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Up Close and Personal with Debbie Deane

Sometimes a new face just seems to come out of the blue. A talent that wasn't there one moment and just then was the next. For Debbie was the usual 10+ year 'overnight' success that just appeared to be instantaneous. Judging from those she chose to accompany her on her maiden voyage, she did it right though.

When she's not performing with her regular trio in Brooklyn or solo in NY or on the west coast, she writes (adding to the fifty odd originals she performs) and teaches music full time. Though jazz influenced, Deane considers herself to be a singer/ songwriter, but one listen to her new self-titled CD will quickly let you know she's much more than that. Having studied at both Berklee and Harvard helped her in attaining both a solid musical foundation coupled with an intelligent and personal way of turning her experiences into words and imagery we can all relate to. A gift for sure, as is this artist.

Debbie Deane: I checked out your interview with Wayne Krantz and it was really great and informative. Thank you. He's really accomplished, so that made it easy. How did you go about getting all that talent on your first record...did you know them or just go by word of mouth recommendations?

Debbie Deane: Well both...I met Brian (Blade) once and he never forgets a face or name-he's amazing that way. Then I just called him and asked him and he said yes! He's such a big fan of singer/songwriters and he's one in his own right, which you know.

Then I was thinking of bass players and a friend recommended Jeff Andrews who I heard with Vital Information and Steps Ahead but officially never met him. So I cold-called him and said Brian was on board to entice him but it turned out that at that time he had never heard of Brian!...It was in '96 (it took awhile to make this record from start to finish but that's another chapter), but Jeff said yes on the phone. So it was this lesson for me: ask and ye shall receive!! I mean, they knew I was doing it myself so it wasn't the $ or anything.

So the 3 of us went in and did the basics for 7 tunes, then I slowly asked people to do overdubs. Some of them were Jeff's call and some were mine. I knew Josh because I lived in a group house in Brooklyn with other musicians (tenor player Seamus Blake, drummer Marc Miralta, pianist John Stetch) and he would come and do sessions. Then later he became good friends with my then husband (who is a great saxophone repair guru), and I played Josh my music and he said he would love to play on it because he always loved to play more pop oriented tunes. He felt it challenging to have to say something in 8 measures. He also played live with me a handful of times. Craig Handy also played live with me a lot. Jeff asked Wayne Krantz to play and Jeff also introduced me to Rodney Holmes who was my steady drummer until he went out with Santana. I feel grateful because all of them have been so supportive!! At Berklee I played with a lot of great musicians as I was in the formative stage. My first demo was produced by Alain Mallet who produced Jonatha Brooke and The Story. That was a great experience.

Going to Berklee was great for meeting so many musicians from all over the world and so many of them now live in NY, especially Brooklyn. Eventually everyone meets everyone...! What is your instrument? Guitar. I did the Berklee and Banacos thing in Boston.

Debbie Deane: I lived in Boston for awhile so I know all about Charlie Banacos. I watched other people study with him but I never did. Very intense... Oh yeah. Who were and are your influences?

Debbie Deane: My influences or the people I love and adore are Joni Mitchell, Aretha Frankin (especially for piano), Stevie Wonder, Ahmad Jamal, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn, Miles Davis, Michael Brecker, Cannonball Adderly, Weather Report, Jeff Beck, Yes, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Armatrading, Neil Young, Elton John, Carole King....this is fun....I think this is enough but I know there are more.... The list is never complete. Some of my favorites are in there, too...Beck, Brecker, Miles, Weather Report, Bonnie, Stevie. Interesting you mentioned Yes. The Synergy disc just had two songs added to a Yes tribute compilation cd in Australia. What about how you go about composing...the process and the impact of emotional/experiential influences and about pairing the words with music. What comes easiest and whats most difficult for you and why?

Debbie Deane: For me, the music always come first. I don't have any writing routine. Sometimes I go for months without writing and then I'll get a burst. I know some writers who write everyday from 10-12 or something like that, but I am not very disciplined. I suppose because it is emotional. Writing lyrics is a whole other can of worms. I'll write little phrases on scrap paper in the subway or coffee place. I'm a journal-keeper. But I always start with harmony-bass and chords- and I'll fool around with singing a melody over it. I always have to record it on my Walkman or else it's gone. Usually gibberish words have to come out and at times those words dictate the content of the song just because they fit. I am fascinated that Bernie Taupin gives Elton John lyrics and then Elton writes music to those words.

For me the music inspires the lyrics and not the other way around. Right now I have a lot of bits of music and I haven't been able to go near them to finish them lyrically. I feel...stuck emotionally so it makes sense to me! Interesting. At Berklee I had a teacher who insisted that melody always came first (for him, he meant, but implied it should for all of us). This was of course a situation dealing with music not including lyrics, but I don't feel we can or should dictate to the muse how we want our inspiration formatted! I mean, we're lucky to have inspiration period. Like you said: you might not write for months (same here) and then a flood might come. Without that flow ever showing up where would we be, basically playing the tunes of others forever (not bad, but not exactly as personal either). Do you feel the CD really represents you the way you see/hear yourself or are there things you'd change about it in retrospect?

Debbie Deane: I do feel that the CD represents the way I hear the music especially since there are 2 different recording sessions put onto one disc. There are the 6 songs that Jeff Andrews produced which have much more going on--guitar, percussion, keyboard parts, saxophone, etc and the 6 later ones that I produced which have minimal arrangements. So you dont have a general preference of which sound you want to hear? Or is it more that you now associate a minimal sound w/ the pieces recorded trio and a full sound with those not?

Debbie Deane: I've been playing live as a trio these past 2 years so the music has been really pared down and I got used to that. So I wanted to record the sound of just the trio (me, Richard Hammond and Rodney Holmes) with a newer crop of songs. There were also financial restraints that dictated that choice. And luckily I'm happy with the results. Man, I know that song. That's one of the reasons it took us so long to complete the Synergy disc. Funny how a higher power makes sure we do it right even if we disagree at the moment. We just have to be open to that. Sometimes your songs need the opened up feel/sound you get with just rhythm section, so the vocals can be better exposed. Breathes better that way, too, sometimes because there's less going on.

Debbie Deane: The mastering process unified the 2 different sessions (which really surprised me) and that makes me feel that the CD has continuity. Thats really cool. I noticed that, too, and am glad. (the best test is to not notice a difference). Good mastering can do that depending on who's at the board. Have you recorded before?

Debbie Deane: I have recorded a number of demos before making this CD. The first one I ever did was on my 4-track. Matt Garrison played bass for me and I did the rest. We were such kids! Then I did 5 songs - live-to-2-track - of my first band with Seamus Blake, Kazumi Ikenaga and Victor Merlo. Cool. Seamus is a favorite of Metheny's. Do you perform these other tunes live? I'd like to hear those if you'd like to get a tape out sometime.

Debbie Deane: My first real official demo of 3 songs was produced by Alain Mallet (who produced Jonatha Brooke). I learned so much from that process since it was the first time someone else had input. Alain was a producer and arranger and he brought those songs to a whole other sonic level from my 4 track! Also, it was my first time singing my songs in a real studio without playing the piano at the same time. Chris Cheek played tenor, Ben Wittman played cymbals. Alain played keyboards and programmed drum parts. It was a 16 track demo that I have a big fondness for. Then my friends Angelo Montrone who was Tommy LiPuma's assistant at the time, produced another demo of 4 songs. I have plenty to say about that but I don't have the energy! and here we are. Do you do charts to teach to the others?

Debbie Deane: I write charts which simply have the chord changes and the form. On some songs I have specific bass lines but usually I just play the song for the bass player and drummer and they chime right in and contribute their great sensibility. Yeah, that's the cool thing of getting seasoned jazz/rock guys involved. Its a nice surprise to hear that instant click behind you elevating your stuff on the spot with such great results. How do you go about marketing and promoting yourself?

Debbie Deane: I just got representation. Well a few things are going on: the label ESC which is the in-house label of EFA-Medien based in Germany they just gave me a licensing deal for my CD in Europe. I'm excited about them because I like the other people on the roster-Tribal Tech, Maceo Parker, Victor Bailey...I'm the only female singer/songwriter so I'm intrigued to see what they will do. I literally just sent back the contract a week ago. They plan to release my record Feb/March, get press, then get me over there which is my dream...I am hoping they do right by me! I'm really happy that this CD that I poured everything into--$ included-- is getting a chance.

So, this move plus there's this TV show 'Judging Amy' that says they're gonna be using a song this season after the new year and that has gotten me some representation. I feel that my manager, Kenny Ketchum, really gets my music which is my criteria for picking someone. That's great...seeing your vision come into focus after all the hard work it took to get there. I hope everyone reading will realize what a great disc this is and that they should hear it.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Debbie Deane
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