Pianist, composer and vocalist Deanna Witkowski moves with remarkable ease between multiple musical languages and cultures. Heralded for her “consistently thrilling” playing and her “boundless imagination” (All Music Guide), Witkowski was the winner of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in 2002 and has appeared on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz. Her ever-inquisitive nature has led her to the worlds of Brazilian music, jazz, sacred, and classical music, to perform in venues ranging from jazz festivals to church sanctuaries to clubs in Rio de Janeiro, and to give radio and print interviews in Portuguese. Yet underpinning Witkowski’s musical diversity is the heart of a jazz player: a willingness to improvise, to breathe in the moment and to respond with well-honed musical reflexes.
An acclaimed bandleader/composer, Witkowski has released four recordings. Her latest, From This Place (2009: Tilapia Records) marries ancient and modern sacred texts with the richness of jazz, and features three lyrics from her own pen. This genre-defying release featuring legendary musicians John Patitucci and Donny McCaslin led to wide-ranging exposure in media outlets ranging from National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday to National Catholic Reporter and Interfaith Voices, and garnered Witkowski a legion of new fans.
Witkowski’s earlier three releases, Length of Days (2005: ArtistShare), Wide Open Window (2003: Khaeon), and Having to Ask (2000: Jazzline) clearly demonstrate her prowess as “one of the best of the new generation of jazz pianists” (Jazz Journal International) and showcase her rich fusions of jazz, Brazilian, and Afro-Cuban music. One JazzTimes reviewer remarked, “If Brad Mehldau and Bill Charlap represent the gold standard among contemporary pianists, then Deanna Witkowski deservedly ranks as their sterling sister.”
A lover of Brazilian culture, Witkowski is fluent in the samba and in Portuguese. In June 2010, she toured for the third time in Brazil, where she led her quartet in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. As a duo with Sao Paulo-based guitarist/composer/vocalist, Filo Machado, she completed a week-long East Coast tour in October 2010. Her travels have also led to performances at the Recife Jazz Festival and the Tel Aviv Opera House. She spent the summer of 2004 touring internationally as the pianist for vocalist Lizz Wright, and since 2006 has been the pianist in the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra. In November 2009, she appeared as a mezzo-soprano in performances of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil with Gotham Scholars, a 20-voice chamber choir. As a pianist, she plays in drummer Vanderlei Pereira’s Brazilian jazz group, “Blindfold Test,” and also appears on recent releases with the Schumacher/Sanford Sound Assembly and Joseph C. Phillips’ large ensemble, Numinous.
As a composer, Witkowski’s liturgical music appears in the hymnals Singing the New Testament (Faith Alive) and Swing a New Song to the Lord (Presbybop). In May 2010, she led 6000 participants in singing her commissioned piece, “Faith, Hope, Love” at the United Methodist Women’s Assembly in St. Louis. She has also been a presenter at the Calvin College Worship Symposium and at Songs for Peace and Justice at the Stony Point Center. In 2004, her setting of Denise Levertov’s “And I learned that her name was Proverb” was premiered by the Rochester (NY) based women’s choir, Concentus.
As a researcher and respecter of her own jazz ancestry, Witkowski created the trio presentation, Moving with the Spirit: The Sacred Jazz of Mary Lou Williams with historian Dr. Tammy Kernodle in 2000. Moving with the Spirit has since been performed at the Kennedy Center Mary Lou Williams Festival, the International Association of Jazz Education conference, Duke University, and the College Music Society northeastern conference.
Witkowski holds a M.A. in jazz piano performance from the City College of New York and a B.M. in classical piano performance from Wheaton College (IL).