phil denny
by Bernie Scott

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Phillip Denny is an up and coming saxophone player who is taking the US by leaps and bounds.  He had already created quite a following in Detroit metro area by the time his CD, Crossover was released.  More than 600 people attended his CD release party.  He is now being invited to play at many major events from coast to coast.

SmoothViews (SV): Phil, you began by making quite a noise, with that saxophone, in and around the Detroit / Lansing area.  Have you always lived in Lansing?

Phil Denny (PD): I was actually born in Sarasota, Florida, and raised by a single mother.   My mother moved me and my older brother to Lansing when I was 10.  I was in the 4th grade at that time.  When I was in 6th grade, I started playing the saxophone in the school band.  My very first instrument, however, was the harmonica, when we lived in Florida, but I lost interest quickly, as I preferred to play on the beach, surf, climb trees and practice gymnastics.

SV :It seems that kids pick up on some kind of music that just seems to click. What kind of music did you listen to as a child, and what artist or artists inspired you to play the saxophone?

PD: Growing up, I listened to a wide variety of music.  My mother had a collection of 8 track tapes and vinyl records of artists and groups, ranging from Christopher Cross to Steely Dan, Devo, The Commodors, The Beach Boys, Hall & Oates, Neil Diamond and the Police, just to name a few.  I grew up on 80’s hair band music and during the rise of urban hip-hop and rap culture.  I was a Jon Bon Jovi fan and listened to so many other great bands of the 80’s.  It wasn’t until later that I discovered jazz.  My brother worked at a record store, and began bringing home in-store demos of more contemporary saxophone players, such as David Sanborn, Boney James and Richard Elliot.  It wasn’t until about 1991 until I thought the sax was cool.  It was Richard Elliot and Boney James who really captured my ear, and from then on, I’ve been listening----not just to them, but a wide variety of saxophonists.  I had quite the collection, thanks to BMG.

SV: OK, we now know about the harmonica and the sax. Are there any other instruments that you play?

PD: I pretty much stick to the sax.  I play tenor, alto, soprano and the EWI.  I know some basic piano, but only enough to walk around it a bit.

SV: Are there any other members of your family, parents / grandparents who play musical instruments, or are you the only one?

PD: When I was growing up, there were no musical instruments.  My mother was an accomplished accordion player in her younger years, but it was brought out of the closet only a few times when I was growing up.  She excelled as a player as a young adult, but raising her children was her priority.

SV: I know you musical tastes run from jazz to pop to country and R&B, so I would like to ask a couple questions.  Are there any artists that you really dig listening to today, and are there any artists that you would someday like to share the stage?

PD: My ears are constantly open.  I do, however, listen to Kirk Whalum a lot.  As far as sharing the stage---I would love to share the stage with Boney James, Brian Culbertson and Norman Brown.  I am also drawn to rising artists, Nicholas Cole and Jonathan Fritzen.

SV: Phil, your CD Crossover has been a great debut album, and in a previous conversation, we had talked about collaboration with other artists.  So, what exactly is in the future for Phillip Denny?

PD: Yes, I have a list of artists who I would ideally like to collaborate with on the next CD.  It will most likely feature more of my R&B influence, with a heavier focus on the sultrier side of my playing ability.  I will continue to push myself into new elements of personal artistry.  I am a growing musician who will always be a student of music.  I am currently working on the follow-up to Crossover and working on my first holiday album.  It is my goal to expand my following, by performing in new areas, and continue to market and brand myself in the format of contemporary jazz.  I also hope to do more collaborations in performances, while recording on others CDs.  I would also like to learn more about concert production and promotion in my home town of Lansing.
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