The first time I put on pianist Deanna Witkowski’s new CD, “Make the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns,” I was busy in my apartment and not really listening. Notes wafted in and out of my consciousness, though, and I would stop because they were so beautiful.
The next time I played it was under similar circumstances, except then I found myself singing along, not fully aware I was singing until I realized I know that music. Witkowski, an award-winning composer following in the paths of Duke Ellington and Mary Lou Williams, has reimagined 14 classic Christian hymns into her world of jazz for trio arrangements that one can listen to for inspiration by day or for entertainment with a glass of wine by night. I’ve been enjoying them both ways.
Makes the Heart to Sing is part of a larger project that includes the publication of a folio of Witkowski's arrangements.
"It's an instrumental jazz trio record, but the mission is to get this music played more widely outside of church and to bring these jazz interpretations into circulation inside churches,” she says. “The album is almost a demo for church music directors, and the arrangements are meant for congregational singing.”
Joining Witkowski on the recording are Daniel Foose on bass and Scott Latzky on drums. I love the way they move from a lively “Hyfrydol” (“Loves Divine, All Love Excelling”) to a gentle “There is a Balm in Gilead.” With Epiphany on the horizon Jan. 6, I’ve especially been enjoying the trio’s swinging interpretation of “We Three Kings.” It is cabaret room ready!
This is the second CD of sacred jazz I have from Witkowski, winner of the 2002 Great American Jazz Piano Competition. I’ve been enjoying From This Place since its release in 2009.