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Progressive Rock Interviews

Joe Deninzon

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Joe Deninzon from 2005
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at

Who would you see as your musical influences?
My biggest heroes are Miles Davis and Frank Zappa, because they didn't give a s**t about anything and made their own rules. Their music defied category. In fact, they created their own categories. I also grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Mahavishnu Orchestra. My favorite classical composers are Beethoven, Bartok, and Stravinsky. I also dig Bjork, Bruce Springsteen, and the Screaming Headless Torsos. My CD collection is all over the place, as you can guess.
MSJ: Do you see your music as jazz, progressive rock or try not to categorize at all..or perhaps something else entirely?
My music tends to be enjoyed by fans of "jamband" music and progressive rock, but I have problems with both genres. Many jambands I have heard are very sloppy, and I get bored when their extended improvisations go on unnecessarily too long, and they've said all they need to say 30 minutes ago. Although I like Dream Theater and Yes, prog musicians try too hard to prove that they studied music theory at Berklee (or wherever), and fill their songs with too many unnecessary modulations and time signature changes. I love the balls and intensity of prog and hard rock and the improvisation and freedom of jazz and jam rock, so I try to take my favorite elements of both and blend them together.
MSJ: How did you get to become a musician?
I was born into a family of musicians, so I was hearing music in the womb when my mom played piano. My father is a violinist with the Cleveland Orchestra, so music was always a part of my life from day one.
MSJ: Without a lot of violinists out there these days, is it hard to get inspiration for what you are doing?
I get more inspired by non-violinists. I think my biggest heroes were guitar players like Vai, Hendrix, Vaughn, Django Reinhardt, and McLaughlin, as well as Art Tatum and John Coltrane. I mostly studied improvisation with guitar, sax, and piano players, instead of violinists. This gave me a different perspective. I also think I benefited from playing bass and guitar for many years. I always tell my students to look outside of their own instrument. This way, they can learn to phrase like a sax or electric guitar, and create an original sound.
MSJ: Since guitar and violin sound similar in some ways (at least in the way you play it) what do you see as the similarities and the contrasts between the two instruments?
It's easier to sustain notes on a violin, and you can get some crazy bends and vibrato. Obviously, it's easier to play different chords and voicings on the guitar. That being said, it's fun and challenging to re-create guitaristic things on the violin and violinistic things on the guitar. Alan Holdsworth was a violinist, and you hear many violinistic phrases in his playing.
MSJ: What is up next for Joe Deninzon?
I'm working on music for the next Stratospheerius studio project. I've also been gradually recording an all-acoustic jazz project with violin, upright bass, and guitar (no drums). There's another side to me outside of the fusion stuff that few people have heard. I also just finished my first film soundtrack for an indie called "What's Up Scarlet?", which should be out (hopefully) this summer.
MSJ: Are there any musicians with whom you would like to play?
The list would be too big to fit, but a few that come to mind are John Scofield, Medeski Martin & Wood, Dave Fiuczynski, Dave Matthews, U2. Allman Brothers, Warren Hanes, Trey Anastasio, U2, and Frank Zappa (do dead people count?).
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
I've been digging the new U2 and Gwen Stefani CD's. I've also been listening to this A-cappella Cuban Group that my bass player, Bob Bowen, turned me on to. The CD is called "Vocal Sampling: Una Forma Mas"
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended?
I saw a great concert at Carnegie Hall. it was The American Composer's Orchestra, and they were performing Ingram Marshall's Dark Florescence: Variations for Two Guitars and Orchestra, which featured Andy Summers. There was also a world premier of Danny Elfman's orchestral suite "Seranada Schizophrana".
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
We were booked to play a club in Chicago, whose name I won't mention. The show was scheduled for 9 PM. There were posters up all over the place that said 9 PM start. We arrived at 6 to load in and have dinner. The place was locked and no one was answering the phone when I tried to call. We had dinner and came back at 7. Still no one. 8:00 rolls around, still no one. People are lining up to see us in front of the club. I even manage to sell a few CD's outside, and we were thinking of just doing the gig outside in front of the place for the folks that were there. At exactly 9 PM on the dot, a dude walks in with a key to unlock the door. "It's a late night pace", he says. Very bizarre, to say the least.
MSJ: Finally, is there anything you'd like to add?
To musicians and audiences. Always keep an open mind and listen to everything you can.
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