The Kennedy Center

Barbara Dennerlein


In the early 1980's she was a secret known only to insiders on the Munich jazz scene: 15-year-old Barbara Dennerlein, captivating an enthusiastic audience with impressive wit and skill as she whirled her fingers over the B3 Hammond organ - an instrument often derided and associated with the dusty patina of bar jazz. But what this pert, unaffected teenager performed was pure jazz. Jazz at its best, ranging from swing to bebop, from blues to funk. And many a local jazz celebrity competed to appear on stage together with this prodigy.

Yet despite all this enthusiasm, scarcely anyone truly believed that this young lady would become Germany's most important and successful jazz export, acclaimed and respected by critics and the public alike on both sides of the Atlantic. In the "Critics' Poll" organised by the renowned American jazz magazine DownBeat she has been among the leaders year after year. In 1998 she took first prize for the fifth time in the "TDWR organ" category; in 1995, for the third time, she carried off the "German Record Critics Award" ("Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik"), on this occasion for her Verve debut album Take Off (Verve 527 664-2). In the same year this successful CD was honoured twice with the "Jazz Award" and, after holding the Number One position in the German Jazz Charts for several months, proved to be the best-selling jazz album of 1995. An international success that was even outdone with her follow-up albums Junkanoo (Verve 537 122-2) and Outhipped (Verve 547 503-2).

Born in Munich in 1964, Barbara Dennerlein started playing organ at the age of eleven. Just a few years later, aged fifteen, she performed regularly at local jazz clubs. There she laid the foundations for her future career as a professional musician, which, before very long, let her rise to the circle of the few German artists with international reputation and become the leading representative of her instrument, the legendary Hammond B3. With her brilliant playing technique she created an innovative and distinctive style that opened up totally new musical dimensions for the Hammond organ, which in modern jazz had been ignored for a long time. Without doubt she can claim that she has paved the way for the organ's current renaissance in jazz.

Above all, she is one of the very few organists who play a pedal bass, and is surely unequalled for her breathtaking technique."The pedals are absolutely crucial for my way of playing the Hammond organ. They enable me to create a very special rhythmic structure which cannot be easily imitated by the double-bass, since together with the two manuals I have a kind of "rhythmic triptych" at my disposal," explains Barbara Dennerlein.

It has always been a special experience to see Barbara Dennerlein live on stage. Besides her concert tours in Europe, USA and Japan, she performs at famous jazz clubs such as New York's Blue Note and Sweet Basils, London's Jazz Cafe and Ronnie Scott's and at the Meridien in Paris. For years she has been invited regularly to play at many international festivals like Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Victoria, Den Haag, Pori, Molde, Arhus, Kortrijk, Vitoria, Berlin, Frankfurt, Leverkusen, Nürnberg, Vilshofen, Burghausen, Hannover, Hamburg...

In concerts and on her records Barbara Dennerlein presents herself as competent representative of a new generation of jazz musicians. With her open-mindedness and her receptiveness to new musical developments - not only in jazz - she forges links between the past and the present; reflecting yesterday, interpreting today. And she converts this broad stylistic spectrum into a musical conception which is characterized by an enormous coherence. In compositions and arrangements which in an inimitable manner reveal her tremendous musical potential and open up new, promising perspectives for contemporary jazz.

Over the years she has recorded and performed with exceptional musical personalities such as Don Alias, Ray Anderson, Bob Berg, Randy Brecker, Dennis Chambers, Thomas Chapin, Roy Hargrove, Howard Johnson, Frank Lacy, Joe Locke, David Murray, Tony Reedus, David Sanchez, Andy Sheppard, Mitch Watkins, Friedrich Gulda and Joe Zawinul among many others. Barbara Dennerlein's wide musical spectrum also includes recordings with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna Symphonic, the SFB String Orchestra (Berlin), the big bands of NDR, HR, WDR and the Landesjugendorchester Hessen. Numerous appearances on radio and television illustrate her international success. Currently she is presenting live on tour her new Duo album Love Letters (Bebab 250969) - the product of six intensive years of working together with her Argentinian drummer Daniel Messina.
Photo of Barbara Dennerlein