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Artist/Album of the Day: Jazz Organist Barbara Dennerlein – Tribute to Charlie!

Last Thursday September 25th, jazz organist Barbara Dennerlein celebrated her 50th birthday. In honor of the day and to Barbara Dennerleindiscover another jazz organist that I may enjoy, I listened to her latest release Tribute to Charlie. Not only did I find an organist that I like, but I found one who may soar to the top of my favorites. Could she pass the Incredible Jimmy Smith?? I doubt it, but I’m listening to “All That Blues” from her album Straight Ahead now and it is pretty terrific!!

Dennerlein was born 25 in Munich, Germany. And started to play the Hammond at ge 13. By the age of 14 she began to play concerts and the following year she started playing jazz clubs!! Often she was leading bands in which she was the youngest player. Around Munich say was known as the “Organ tornado from Munich”, after her first TV appearances in 1982. She hard bop post-bob organist and she has particularly praised for her distinctive use of the bass pedalboard on the Hammond B3. She has also intergrated synthesizer onto the instrument. Both of these aspects of her playing have resulted in Barbara being described as “the most interesting jazz organist to emerge during the 1980s.”

From her website:

For years, Barbara has topped critics’ polls in American jazz magazines and can call a worldwide community of devoted jazz friends her own. Yet through all this she has remained modest and uncomplicated, like the proverbial “girl next door”, never failing to mention the support of her parents in interviews, and seeking emotional closeness to her audience as she takes them on a musical journey of discovery beyond the usual boundaries of fixed stylistic definitions. “To me”, says Barbara,”jazz is a synonym for freedom. Freedom from prejudice and discrimination, freedom from constraints and convention. This is my own definition of jazz that I want to convey to the listener. Whether young or old, traditionalist or modernist, jazz fan or non-jazz fan.” Read More


In her biography at AllMusic Scott Yanow writes:

Barbara Dennerlein differs from most organists by not sounding all that much like Jimmy Smith. She utilizes MIDI with her organ in order to get a different sound and her baselines (which she operates through her foot pedals) really do sound like a bass

“The bass pedals are absolutely crucial to my way of playing the Hammond”, says Barbara. “They enable me to develop a very special rhythmic structure which cannot easily be imitated by a bass player, because together with the two manuals I have a kind of rhythmic triptych at my disposal”. Read More


While George Benson says: “Not only is Barbara an accomplished musician, her
music is quite different than any jazz organists I’ve ever heard. A difference worth checking out for any jazz lovers.

Tribute to Charlie is  Dennerlein’s tribute album to bebop icon Charlie Parker. The album is actually culled from Dennerlein’s Tribute to Charlie1987 collaboration with the famous bug band of Peter Herbolzheimer and features Hammond organ & Big Band along with smaller groups like a Septet and a Quartet within the Big Band. OF the twelve tracks on the album eight are Parker compositions and four are originals written by Dennerlein in the style of the master.

From the original liner notes written by Werner Burkhardt:

On this disk, exclusively devoted to Parker, Barbara consistently expresses her love for the musical genius. But this must not be misunderstood as a kind of plodding, dogmatic interpretation of Parker’s works. On the contrary; she breathes life into his works! She blooms and draws the listener in! She swings and swings! In her live performances she is equally animated, entertaining the audience with her stories and personal experiences on numerous stages, at jazz clubs and festivals. Her being awarded the German Record Critics Jazz Prize, only confirms what fans in Munich and elsewhere already knew long ago.

….she plays only compositions from Parker, except for dedicating four of her own, written in the spirit and style of the master. These are without doubt specially written for this undertaking! But above all, they are just opportunities to play for Barbara and her organ. Whether now Jimmy Smith or – maybe…. hopefully! – also Fats Waller were the inspiration behind Barbara’s talent, can be left for theorists to argue about. Barbara draws her music so completely from the innermost being of her instrument and her style is completely unrelated from that of a piano, with long sustained tones and sizzling blues passages. It suddenly becomes very clear: here is a musician who finally gives the organ what it deserves. You don’t need to write it on Munich subway walls, but it must however be said: Bird and Barbara will live on! Read More


All that I know is that several times as I was listening to the album I stopped and said “Wow!” and I’m saying it again today as I listen to “Straight Ahead”, so check out her great musicianship!!


Here’s Barbara playing her composition “Jimmy’s Walk” dedicated to the great Jimmy Smith