Hardbopjazz

John Dennis

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Archive of Dmitry's interview w/Walt Dickerson. Here's the John Dennis excerpt:

There was a pianist, a genius whose name was John Dennis, who had photographic memory, we were like inseparable brothers, we always shared notes. I think if there were any kinship to my approach it would be John and John, pianist and saxophonist. Of course I loved the master himself, Charlie Parker, so that’s where my head was, centered around these three individuals, communicating with them. John Dennis did one album with Max and Mingus. Everyone that came through Philly, they were fearful of him, he was just that awesome. After he did that album, he came back, we talked, he wasn’t thrilled with the scene at all, because he knew artistically he was far in advance of that which was going on. John Dennis was the kind of individual…picture this if you will - when he would hear a piano concerto, he’d talk with you while it was being played, and then he would play the entire concerto, nuance for nuance.

His record was on the Debut label that Max and Mingus ran. When they heard John, they had to record with him. There were those of us who came from parents who were, in today’s lingo, fundamentalists, in other words, the music that we played was not acceptable to them. It was considered devil’s music. Strange. These were the people who considered themselves devout, religious people, his mother and father both were clergy people, they both were ministers, and he couldn’t play the music at home. They had a piano in the living room, and he could play what they considered sacred music, and he played with the choir, it was wonderful, but he couldn’t play "Cherokee" at home. So he used to come over to my house, my parents were very religious also, my father was a deacon, my mother was a deaconess, but they were not fundamentalists, in other words, music was acceptable. My mother would inspire us to play. John would come over and play the music, and she would tell him how beautiful it was. At the time I had a set of drums and we would play a duo. My mother was the inspiration, the music was beautiful to her. Whenever John wasn’t home his mother always knew where he was, and she would call my mother and my mother would say, "Yes, John is here and I’m fixing dinner for them now.” “It’s all right, Mrs. Dickerson, as long as he is in your house.” So he continued to grow, playing the piano at our house. Later on he started doing singles in different places, different bars, and he fell out of favor with his mom and pop. You know, when you have parents like that, they can afflict the child, and they had him thinking that what he was doing was evil and that’s the kind of pressure he was under, and that caused us to search into religion even more so, and he could understand why I was very respectful of my elders, manners, yes madam, no madam, yes sir, no sir. John’s parents loved my manners, and they asked me periodically what kind of music I played. I learned a long time ago about honesty. I would say-

-The greatest music I know of…

-What kind is that?

-I think you call it jazz.

One time his mom asked me if my mother knew that I played that kind of music.

And I said, "You know, Mrs. Dennis, my mother is the most intelligent woman I know. She’s my first friend. And she says it’s all right, so it doesn’t matter what everybody else says, because she’s my friend.” She never approached me after that, concerning the music, but that’s because I spoke honestly. Of course John became weaker as we began to explore different areas, and then I went off to the university, and he succumbed under that constant pressure, so much that when I was ready to record I called John, and then came home to Philly to seek him out, and I found him in desperate physical condition. You see, it has a physical effect when an artist cannot continue to search and develop his artistry, something happens to that person both physically and mentally. There seems to be a conscious desire of wanting to go, to leave that level of existence, to be elsewhere, out of it. I’ve seen it happen too many times, and that’s what happened to my brother John Dennis. I learned that many people die from a broken heart, nothing wrong with them physically, they’re brokenhearted and just give up. They want to go, and when certain things happen to the artist, he falls into that mental framework, whereby he actually wills himself to go. And that’s what happened to John

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This is the only photograph I have ever seen of John Dennis . It appeared on the back of the 10" LP Debut DLP-17 and also on page 23 of the September 1955 issue of Metronome . Barry Ulanov's liner notes from DLP-17 (not reprinted in the OJC CD of this date) regrettably add absolutely nothing to Dennis' meager biography . He is however , rightly enthusiastic about the version of Get Out Of Town , and the OJC CD is of particular value in this regard , as the alternate take of this tune is that rare alternate that is worth listening to . I prefer Thad's and Mingus' work on the master take , but Dennis' contribution is arguably superior on the alternate take .

mingusdebut10.jpg

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Thanks for that photo, Chas!

Couple asides.

The John Dennis trio session 'New Piano Expressions' was recorded on the same day (March 10, 1955) as the Fabulous Thad Jones album.

The Cole Porter song 'Get Out of Town' where Dennis shines was also selecteded by Cecil Taylor for his 'Love for Sale' album for United Artists.

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I've been listening to John Dennis's Debut Rarities cd for the past 2 days. It's not up to me to call anyone a genius, the only thing I'll say is that had he lived and recorded, he would have been one of the greatest pianists in Jazz. I can hear so many unexpected passages and stylistic elements in this 1955 recording, things that we'd expect of the music recorded in the late 1960s onward...Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett must have known who he was and listened to his record.

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Welcome back. How long has it been?

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I saw this thread title, thought of Dmitry, thought of Walt. Glad to see you my friend.

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Good to see you back here, Dmitry. Hope you'll stick around.

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Nah. He's gone, but thanks for the cigarette. And the Phineas.

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I saw this thread title, thought of Dmitry, thought of Walt. Glad to see you my friend.

Hey, Cary, Chuck and Paul [nice name for a Folk Trio! :)]

Hope all is well!!!

Sorry for not posting much. I kinda lost interest, to be honest. :unsure:

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Sorry to hear that. Do what you want to do and be well.

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Anyone have a line on a reasonably priced copy of the Dennis OJC on CD?  A buddy burned a copy for me, after I'd been enjoying it online streaming for a while -- I'm spinning it this very moment -- and am reminded I really need to track down a legit copy.  Such a wonderful album, and I'll second the observations above that he could have had a much bigger impact, had he recorded more.

Dennis has like almost a classical approach, but with a fair bit more soul (or maybe depth is a better word) in many spots, more than I typically associate with players to come at jazz from a classical perspective (not that he's entirely one way, or the other, mind you).  Really quite lovely.

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Played the Dennis CD today...those quartal voicings put me in mind of Richie Powell. anybiody else hear that?

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Late to the party but am enjoying listening to John Dennis - The Debut Sessions on Fresh Sounds. 

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