Trumpet player Dennis Adu, 29, is not only talented, he is also extremely hardworking and intelligent. “I believe in diligence as a way of achieving success in anything you do,” he says. And his jazz idols are: Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown, among others. Today, Dennis teaches at the Glier Kyiv Institute of Music in [where is this]. The Dennis Adu Big Band and Dennis Adu Quintet are among his current projects, with performances all across Ukraine and around the world.
Born in Saltpond, Ghana, to a Ukrainian mother and Ghanian father, he moved to the city of Krivyi Rih (Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine) with his family at the age of two. Dennis attended a boarding school in the city, coming home only on weekends. Vyacheslav Gazarov, his music teacher, would gather students during the quiet hour to play marches and compositions of academic brass music. Dennis was given an alto horn, which is similar to a trumpet. A year later he asked his teacher and for a trumpet. Having mastered the instrument in one year (the average time to learn the trumpet is four years), Dennis was transferred to Music School No. 10, where he studied orchestral jazz under the guidance of Oleksandr Gebel. In 2005 he moved to the capital of Ukraine to complete his studies at the Glier Kyiv Institute of Music.
We met at a cozy restaurant in the heart of Kyiv. I was surprised to see Dennis without his trumpet. He says it’s important to have your instrument with you at all times, because in jazz culture you can be invited to play at any time of the day or night.
When you perform onstage, what do you feel? Is it more focus or emotion? Does your style of performing depend on your mood, or on the audience?
A lot depends on what style of music I’m playing and what type of audience is listening. There are concerts where you have to be super focused, such as recordings or TV shows. When I play jazz with my friends and colleagues, I can relax and let my emotions guide me. Perhaps some moments will not be played as precisely, but it will be more sincere, more musical. I prefer emotional performance. The emotions that go into jazz are a huge component of its sound. When I go onstage, I don’t think about the notes or the technical aspects, I focus more on expressing my feelings at that moment. The audience is the key, but in my ensemble, we usually play for each other. We have a great relationship, in life and onstage, so it’s a great pleasure for us to play together.
Are there particular performances in your career that you remember most?
During a performance at the Millau Jazz Festival in France, I played Chad Baker’s version of the song “My Funny Valentine” without the orchestra, in a quartet. There was magic onstage that night. When I stopped playing and opened my eyes, I saw people’s reaction, heard their applause, and it filled me with great joy. This was one performance that made an impact, which I remember to this day.
I like to play with the Dennis Adu Big Band, and recently we had a chance to perform at the Caribbean Club in Kyiv, in collaboration with the American saxophonist, Wayne Escoffery. It was a very special night. We didn’t have much time for preparation, because he played with other musicians during his visit, but it all came together perfectly onstage.
Please describe your vision of jazz in Ukraine today.
From what I’ve experienced, I can say that jazz in Ukraine has changed greatly in the past 11 years. There are a lot of young musicians who play at a great level. The jazz community in Ukraine is growing, and more venues for jazz have been opening up all across Ukraine. The only Ukrainian jazz festival is the Alfa Jazz Fest held in Lviv every year. This year I was part of the United Project, with the famous pianist from Holland Michiel Borstlap. The UA Big Band was another interesting project, where the organizers gathered an orchestra of young talented Ukrainian musicians under the guidance of the renowned pianist, composer and arranger Michael Abene. It was like a workshop for young musicians. Projects like these help the development of jazz in Ukraine.
Kyiv is definitely the capital of jazz in Ukraine. But other cities are known for their jazz culture, such as Kharkiv, which has bred many talented jazz musicians, Donetsk is a jazz city for the older generation, Lviv, Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk, Cherkassy and my hometown, Kryvyi Rih.
Dennis, tell us about your performances and experience in New York.
I used to come to New York to take lessons from local trumpet players and attend concerts, drawing inspiration from different musicians and bands. I have several Ukrainian friends who study in the U.S. I also went to Philadelphia, where I attended academic music lectures.
This year I had a goal to record a CD with musicians from Ukraine and New York. In the process, a musician who was helping me record invited me to make a record with him. Later, the Mambo Legends Orchestra, comprised of 21 musicians who play salsa and Latin jazz, asked me to play with them during live concert. “Wear a black suit, bring your trumpet and come to Harlem,” they said. It was quite spontaneous, and I had to buy a black suit on my way to the venue. In the process I met more musicians, as well as the famous mambo and salsa dancer, Eddie Torres, also known as “The Mambo King.”
I love New York for its rhythm, and of course its jazz culture is unbelievable, truly inspirational!
What would you wish to tell the readers of InLove magazine and what does being “in love” mean to you?
I wish for all the readers to always enjoy good, high-quality music, filled with emotions, music that carries a special meaning and transforms the mood – whether it’s a happy or sad melody, playful or melancholic. Music is created to affect the mood. Concerning love, I recommend the album “A Love Supreme” by the legendary American saxophonist, John Coltrane. Guaranteed to answer your question!
Photo Chris Kulakovskaya.
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