JAZZREVIEW.COM: Denise Montana, Jeff Gordon, it is a pleasure to interview you! Your new eleven selection CD release JUST THINK OF IT is an exciting and wonderful creation! But first, before we get to that point, let's go back to the beginnings and share things with the readers and listeners leading up to this point! Let's start by asking, when and where were you born, and where did you grow up?
DENISE MONTANA: Where was I born............ I was born on a stage with a microphone in my hand, haha...hehe, just kidding. At the Bryn Mawr Hospital. I grew up in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Reluctantly moving to Havertown, Pa when I was eight years young, I say this because I didn't want to deal with the changes of the move. In fact it turned out to be great growing up in Havertown, having a park and a creek across the street and newly acquired friend's that to this day I still have.
JEFF GORDON: Hello Lee, First let me take this opportunity to thank you for such a gracious review. It's our first CD together and the reviews from you and others have been very encouraging. As I board Mr. Well's Time Machine, it takes me back to Trenton, New Jersey, the year 1946. So many memories come back to me. My childhood years were spent lugging an accordion to my grammar school. I longed to play the piano but at that time, the accordion was more practical, at least from my parents standpoint. I had a good teacher but as a child, I just didn't focus. I remember wishing I had taken up the sax so my walks to school would have been easier. I took lessons for about three years and then just played for fun. Most of the time I was playing sports. Musically, I remember listening to Shaboom Shaboom and the Everly Brothers and a lot of that 50's and 60's music, you know, the group harmony thing. I started late so when puberty hit, my mind was on other things. I wanted to dance and date girls. My father has a wonderful voice! He is to this day a sentimental influence in my life. It was always a way to interact with him. My mom also gives it her best. In L.A. I have an aunt who is a famous opera singer, so music definitely runs in the family. Unfortunately, the only time I sing is when a club owner wants to go home and still has patrons. Then it's, "Hey Jeff, sing a couple of notes so we can close up." Music has always been part of my life! I think we start motion pictures in our mind when that special song is played. It's like reliving a life's experience.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: How did the two of you meet?
DENISE MONTANA: Well, Jeff actually called me on the phone. He got my number from a mutual friend. His quest was to find a singer to accompany. We both seem to have gotten much more. This beautiful CD, collaborating on originals, lots and lots of music!
JEFF GORDON: Well, you could call it a blind date. A mutual songstress suggested Denise and I should meet. Feeling frustrated after many attempts to get the right singer, I wondered, "Could this be it?". The meeting was magic and there has been no looking back since.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Denise, what were your likes and interests during your childhood and teenage years?
DENISE MONTANA: During my teen years, I was very much involved with music. At school I was singing in the chorus, concert choir, and with chamber singers - an ensemble with 16 singers. We performed all through the year and also had a very supportive music teacher. I was in drama class, had a Rock n' Roll band at 16 and I got involved deeply with Villanova University's Theatre Department, and Hedgerow Theatre while in high school performing in many plays and musicals. But music, acting and having boyfriends were my main interests!!
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What influences came into your life during those years?
DENISE MONTANA: Believe it or not an influence for my singing was a Jazz radio station, WWDB from Philly. They played Ella and Frank constantly.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Did you have a favorite relative or relatives that influenced your life during these years?
DENISE MONTANA: My mom and step-father loved to listen to them. My uncle Mike Pedicin, my mom's brother, had a band his entire life playing sax. He is an influence. My father, one of the best jazz vibes players around, was a huge influence musically. Although I didn't grow up with him, I feel I am blessed with some of his music genes. We also did many projects together.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: How does somebody come by such a magical name as Montana? Having been to Montana, it still lingers in my mind as a reflective, image-filled state filled with mystery and subtle musings in its big sky and big country setting!
DENISE MONTANA: Yes, the name Montana is my birth name, Denise Montana. I like it, I think I'll keep it.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Denise, when did you first start as a jazz vocalist? Share some of the adventures you had in those early days, please!
DENISE MONTANA: My very first time singing a standard was in the eighth grade talent show. I sang "Misty." I loved all the standard tunes. The music teacher said I had a jazzy voice and that I should always continue singing.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Jeff, what was it like getting started as a jazz pianist? Share some of your early adventures, please.
JEFF GORDON: Slow but steady. I always loved Jazz but my lessons on the accordion were not that sophisticated. I heard Art Van Dan one day and knew that was what I wanted to sound like. A friend of mine, who had recently graduated from Berkley School of Music invited me over to hear his group with a vocalist. It was completely inspiring. Laughingly, I remember telling the singer, Carol, that I would call her in a few years and maybe we could play together. I didn't have a left hand because I had always played the accordion. It was a workout for me but within two years, I did call Carol. We performed an entire summer in New Hope, PA. We had a great time and I learned a lot from her. I then continued to play with a friend of mine, Tom who is a sensitive tenor player. Tom was kind enough to endure my playing during those early years and was always encouraging
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Denise, what do you consider your successes?
DENISE MONTANA: My recording success came to me through having the opportunity to record a pop song with Atlantic Records called YOU'RE MY NUMBER 1 DEE JAY. It sold 500,000 records. Also, I recorded a song with the Salsoul label called MERRY CHRISTMAS ALL that is a perennial, classic, Christmas, swing song and has sold over six million copies. You can hear it every year on the radio the whole month of December. My talented father, Vince Montana is the writer of both songs and had produced them as well.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: You have a beautiful voice, very lyrical, very sensual, very articulate. Your rendition of "I Remember You" is without doubt one of the finest versions recorded in the past several years! Were there singers who influenced your approach as your career unfolded?
DENISE MONTANA: Thank you, thank you and thank you again! "I REMEMBER YOU" is gorgeous melodically and lyrically isn't it? It's one of my favorites. Oh yes. There were singers who inspired and influenced me.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Denise, who are some of your favorite singers?
DENISE MONTANA: Everyone I heard on the radio and television, and especially Ella, Sara, Carmen, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Nancy Wilson, Phoebe Snow, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Luther Vandross, Janice Joplin, Aretha, Motown's music. So many singers.........do we have a few hundred pages?!!!
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Jeff, you have a remarkable smooth jazz sound that is unique. It is complex, yet straightforward and direct. Sweet and romantic, yet lively, and husky with emotion. What pianists influenced you?
JEFF GORDON: How reflective of you to identify so accurately my sentiments regarding Jazz. There are so many pianists and if I had to pick one, it would surely be Bill Evans. His chords structure, his uncanny sense of timing and his lyrical lines are works of art. Keith Jarrett, Marian McPartland, Kenny Baron, Dave Grusin, Rene Rosnes, Nat King Cole all seem to have their own voices.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Other musicians?
JEFF GORDON: I adore Sarah, Ella, Carmen, Nancy as an "elite" group of female vocalists. I think if I could sing, I would want to sound like Mark Murphy.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Who are some of your favorite composers?
JEFF GORDON: Some of my favorite composers include, Ravel, Stravinsky, Debussy, simply because they were romantic and had that passion in their writings. Some of the more contemporary composers include, Mancini, Mercer, Van Husen, Legrand and I think that Alan and Marilyn Bergman are "picture painting" lyricists.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: And songs?
JEFF GORDON: Too many songs to mention but "You Must Believe In Spring" has to be a favorite.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Denise, when you are creating a song, what is the process of creation involved when you are putting it together? Music first, words second, or visa versa or is each one a different approach? I am thinking of those two lovely songs from the CD, "Warm Embraces," and "Just Think Of It." Is there a special story behind each of those songs you can share?
DENISE MONTANA: Lee, for me it is always different. I was awakened one night with lyrics to the song "Warm Embraces." I had to get up, find a pencil and paper, or I probably would have lost the tune in my head. Jeff had the concept of the opening words, warm embraces, funny faces, which set the tone and that inspired me. When I think of funny faces. I envision my two beautiful son's, Eli and John. Very funny kids and so beautiful. "The dream is here beside me." That is my husband Tom."I know the thrill of and I know complete love, I'm blessed with a life so pure, so warm, so new.....when you hold me in your precious arms I know music is our heartbeat, treasure you forever." When I collaborate with Jeff, he comes up with some very pretty melody lines, and he may play a line, with chords, melody and we both then and there decide on what fits where. Jeff plays many many chords until we both agree. Sometimes I hear a melody in my head, and if I like it enough, I get my tape player out and put it down. I go more with what feels and sounds good. My ears dictate.
Jeff and I worked on the song "Just Think of It" at his home. Jeff had some melodies, lyrics and chords started. I did the hour drive to Trenton, N.J. to work on that one tune for many months. Then the magic combination, Jeff, the piano, and myself, started to cook. It took awhile to birth that baby though!! We had decided, Jeff and I, since we were a duo, why not put a CD together, and write a couple of tunes also. It was a project that had been in the works for a year and a half or so. Between gigs and family, it was a long pleasurable, painful, dramatic, emotional process -- like life itself. I must create drama in almost all I do.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Jeff, although we have barely left the old century behind, what jazz pianists do you feel will be most remembered for their work in the past century?
JEFF GORDON: Those pianists whose work I will remember will be Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock for his incredible introduction to Corea and his solo, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, David Benoit, Vince Gauraldi, Joe Sample, Dave Grusin for an inspiring job on "The Baker Boys" and "Jack's Theme" and "You Were My First Time Love."
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Denise, what advice would you give to a young woman just starting her career in jazz singing, today?
DENISE MONTANA: I would tell singers just starting out, that if you really feel you have a gift and something to say with it, and that when you sing you get great feedback from musicians and folks, then go for it. Stick with it. I would say learn to play an instrument in addition to having a voice.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Jeff, as a composer, you reveal a flexible, enjoyable sound in your musical compositions. It is hard to compose? What inspires you?
JEFF GORDON: Composing is not difficult. Sometimes finding the inspiration is, or finding the inspiration at the right moment. I hear a melody or a phrase or simply some words and then ideas start to flow and it's a matter of choices. Candidly, most of the inspiration comes from love or sadness and hopefully I won't be inspired by the latter more than the former.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: How do you create your compositions? Some composers have told me they visualize their music in dreams and upon awakening finish or develop them. Does this happen to you?
JEFF GORDON: There are times when I do hear melodies in dreams but like most dreams, unless I get right up and embellish what I've just heard, I lose it.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Now, let's talk about that beautiful work of art, your CD titled, JUST THINK OF IT. What can you share with the jazz reader and jazz listener about how it came to be? Where do you go from "Just Think Of It"?
JEFF GORDON: I woke up one morning and had this melody in my head. It seemed like a perfect introduction to the song "I Remember You" and in fact Denise and I used it on the CD as the introduction. Later, we both liked it so much that we extended it to one of the cuts on our CD. The words in the song, "Two peas in a pod" literally came from my wife who is always saying, you know Jeff, after seventeen years, we're really like two peas in a pod. We were originally going to do a duo but felt we wanted a few songs with some of the people we were currently performing with in the area.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What are your plans for the future?
JEFF GORDON: Future? It holds many thoughts. Present and past combined I breathe in and pause. Looking forward to artist rewards and creative fulfillment.
DENISE MONTANA: Hopefully and God willing, as long as I have life and breath, will continue to have, do, be, play music.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: It has been a pleasure visiting with you, Jeff. Is there anything else you would like to share with the jazz listeners and jazz readers who enjoy your excellent piano work?
JEFF GORDON: Keep listening, we're out there!
JAZZREVIEW.COM: It has been a pleasure visiting with you also, Denise. Is there anything else you would like to share with the jazz listeners and jazz readers who enjoy your excellent vocals?
DENISE MONTANA: Thank you Lee, and it has been a pleasure chatting with you also. I know we'll be playing and creating more music, more original songs on future CDs. So, keep a look out for more music. I will sing and sing and sing some more. That is what is in me to do.