” said Deninzon. “But I’ve been recording music over the last seven years, and it’s finally culminated in the CD we’re releasing, ‘Exuberance.’
“Basically, it shows the jazz acoustic side of what I do. Most people know me as an electric fusion player, but I’ve always loved playing jazz.”
Artists such as Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt inspired “Exuberance.”
“But we wanted to add our own twist to it,” added Deninzon. “So we decided to cover Alice in Chains, Radiohead, Steely Dan, and Frank Zappa, and bring in the rock element.
“We get together and take songs we know and just mess with them, seeing how we can change the rhythm, change the character, but still maintain the skeleton and spirit of the original song. It’s like a game you play.”
“Exuberance” also includes the pretty “Sun Goes Down,” an original that won for best jazz composition in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition in 2006. The CD won’t hit stores until March 2, but Deninzon will have copies at the show.
Stratospheerius will release a new CD later in 2010 and hit the road. Deninzon is also completing an instructional book on electric violin for Mel Bay.
Without Missing a Beat: Deninzon Trio likes to mix it up
By Jay Harvey, Indianapolis Star 2-22-2010
Cross-pollination of musical genres is hugely popular these days, and some musicians see no limit to the musical value that these experiments produce. Joe Deninzon is one such musician. He branched out from classical violin, which he learned at an early age, to find virtue in just about any genre you can shake a (fiddle) stick at.
Deninzon will give a sample of that variety Tuesday night when he brings his violin-guitar-bass trio to town. The band is on a Midwestern tour promoting its CD “Exuberance.” It’s scheduled for release this month, and it offers an update on the famous Quintette du Hot Club de France style pioneered in the 1930s by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli.
Interviewed on his way to a New York studio session, Deninzon recalled being inspired by the Grappelli tribute of his fiddling idol Mark O’Connor, at whose summer string camp he’ll be teaching rock violin next summer. “I started to do that material and put my own twist on it,” said the thirtysomething violinist. “So I do the original things and some rock/pop things, and the framework is the Grappelli style.”
Updating the Gypsy jazz of Reinhardt and Grappelli is just one part of Deninzon’s musical profile. For about 10 years, he’s led a rock band called Stratospheerius, in which he sings and plays seven-string electric violin. Its drummer, Lucianna Padmore, has joined the acoustic trio for the tour that comes to Indianapolis. His musical beginnings didn’t predict such breadth. The son of a concert pianist and a violinist in the Cleveland Orchestra, Deninzon began violin study at age 6. As he progressed, he grew susceptible to the lure of jazz and rock.
After studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music, the wide-ranging violinist went to Indiana University, where he was a student of Josef Gingold in that revered teacher’s final semester. “That was an experience I will never forget,” Deninzon said. At IU, he joined a major in violin performance to the jazz studies major he started out with. “I grew tremendously as a musician while I was there,” recalled the 1997 graduate. All along, he was certain he wouldn’t pursue a traditional classical career. He entered the master’s program at the Manhattan School of Music in jazz and commercial violin. The classical arena receded into the distance.
“I don’t know if it was rebellion as much as it was a deep love of the music,” he said of the drive that led him to work with rock and pop performers, including Sheryl Crow and Smokey Robinson, and in the world-music genre. “Fusion is usually defined as the mixing of jazz and rock, but the word ‘fusion’ is any blending of styles, and it continues to happen,” he said. “From the time of Mozart up through modern times, it’s constantly changing: You use what you like.”
He credits the rise of all music’s availability online with helping to end pigeonholing. “The traditional idea of going to a record store and seeing jazz over here, rock over there — that’s gone.” So he finds nothing to fear in the mega-selling music that got most of the attention at the recent Grammy Awards. “I love a lot of the stuff of Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas, and the hip-hop realm is where many of the most creative things are happening,” he said. “To achieve skill and produce that music is a very great art form and requires many years of practicing. It’s definitely not to be discounted.”