Based in Austin, TX, Dena Taylor is a jazz vocalist who harkens back to the days of smoke-filled clubs and smoky-voiced chanteuses. Her sound is solid; without a lot of vocal gymnastics in the Jazz Standards she covers. She inhabits the songs and makes them her own – feeling happiness, anger, joy, sorrow, love and hate. She draws listeners in and allows them to relate to these songs all over again. Dena was named “Best Female Jazz Artist of the Year” by Indie Music Channel in 2014. Her album “The Nearness of You” showcases her vocal talents and reminds us that even though she is a “seasoned” artist singing Standards, these songs don’t lose their ability to move and touch the audience just because they may have fallen out of vogue.
Dena is so full of passion for these songs that her jovial attitude can’t help but be contagious. An engaging personality, Dena wants to share her love of Jazz Standards and the American Songbook with her audience. She has honed her craft over the years – spending 12 years abroad serving her country in the US military and, whenever possible, performing with touring USO shows. Then, upon her return, Dena settled in Florida where she took to the stage as a member of the prestigious Cocoa Village Playhouse “Gold Star” company. She also began to reestablish her solo career and released her cd “Round Midnight” in 2008. With a voice that contains a bit of a knowing edge reminiscent of Gladys Knight in her prime, Dena became a “go to” vocalist for national Jazz and Blues groups touring in Florida.
After relocating to Austin, TX, Dena continued her collaboration with some of the best musicians in the jazz and blues genres including GRAMMY® Award Winners and Gold Record® holders: guitarist Redd Volkaert, keyboardist Floyd Domino and drummer Ernie Durawa. Volkaert and Durawa both worked on her second album, “Certitude” in 2010. One of the tracks from this effort, “Song for My Father,” was rewarded with an IAIRA Certification of "International Top 100 Hit shortly after its release.The team worked so well together that Dena chose to work with them for her next record in 2014, “The Nearness of You.” She was subsequently named one of the Top Five Vocalists in the SingersUniverse " Best Vocalist of The Month" Competition, in addition to the aforementioned IMC 2014 Best Female Jazz Artist of the Year Award.
The path to success hasn’t been an easy one for Dena. She is a disabled veteran and has most recently stepped out of the shadows about that in recent years (please take the time to click on the Honor Flight button in the menu to learn about this incredible program that takes veterans from WWII & the Korean and Vietnam War and brings them to Washington DC to see the major war memorials. You'll also learn about her personal experience with the Honor Flight Austin as she journeyed to DC on Honor Flight Austin's Flight #54 with 41 other female veterans).
In 1999 she suffered a horrific car crash resulting in a traumatic brain injury. The damage was so severe that it took Dena two years to learn to speak and walk again. She persevered through that and a battle with breast cancer to come out on the other side with an outlook on life that allows her to pursue her music with even more zeal. Learning not to be paralyzed by the fear of what “might happen” has kept Dena moving forward and gives her vocals a ripened maturity that just isn’t found in the pop stars of today.
In advance of some serious surgery on her throat, Dena joined forces with Austin powerhouse friends to take a musical walk from her beginnings in country and ending tucked inside the American Songbook where she most happily lives. No last minute throw-together, “You’ve Changed” (released January 2016) is a carefully thought out project and, whether it's the last music she records or not .. it will certainly be one of her best.
In a pre-release review, Bree Noble (CEO of Women of Substance Radio) said, “With the opening notes of "You've Changed," it's clear that what has changed is that Dena Taylor has confidently taken the reins of her music career and is making bold, risky decisions that are paying off.”
Dena continues to share her musical gifts and donates her time to various charities that are close to her heart including her own charity, The Lullaby Project. This charity is supported by the beautiful album, Lullabies, recorded and released in 2015.
Never count a singer totally down and out til they shout at the top of their lungs .. NO MORE MUSIC EVER! And even then .. don’t be surprised when they continue to show up. Most recently, Dena returned to the studio with friends, Redd Volkaert and Floyd Domino, to take on 2 songs that have been “haunting” her. The old 1921’s Too Mean to Cry and the much newer Don’t Touch Me. These were just mixed and mastered on January 5, 2019 .. they are BRAND NEW! You can hear them on the home page in a player made just for them! Sure hope you enjoy listening to them as much as everyone involved enjoyed making them!
Take Five (Interview) with ©All About Jazz (2014)
Teachers and/or influences? I learned to love lyrics because of the folk music I listened to and learned the beauty of "notes" from opera. I have VERY broad musical tastes and I get something from everything I listen to.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I discovered that I could actually sing rather than just mouthing into my hairbrush pretending I could. My hairbrush microphone was fun but growing up and being able to really make music was delicious.
Your sound and approach to music: My sound is solid and without a lot of vocal gymnastics. My approach to the music I sing, regardless of the genre, is to find songs that I can inhabit. I want to feel them... happiness, anger, joy, sorrow, indifference, love, hate, longing—I want them to be songs I can relate to since I think it allows me to be believable as the interpreter of those songs or atleast interpret them as they pertain to me!
Road story: Your best or worst experience: It would have to be a worst experience but best band memory. Dena & Company was performing at Lou's Blues Upstairs in Indiatlantic, Florida. This is a club where the 2nd floor overlooks the main floor. It's a great club on the beach and it's frequented by a great mix of people and there's ALWAYS motorcycles. Well, there we were performing and recording a live album right in the middle of the NCAA Basketball Playoffs so, quite regularly, the crowd would roar at the game and stomp their feet which, of course, made the floor vibrate. We were doing pretty well at staying on track until a biker incensed by the way the game was going... backed his massive Harley up to the double doors, had a couple friends hold the door open and filled Lou's Blues Upstairs with not only sound of a revving Harley but exhaust fumes. We all just looked at each other and fell over laughing. The sound engineer wasn't quite so amused, however, poor guy! We each kept a copy of the recording and we still fall apart when we listen to it. Up until his death several years ago, John Fitzgerald (our bassist) and I never could look at each other during subsequent gigs without breaking up.
Favorite venue: I don't have a specific venue that's a favorite but a "type." They are the small, intimate places that are reminiscent of a 40-esque jazz club where people come to sit close to each other, enjoying the ambiance of the room and letting the music and the musician be a part of their experience. As a vocalist, I love making that individual connection with the audience.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why? I would have to say The Nearness of You, the CD I just released. It’s a toss up why it’s my favorite. Every song was selected because it was on my “bucket list” of songs I wanted so much to sing. The title track, The Nearness of You, had been a signature song of mine for years. On the other hand, it was the musicians I got to work with. It’s hard, sometimes, to be in the studio with people who are friends but are also icons, such as Grammy winner Redd Volkaert, or the incredible Rick McRae. It can be intimidating knowing you better bring you’re “A” game because they won’t hesitate to let you know when you’re not doing your best. For all the work, heart, laughter and, frankly, a couple of tears .. it earned itself the rank of my most favorite!
The first Jazz album I bought was: Truthfully, I can't remember but I know when I first got "the bug." I was given a box of records by a friend who found them while cleaning out her father's house after he passed away. She said, "You want any of these old things." I sat in front of my record player for that entire weekend. The deeper I got into the box, I started separating those records with band singers and, from that point on, I was hooked.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I think that I am showing that a song doesn't lose it's ability to move and to touch both the musician and the audience just because it's fallen out of vogue or style. I invite people to come into the music with me rather than just trying to impress them.
Did you know... I'm addicted to old black & white movies!
CDs you are listening to now:
Del Castillo (Self-Titled)
Duke Elegant - Dr. John
Songbird - Eva Cassidy
Fiddler on the Roof – Cast Album
Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall
Desert Island picks:
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
I've noticed a great sense of snobbery within the different "sub-genres" of jazz. Could that it's more of a societal issue than a music one... just sad. I see so much classism .. horns “dis” drums or instruments “dis” vocalists. Bands without vocalists tend to think bands with vocalists aren’t as good or as “real.” A lot of younger talent out there gets discouraged because their musical strength & calling might not be in vogue so they don't get the opportunity to build up their talent (and confidence) to a degree that they can step up and outside their "zones."
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Getting kids exposed to and involved with ALL of the different incarnations of jazz. Too, I don't think it's just a case of simple exposure but to teach them a broad appreciation of all those different incarnations not just as they are now but from the roots. I recently talked to some teenagers about music .. they said “my” style was old and boring. That I could semi-understand, heck .. back in the day, I remember listening to the Beatles or some rock-n-roll and then having to listen to my parent’s music and rolling my eyes before dramatically falling over and shouting, “Stop .. it’s so boring!” Didn’t last long before I developed an ability to appreciate both. I still do .. I don’t think kids get an opportunity to develop that appreciation. But then that exposure happens in the home AND in school and with the way music is being dropped from schools, it’s not unexpected.
What is in the near future?
Having finally wrapped and then released my newest CD, The Nearness of You, the focus is on getting it out there and heard. I'm also still "in the glow" of being awarded IMC's 2014 Best Female Jazz Artist of the Year. I'm already actually starting to plan out another CD inspite of my saying .. that’s it .. I’m done .. never again!!! And, of course, I'm continuing to search for that little jazz club with clinking ice cubes, blue spot lights and a slight haze in which to sing!
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: Heaven only knows!!
IMC's 2014 Best Female Jazz Artist
"It's not enough for music to BE good, it also has to DO good!"