JazzTimes Article

4-21-10 KJ Denhert

On behalf of Music Resource Group and our distinguished judging panelists, it is our pleasure to congratulate KJ Denhert on winning top honors in the Sing Out For Social Action Song Category for "Choose Your Weapon" in The 10th Independent Music Awards program.


KJ Denhert is a Native New Yorker. Denhert has not been an easy artist to pigeonhole. The far-reaching singer/songwriter is relevant to folk-rock and adult alternative, but she is equally relevant to neo-soul -- and at times there are hints of jazz in her work. Denhert likes to describe her solo material as "urban folk-jazz," and while her folk-rock/R&B blend isn't straight-ahead jazz in the way that Abbey Lincoln and Carmen McRae are straight-ahead jazz, she does incorporate jazz elements when it's appropriate.

The singer/songwriter, who plays both acoustic and electric guitar, brings a variety of influences to the table -- influences ranging from Chaka Khan and Roberta Flack to Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian, Simon & Garfunkel, and James Taylor. In fact, Denhert has been quoted as saying that her earliest influence was Taylor (who married '70s soft rock/adult contemporary star Carly Simon and shouldn't be confused with the James "J.T." Taylor who became Kool & the Gang's lead singer in the late '70s). The list of artists Denhert inspires comparisons to is long and diverse. The Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, Tracy Chapman, and Sarah McLachlan are valid comparisons, but so are neo-soul artists such as Jill Scott, Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Jaguar Wright. Denhert wouldn't be out of place on a Lilith Fair stage, nor she would be out of place in Vibe magazine.

While Denhert was born in New York City in the late '50s and grew up in the Bronx, her parents were immigrants who had moved to the Big Apple from the country of Grenada. By the age of ten, Denhert was studying the guitar and listening to a lot of folk-rock and singer/songwriters (especially Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, and James Taylor). After reaching adulthood, she enrolled at Cornell University but ended up dropping out during her sophomore year and joined an all-female rock band called Fire. Denhert spent a total of six years with Fire; she joined in 1980 and stayed with the band until its breakup in 1986. After that, she took a non-musical temp job with the Dannon company (as in Dannon yogurt) and eventually became a business analyst for that outfit.

But Denhert never gave up music; when she was based in Cleveland, OH, and working for Dannon during the day, Denhert played guitar in a funk band on the side. After several years in Cleveland, Denhert moved back to the Big Apple in 1995 -- and the mid- to late '90s found her performing as a solo artist on the Manhattan club scene (where she performed mostly original material but also included some covers here and there). Since the late '90s, Denhert (who was 44 in 2003 and now lives in suburban Westchester, NY) has put out several releases on her own label, Mother Cyclone Records, including the EP Looking Forward, Looking Back (her first solo effort) in 1999, Live in 2001, and Girl Like Me in early 2003. [Alex Henderson, All Music Guide]

KJ is a unique artist, singer, guitarist and songwriter who calls her music Urban Folk and Jazz. Her voice is powerful, her lyrics full of intelligent insight, and her musicianship is impeccable. Her eclectic yet unified performances reach out to many different types of audiences without compromising her music and beliefs. She is heard at her best on her most recent recording, Lucky 7 and is known to be especially good live. She performs the unusual feat of being both highly individual and quite accessible. 

In the 1980s, KJ Denhert toured as the lead guitarist and occasional vocalist with an all-female band called Fire, playing rock and top-40 music throughout the US, Canada and Europe. After the group ran its course, she worked at a day job while continuing to write and play music. While working in Cleveland as a financial analyst, she started the Mother Cyclone label and made her first recording. Moving home to New York in 1997, she formed the NY Unit, a group that she still performs with. “I look for players who have an ability to groove and have lots of drama in their playing. Lucky 7 (2007) was KJ Denhert’s seventh recording. It has acoustic guitar,  r&b and her style of groove, reflecting her greatest influences, Sergio Mendes, Steely Dan and James Taylor.

Besides running her own band and label, KJ has performed at Umbria Jazz and other festivals and clubs around the world. She has a residency at The 55 Bar in NYC. She's won several songwriting contests including Kerrville New Folk Song Contest in 2006 for "Private Angel" and the Mountain Stage Newsong Contest in 2005 for "Little Mary". Other recordings are Another Year Gone By and Live that won the 2006 Independent Music Award for Best Live Performance.