M5: Your music is very energetic and vibrant, also has a touch of melancholy and longing of the soul. You write songs yourself next to singing pop/jazz/rock standards, and if I may say so, you make them your own with a distinctive KJ Denhert touch, like in Sting's "Message In A Bottle". And it's even crystal clear your taste in music is wide and versatile. As a kid, what were your most early musical influences when growing up?
KJ: Well, I listened to radio, pop radio as a kid. Michael Jackson, the Supremes, The Beatles, Rolling Stones... I also listened to the music my parents had around and that was also pop, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Tony Bennett, some jazz like Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal. When I started to define my own taste the big two were James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, followed by Carole King and on through the seventies songwriters-I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old so by age 12, I was beginning to really encompass the technique to play- 70's soft rock or singer songwriter stuff.
M5: How did your musical career unfold, like did you start to play the guitar and perform, knowing that was what you wanted to do or...?
KJ: When I was 4 years old I asked for a piano, perhaps after meeting my grandmother
who played and taught piano. She lived in Grenada and we went there for a
long stay during the Cuban missile crisis in the sixties. I think I decided
then that I wanted a piano. I thought that I could play and told my mother
that I knew when the notes went up and when they went down.
At 10 with still no piano around, I picked up my brother's discarded
acoustic guitar and wrote a song using only the four remaining strings. I
wrote a song for a teacher that died at school. I was rather intense as a
M5: You record and publish your own music as well as perform live a great deal, you've traveled a lot in the US, Europe, Asia, so you know what it's like to be on the road. Can you share some special memories or experiences with us, perhaps like in what respect does this traveling influence you in who you are, or how you grow musically ..?
KJ: Well there are so many exciting adventures, that I am threatening always to
write a book about those seven years touring. We spent one solid week at
Sea, touring the ships of the US 7th fleet that was stationed in the Indian
Ocean. We were lowered from hovering helicopters onto the deck of an
Australian ship, at 7 AM. It was a gesture on the part of the USO or some
commander to add an extra show for our allies. Of course we weren't
consulted and we often did more than one show a day. There was some sea
sickness that I tended to after the show- it didn't hit me until the
helicopter and a few thousand Australian seamen were on deck waving white
M5: You're a finalist in the Independent Music Awards, (category folk singer songwriter) for your album Songwriter's Notebook you did with Adam Falcon. How would you describe the connection the two of you have and are there any plans to record more?
KJ: Adam and I are great friends and our little CD has gotten some very nice responses. There are a few international stations in France and Australia that play it. Our connection is purely musical. We are so similar, we approach guitar, and especially rhythm from a similar place. I can't believe I produced that record. Adam has had a lot of success in this business and seems to know everybody. He knows George Benson and has provided songs to Al Jarreau- working with Adam is like in sports, when you play with someone who is very skilled you discover the best you can do. That has been a gift. We don't have plans for another CD yet- we both have bands and our own projects but we just completed three shows supporting our release and each one got better and better. What is great is the amount of improvisation that we do- that's the real thrill. A lot of music that we see on television is choreographed, and rehearsed down to the smallest detail. We have a framework that is open, like jazz and it's a high wire dance that we share. I hope we get to do more shows soon- it's so envigorating.
M5: Composing your own music and arranging work from others, are those two different skills in your view?
KJ: Yes, I certainly thought of those things as different but here's where it
gets related. Whether I write a song or someone else did, it's about hearing
it in your head. If I were to teach any young musician one thing it would be
to pay attention to what's in your head. We can get so caught up in what our
hands can do -practicing licks or scales but our ears and minds are
progressing faster than muscle memories of chords and scales. When we try to
recreate things using our physical skills, it's actually a distraction from
listening to what is happening. I always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder
because I had no formal training, I spent so many years feeling like I had
to catch up- but I don't learn things the way a lot of folks do. It took a
long time for that concept to be resolved, emotionally for me. Once it did,
any song, my own or a cover became the same mental process- very liberating.
I get told all the time that I make cover tunes my own- it's really because
I learned to let my mind lead, or my ears. I essentially gave up on being a
technician and started listening to every note I sang and every note I
played almost as though I was listening to a new recording and what needed
to come next began occurring milliseconds before I would play or sing it.
Milliseconds sound very short but it's all so relative. We can have many
thoughts in a millisecond, learning to do anything from the heart is like
meditating, focusing and turning off all of the useless (ego driven
thoughts) and then a millisecond, when the next note is arriving is a long
beautiful time. Thoughts like; Who is in the audience? Do they like it?
What's that really cool lick I played last time?- can all go on
simultaneously. I have to keep a constant vigil to just listen.
M5: You also love the music of Steely Dan. What are your fav tunes and do you ever think of arranging and performing a SD song? If so, what song(s) would that be?
KJ: I really really love Steely Dan music. When I was young I think it seemed
to hard to do justice to. Today I know we could, but some songs, it's just so much fun to be able to sing the solo from Kid Charlemagne note for note in my head that it doesn't inspire me to pull it out for a reworking.
M5: The musicians you work with, in either your quartet, quintet or with the band NY Unit, these musicians come from different backgrounds and bring their experience and musical wealth together in what Herb Sierra describes as a very strong spirited musical performance that gets to the listener. There are influences of Latin, funk, jazz, folk, r&b ... You like to call your music Urban Folk & Jazz, also because you're living and working in New York. Have you ever considered moving to another city, or another country even?
KJ: I've always wanted to move to another country, it just gets hard to do. You get settled and want to be among your friends, I like NY too. Hopefully I will do enough touring to feel like I've lived everywhere a little- oh that does sound silly doesn't it?