THE 55 BAR, NYC — “I call my music ‘urban folk and jazz’. And when people ask ‘What’s that?’, I say if Sting married Roberta Flack and had an affair with Rickie Lee Jones, I’d write the music,” jazz singer extraordinaire KJ Denhert told me. “That’s the music that I write.
“I first picked up a guitar at 10 and wrote a song about a teacher who had passed away,” Denhert said. “That was my first song. I couldn’t stand it anymore that I couldn’t play. I wanted to play, so I taught myself.”
While KJ’s career might have started in grade school, it really didn’t take off until, at the age of 45, she quit her job as a financial analyst, sold all her stuff, put some money away “in case I live to 65”, and started singing full time.
“I’d been at Cornell University for two years and I was miserable,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing or why I was there. So I took a leave of absence and never went back. I spent one year on the road with a band and paid off my student loans.”
But she didn’t stick with that road band, either.
“I came off the road and I worked for Dannon Yogurt,” she said. “I retired as a senior financial analyst at the age of 45 and said to myself: ‘I gotta go back (to music).’
“I sold all my property and put stuff away so I’ll have a pension if I live to 65,” she said. “And now I just have to make music. It’s incredible. This is the best part of my life.”
And thank God she did come back to music.
KJ is a force of nature who was meant to write and sing and play and perform jazz for live audiences.
Even before KJ starts her first song, you can feel the energy bolt that is about to strike. Her entrance and her interactions with her band members and the audience, even while they get ready to play, give you a sense of the fun that’s about to come.
KJ’s energy is an extremely friendly, warm, welcoming energy. She’s always smiling while she sings or talks between songs. She’s clearly having a ton of fun, and she takes her audience along for the ride.
The night I caught her, she was playing covers as part of one of her two residences at New York’s 55 Bar in the historic West Village Sheridan Square neighborhood. She’s been performing her own music at the late show Saturday nights for 20 years, and, starting in the summer of 2016, she’s been performing covers on the first Wednesday of every month. (Both schedules were active recently, but check the 55’s website to confirm before you go).
After the gig, I asked KJ about her goal in playing covers. “It sounds corny, but it’s authenticity,” she said. “These aren’t songs that I feel like I must do; these are songs I actually really want to do. These are things my mom and dad had, not things that I studied.”
Her unique style of music has impressed enough jazz fans that KJ has earned four Independent Music Award nominations. And in ’09, she was named as one of Jazz.com’s top female vocalists. KJ has appeared at concerts and festivals around the world.
So do yourself a favor and head over to YouTube and check her out. And then buy a couple of albums. And, for a real treat, if you’re in New York City, drop by the 55 Club some Wednesday or Saturday night and experience Denhart energy live and in person!
ABOUT KJ DENHERT:
KJ’s website: http://www.kjdenhert.com
KJ’s Discography: http://www.kjdenhert.com/discography/
KJ Denhert on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KJ_Denhert
KJ’s Performance Schedule: http://www.kjdenhert.com/schedule/
Samples of her music:
Buy some of her music:
- iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/kj-denhert/id5922654
- Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=KJ+Denhert
ABOUT THE VENUE
The 55 Bar: The 55 is a very cozy, serious jazz club downstairs in a great space in the Village across from Christopher Park, home of the famous Stonewall National Monument. The Monument is the site of the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969, which were widely regarded as the start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement in the United States.
The venue is small enough so you are never too far from the performers. The “front row” seats are practically in the piano player’s or KJ’s laps, which I highly recommend if you want to experience the music fully. The crowd is a listening crowd, so the musicians are appreciated, not treated as just background music. The service is fast and friendly. Unlike some jazz clubs in the city, it is the farthest thing from pretentious, and that is a relief.
Location: 55 Christopher St., New York, NY — it is across the street from Christopher Park, the site of the Gay Liberation monument.