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Nr. 2 – March/April 2012

Passion for Music & Lifestyle

M A G A Z I N E M A G A Z I N E Interview with

Sophisticated Lady of Jazz

Denise Jannah

Music & Visual Arts

Lifestyle & Fashion

Culinary & Travel

Passion for Music & Lifestyle

M A G A Z I N E Is a creation by

Boni Li-A-Sam

Photo Denise Jannah on cover by NUfoto

Photo by Rico D´Rozario

‘Grace…Space…Pace’ was an advertisement slogan used by

Jaguar Cars in the 1950’s and 1960’s. William Lyons, the founder of Jaguar Cars, produced several saloon models that embodied Exclusiveness, Sophistication and Elegancy. In the same light, I hereby like to introduce Lady of Jazz Denise Jannah, who I consider to embody the same Exclusiveness, Elegancy and Sophistication…expressing true Oneness, Harmony and Dignity into her Music… Boni Li-A-Sam

Jaguar MKX

Denise Jannah was born in Suriname, South America. With her family she moved to Holland in the mid seventies. For 4,5 years she studied Law at the University of Utrecht, but her love for music made her change her course: she enrolled into the Conservatory in Hilversum and completed her studies there, after a 2-year interruption to play a part in the musical “A Night at the Cotton Club” with which she toured in Holland, Germany and Belgium. Jannah also played one of the leading parts in “Joe, The Musical” and in Fats Waller’s musical show “Ain’t Misbehavin” (European Tour with a.o. Marjorie Barnes). She released several albums, of which three of them on Blue Note Records. Denise Jannah performed at the North Sea Jazz and other international festivals. And toured the world from New York to Johannesberg to Tokyo and back. Up untill now she has won two Edison Awards, the Golden Orpheus (Bulgaria) and the Bata Anastacievic Festival Award (Serbia). Jannah has performed for Royalty: Queen Beatrix from The Netherlands and other heads of states: President Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Ronald Venetiaan (Suriname), Mrs Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson (Liberia), Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda). Jannah has been decorated by both President Venetiaan (Suriname) and Queen Beatrix from The Netherlands.

Photo by Jeroen Pauwels

’’Quite simply, Denise Jannah is one of the best jazz singers to come along in the 25 years I’ve been writing about music.” (Award winning jazz author and critic Gary Giddins in the ‘Village Voice’)

’’If you’re having trouble keeping track of the score of female singers swamping the current jazz scene, let me save you some trouble: Denise Jannah is worth your time.” (Detroit Free Press)

Interview with Denise Jannah When did you become aware of your interest in music? I have always been aware of the presence of music in my life. I can truly say that I was experiencing music already in my mothers womb. My mother just loves to sing! At home, music was an everyday part of our existence, just like drinking, eating and sleeping. Music was always there! How did you develop your artistic talent? As a child I was able to develop my musical interest at home in a very playful manner. I remember that music of different styles was always present in our house. Especially on the Sunday we where listening to classical music on records. I was always singing together with my 3 younger sisters. And we developed our ear for music even further by playing with any music we heard: Like harmonizing the music/melodies, right when we heard them. And changing keys effortlessly. We also developed our musical hearing by listening to the basslines we could hear from loud music that was played at a parties a few houses further down the road. Our little game here was to be the first one to guess the song title. The bassline provided us with the musical information needed for us to recognize the tune.

Photo by Ron Jenner

Only afterwards did I realize how much these musical games, the always singing along, harmonizing, roulating the harmonic parts, singing basslines, and making up our own little songs, contributed to my musical development in my childhood, and what great eartraining it was! Today, listening to a musical piece, I can often already anticipate which direction the music is going, which chord is next to follow‌ Have you always been supported by other people to develop your musical talent and career? I always had full support of my parents. They are my biggest fans. However, among my friends there where a few who didn’t take me seriously at first. In their eyes, music could only be a hobby and not a profession. At the time I was studying to become a lawyer. So some could not understand that I was about to give up this study to become a music student. My good friend John Campbell had suggested, that I should consider to study at the conservatory. And I’m happy I did!

What or who inspired you to become a musician? The emotion of music itself inspires me the most. My own connection to music is one of inner fulfilment, of joy, creativeness and emotion. The giving and receiving the sharing of energy, love and dedication with all those people who are attending my concerts is really something magical. Music is Love, music is Magic!

Are there any people who still inspire you today? It’s the passion of all those vocalists who have been paved the way for us jazz vocalists today, that was and still is a massive inspiration to me. Great vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Betty Carter (no one can improvise as she does) and Abbey Lincoln, who was a wonderful composer as well. And I find the way that the voice as an instrument (the first instrument, by the way) develops through the years, also very interesting. For instance: the tone and colour of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice, from when she was very young up to her old age, stayed rather light until the end, whereas Sarah Vaughan’s voice becam so much deeper as she grew older. Another one of my very favourite vocalists is Shirley Horn, for her amazing phrasing: there is so much space, she ‘tells’ her lyrics in a wonderful way, while playing her piano.

Ms. Shirley Horn (Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos)

Shirley Horn - A Time For Love

Shirley Horn – Here’s to Life

Denise Jannah and Police Orchestra from Suriname - Photo by Sjaam Bhoelan

In the contemporary field , Stevie Wonder is one of my absolute masters, as a vocalist as well as the incredible composer that he is. I also admire instrumentalists like trumpeter Miles Davis, saxophone players Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon, pianist Duke Ellington‌ And then there’s Quincy Jones, especially as one of the arrangers/ producers of all times. In the spiritual field I draw inspiration from first of all my faith in the Almighty God, and from the Dalai Lama, Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, as well as from my maternal grandmother Josephine Homoet where perseverance and endurance is concerned.

Do you have other interests besides your artistic profession? Oh yes, I love to travel and explore historical places. History, culture and nature have my deep passionate interest. And I love good food. The Surinamese kitchen knows a wide variety of diverse cultural origin, a.o. Indonesian, Creole, Indian, even Jewish dishes. I love desserts and baking cakes and cookies. I also love to read, ever since I was a child. What is your favourite animal and most favourite landscape? I like the great cats, especially the gracious leopard. When it comes to landscapes, I can make several choices, such as a beautiful sunset, or landscapes with a rapid turbulent flowing river (in Suriname we call them SULA)and I love to be nearby the sound of running water of small creeks.

Leopard paintings by Alan Hunt

I am also very fond of beautiful cloud formations. As a child I could endlessly stare at clouds discovering all kinds of forms and figures. I love flowers and enjoy the moment in the early morning when the birds start singing to announce a new day. And I really adore very old trees. In Surinam there is a giant old Mango Tree in the middle of a village called Nyun Lómbe. It is the biggest tree I’ve have ever seen. Trees carry a special energy, I find that fascinating. A wise sister-friend once taught me to go to any tree, place my hands on it and to ask to be relieved of any stress or mental burden. Your stress energy will be absorbed by that tree. You then thank the tree, and go to another one to recharge your own inner battery with high energy again. And again you must say thank you. The Copper Beech is one of my most favourite trees with its beautiful red leaves. And so is the palm tree, in all its different forms and variety. One of my dreams is to live in a place where there are many old and wise trees around my house.

Photo by Denise Jannah

Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea‘)

What is your favourite music? My choice of music is very diverse. It really depends on the mood I´m in at a certain moment. So, it can be classical one time. And the very next moment something jazzy or Caribbean. The 6th symphonie of Tchaikovsky is my favourite classical piece, because it reminds me of my childhood where every Sunday classical music records were being played at our house. Would you give us your own description of Spirituality? I am conscious that we all share the same Divinity in our souls. And that we all share this Divine energy in togetherness and oneness with each other. We are all part of that great Divine Source. I truly feel that we are infinite beings and that there is life after death. In fact, there is no death: we do not die, we merely cross over.

I agree with Oprah Winfrey when she says that ´we are all spiritual beings having a human experience.´ When we cross over, our body will desintegrate but the energy of our soul remains intact and tangible. I feel that we could learn so much by acknowledging that we truly have the Divine power to create our own lives and destiny. Of course we don´t have the final say, but we have been given the power. As we have also been given the power of Choice. Choosing the positive over the negative, for instance. It's up to us. If we could be more open to this Divine spiritual energy, then we would trust ourselves to be able to create our lives from within. Therefore I find that for me it´s good and important to sing at funerals as well. I see it as a valuable way to share my God given Musical talent in spirit with the deceased, the person who is crossing over into ‘another world’, and with the family of the deceased.

Photo by Jeroen Pauwels

Photo by Denise Jannah

What is your favorite kind of food? Suriname is a nation where so many different cultures living together have contributed in their own way to the cuisine of the people. So, my very favourites are very special Surinamese dishes such as the Creole dish BB&R (Brown Beans with Rice) and Pom, the Hindustani dish Roti, And the Bami (noodles), brought over by the people of Java who, like the Hindustani from India, came to Suriname as contract labourers. But I am also fond of sweet things and deserts, such as dark chocolate and different kinds of pastry and biscuits that are not too sweet. When I have the time I love to cook and bake my own cake and pies. What is your current and/or next project? In April I´ll be touring the Dutch Theaters with a 7-piece band called ‘De Nazaten’. The name of the program is ‘Famiri Misma, een Kaseko Cantate’. We´ll be blending jazz with the Surinamese Kaseko Music, a lively and vibrant Afro-Surinamese music.



© Frans Lemmens

Denise Jannah with the ’Stichts Men's Choir’

It will be a very swinging and dynamic performance. Also in April a triple album ‘Best Of The Blue Note Years’ will be released, this is a re-release of the albums I recorded for the Blue Note Jazz Label in New York. What is your own definition of success? To enjoy my work in all freedom with spiritual fulfilment. And to enjoy the fruits of my work within a prosperous and abundant life.

Le Sourire De Mon Amour

Photo by Denise Jannah

Suriname, Paramaribo - Creole women in Kotomisi dress, the National Creole costume

Denise Jannah, a MISI dressed in a KOTO, = Kotomisi

Kotomisi in 1885



PAR K AVE N U E 2005

Oleander Magazine Nr. 2 - 2012  

Interview with Sophisticated Lady of Jazz Denise Jannah