Born in London of St Lucian parents in 1969, Denys studied music at school from the age of 13 and, in 1990, went on to study at the West London Institute (Brunel University). In 1992, he continued his music education at London’s Guildhall School of Music, studying under former Jazz Messenger, Jean Toussaint.
From the moment he joined the London jazz circuit, Denys displayed extraordinary talent, energy and commitment. Spotted by veteran Jazz Warriors double bassist, Gary Crosby at the bassist’s regular Tomorrow’s Warriors jam sessions, Denys was immediately invited to join Crosby’s new band, Nu Troop. Since then, Denys has soared in his development as a soloist and bandleader, earning enormous respect from his peers.
His colossal talent – based on a powerful technique and an ability to improvise fluently and effortlessly across a wide range of musical styles – is matched only by his unfettered energy which takes him and his audiences into the musical stratosphere. An evening with Denys guarantees a display of unsuppressed expression, ranging from sweet “saxuality” to breathtaking, edge-of-your-seat virtuosity. Over the years, Denys has evolved into what the Time Magazine describes as “the icon of British jazz”, with a most distinctive and immediately recognisable sound.
A much sought after soloist, Denys has played/recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz and other genres including McCoy Tyner, Andrew Hill, Ernest Ranglin, Bheki Mseleku, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Michael Bowie, Courtney Pine, Manu Dibango, Gary Crosby, Steve Williamson, Julian Joseph, Jason Rebello, Martin Taylor, Lonnie Plaxico, Ralph Moore, Billy Higgins, Jerry Dammers, Sean Oliver, Jean Carne, Marlena Shaw, Noel McCoy, Juliet Roberts, Incognito, Jazz Jamaica, and others of distinction.
Denys is an amazingly versatile musician and, although his roots are steeped in the jazz tradition, he incorporates ideas from other musical forms and popular culture, producing a repertoire which is contemporary, multi-layered and highly accessible. He is also an enormously talented composer/arranger, whose brilliant compositions have already earned him immense critical acclaim.
1999 Début album Be Where You Are (Dune Records DUNECD03)
Mercury Music Prize for An Album Of The Year 1999
MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act 1999
2000 British Jazz Award for Rising Star 2000
2001 Album Release Alternating Currents (Dune Records
2003 Album Release Let Freedom Ring! (Dune Records
2005 Release of Let Freedom Ring! in the USA
2011 Album Release Identity By Subtraction (DUNECD019)
Be Where You Are – his 1999 debut album on independent jazz label, Dune Records – earned him a Mercury Music Prize for An Album Of The Year and a MOBO award for Best Jazz Act. He followed this in 2001 with his second album, Alternating Currents (Dune Records DUNECD05) also receiving great critical acclaim.
2003 saw the release of his third, and perhaps most ambitious, recording/touring project to date: Let Freedom Ring! (Dune Records DUNECD010), an inspirational, uplifting suite combining contemporary jazz, gospel, blues, and Afro-Cuban music with extracts of the epic poem, Mental Fight by Booker Prize winning author, Ben Okri who narrates on this piece. Commissioned by the Cheltenham Jazz Festival/Jerwood Foundation, Let Freedom Ring! commemorated the 40th anniversary of the historic ‘I Have A Dream’ oration by American black civil rights activist, Dr Martin Luther King and was nominated for Best Album and Best New Work in the BBC Jazz Awards, for Best Jazz Act in the MOBO (Music Of Black Origin) Awards, and Best Album in the UK Parliamentary Jazz Awards.
Identity By Subtraction, Denys’ fourth studio recording released in February 2010, returned him to quartet format and featured his long-time collaborators: pianist Andrew McCormack, double bassist Gary Crosby and drummer Rod Youngs, offering him the perfect setting for his fiery solo improvisations among the tight ensemble playing of this formidable and highly intuitive band. This new set conjugated the many cultural impressions and expressions of Europe, North America and the Caribbean that have come to define the artist, Denys Baptiste.
In late-2012, Denys experimented with a trio format when he unveiled a new band, Triumvirate featuring Larry Bartley – the double bassist on his very first album – and the exciting young drummer Moses Boyd. Triumvirate takes quality songs of the recent past to present them in a fluid and improvised style – think Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy and D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar, Cyndi Lauper and Bill Withers – and reinterpret them in trio format following the tradition of incorporating popular music into the jazz idiom. Possibly an unexpected source of inspiration for Denys, but as he says: ‘I live to present familiar material in an unfamiliar way, and hope our interpretation of this music will offer our audiences and opportunity to experience these great songs with fresh ears’.
In 2013, Denys returned to Dr Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ oration – still relevant to the world community today – to mark 50 years since he delivered this momentous speech. Expanding his Let Freedom Ring! band from 12 to 14 with the addition of two string players, he will reprise this piece – now widely regarded as a jazz classic – with new projected visuals by acclaimed filmmakers and VJs, Yeast, and premiere a brand new four-part suite entitled Now Is The Time scored for large ensemble, gospel choir and poet.
For Let Freedom Ring! Denys transcribed the rhythmic patterns of the second, and most well known part of Dr King’s speech to form the foundations for a new suite of music. Now Is The Time focuses on the first part of the speech – acting as a kind of ‘prequel’ to Let Freedom Ring! – and follows a similar creative process.
Denys worked for the very first time with the award-winning poet, Lemn Sissay whose recorded narration of his own original poetry overlays the live music performance. Another first for Denys is the addition of vocal ensembles. Denys invited local community gospel choirs in each city on the tour to join his band on stage in paying tribute to Dr King. The choirs were of varying sizes, with many large community choirs being created especially for this project.
Now Is The Time…Let Freedom Ring! toured the UK in 2013/2014 and continues to impress national and international audiences.
Denys has embarked on a new project. ‘Triumvirate’ represents a return to the improvisational free jazz style that inspired his earlier albums. Simple and stripped-down, Triumvirate revisits, revives and re-invents classic tunes from the group’s own discography. Look out for upcoming events.