Dawn is our most recent jazz import. Coming to Denver from Seattle within the past 5 years, she brings a wealth of talent, a richness in creativity, a distinctive sound, and years of teaching experience to the Front Range.
In chatting with Dawn recently, we came to realize that we’re both in awe of the depth of the jazz scene here and the quantity and quality of our local musicians. She is also knocked out by the variety of music genres here and particularly mentioned our amazing guitarists!
In learning jazz, she first fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington’s music. She has studied Thelonious Monk in depth and explained that you can play the same Monk tune again and again, and never stop uncovering another shade of meaning. She loves his angularity and the time flow in his music. Dawn is passionate for “harsh, dissonant, aggressive” music, but don’t be misled! Dawn also has a love for the beauty of a melody and sings with a light, fine, sweet, gentle voice reminiscent of Blossom Dearie.
Raised mostly in Vancouver, WA, and San Antonio, TX, she credits her mother for her start. Her mother always played piano in church; little Dawn sang harmony without even recognizing it was harmony. Early on, young Dawn asked her mother for “one of those.” Mother managed to locate and acquire an old player piano with worn felts, which Dawn used from childhood right through high school. Her first teacher taught Dawn to sight read at age 10 or 11. When for a time there was no teacher, Dawn played Beethoven and Scott Joplin music on her old piano just based on her reading ability.
In her youth, Dawn was painfully shy and so was home schooled until high school, even while her siblings attended public schools. In middle school, she again took piano lessons. Today, watching her relate to her audiences, one would never guess she had ever struggled with shyness.
Because of her classical training, when a pianist was needed for the high school stage band, then for their big band, she was invited. She laughs today to tell how she started out using the wrong chords and with no understanding of harmony or piano voicings.
After graduation, she was awarded a full ride to Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, where, after graduating, she became an adjunct faculty member for 18 years. She loved that this gave her the freedom to gig and teach outside, and to collaborate with both local and world-famous musicians like Jane Ira Bloom, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, and sax and clarinetist Anat Cohen.
In 2015, she also earned a Master of Fine Arts in Music Composition degree from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Dawn has 6 CDs under her own name and has recorded with the incomparable Jane Ira Bloom on “Wild Lines” and Emi Myers’s “Monochrome.” During Covid, she was working remotely with flutist Elsa Nilsson (a former student of Dawn’s) who suggested they add Tina Raymond, a percussionist. Eventually, bringing on Emma Dayhuff on bass, they formed an all female quartet called Esthesis Quartet. Collaborating entirely by Zoom, this group ultimately recorded their self-titled debut album in May of 2022 and followed that with the just-released “Time Zones,” reflecting that they are located in each of the four time zones in the US.
“Tandem” is her album which I particularly encourage you to check out. A lover of the duet format, in this recording, Dawn reached out to several fine artists and recorded duets with each. These include saxophonist Mark Taylor, New York drummer Matt Wilson, and trombonist Julian Priester. A tenth tune is Dawn soloing and singing an intriguing version of “Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” Super stuff!
Today, Dawn is Assistant Professor of Jazz Piano & Voice and Area Coordinator of Jazz and American Improvised Music at Metropolitan State University, overseeing a program initiated by Ron Miles. She’s very proud of the fine work this program is doing.
In summary, I’ll quote drummer Matt Wilson in Downbeat: “She has all the craft skills: She swings, she can read, she has time. She’s really complete. She has the true spirit of the music.”
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