Dena DeRose’s early career as a jazz pianist was interrupted by a painful hand condition, which forced her to stop playing for two years. She used the time well, developing her chops as a jazz vocalist. Her hand recovered, and for the past three decades she has been playing and singing, recording, performing and teaching across the U.S. and internationally. The Napa Valley Jazz Society presents the Dena DeRose Trio this Sunday afternoon at Silo’s in Napa.
On the phone from a jazz workshop in Port Townsend, Washington, last month, DeRose talked about her early piano heroes. “Being younger, you always look for the people that are a little more like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, those people,” she said. “Then I had to go back, and I listened to where their influences were from. Chick had a lot of Wynton Kelly in him, and Red Garland and Sonny Clark, and all those great pianists. I just started figuring out what they were playing.”
Her singing influences were the masters. “It was a lot of Ella (Fitzgerald), of course, and Sarah (Vaughan),” DeRose said. “I really, actually, probably dug Carmen McRae the most. Someone gave me a cassette tape, all it said on it was ‘Carmen.’ I learned that entire record pretty much note for note. It was a Japanese release called ‘Live at the Dug.’ I learned a lot from that record, and I still play it. I give it to a lot of my students to learn.”
DeRose also expressed her admiration for pianist/vocalist Shirley Horn, to whom she devoted an entire album, 2014’s “We Won’t Forget You … an Homage to Shirley Horn.” In all, DeRose has released 12 albums. Her most recent is this year’s “United.”
Over the years, DeRose’s performance credits have included a who’s who of clubs, concert halls and festivals. A small sample includes the Blue Note, Birdland, the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, the Monterey and San Francisco Jazz Festivals and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
These days DeRose is as much an educator as a performer. She is busy conducting workshops at a large number of jazz institutes and is currently tenured as the professor of jazz voice at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, Austria.
DeRose is enthusiastic about the infusion of young people as players and fans. “I’m in a jazz camp right now,” she said. “There’s probably two or three hundred students, and I’d say three-quarters of them are under 20. They just love it. Young people seeing young people playing this music at a high level is important. Not just seeing the masters, but seeing the wide ranges of age, of style. It’s not just bebop, it’s not just old-time jazz anymore.
“They are open to hearing from someone who has experience. They all come from tradition. They can all sit and play a blues. They can all sit and play rhythm changes. They can all play ‘How High the Moon.’ They learn the tradition, and then they take it where they’re going to take it from there.”
“In Europe, and especially in South America, the audiences are very diverse,” DeRose said. “There are quite a lot of young people at the concerts. I was down in Argentina last year. It was very surprising. We had about 500 people, and when I looked around the room I could probably count five people with white hair.”
At Silo’s, DeRose will perform with bassist Peter Barshay and drummer Akira Tana.
Sunday, Aug. 14, 4 p.m. Sponsored by the Napa Valley Jazz Society (NVJS). $45, $25 (NVJS members). Silo’s, 530 Main St., Napa. 707-224-5299. nvjs.org/tickets.