Denise La Grassa
was destined for the spotlight. Writing songs like mad at five and six years old, she would knock on doors in her suburban Chicago neighborhood once a fistful was ready to go. Unsuspecting neighbors were serenaded by the author with her new compositions on their doorstep. "I was hoping they'd like the songs enough to buy them. I thought if I sold enough songs, I could buy presents for my family.” Alas the door to door song-selling ended once Mom caught wind of the young entrepreneur’s exploits. But with a few dollars in her pocket, she gained songwriting confidence at an early age.
Denise play-writing caught the eye of her 3rd grade teacher. "She allowed me and my fellow thespians the chance to perform a Christmas play for the school. We rehearsed in the library after school and got parents involved typing scripts, finding props, and designing costumes. The play was a huge success and I was on my way to fame and fortune,” she laughed.
On break one summer from college, Denise traveled to a place called The Second City in Chicago and discovered a school for performers and writers. "I couldn't believe what I found. A SCHOOL for people with my interests!" She left college and soaked up improv writing and acting. Within a year she was on the road with The Second City Touring Company and having the time of her life. One of her favorite improv bits was "Make-A-Song," where she would create songs on the spot from audience shouted topics. “I had a blast writing and singing melodies and parodies under pressure. My only regret is that I don't have recordings of those performances."
Following her Second City stint, Denise continued working professional theater, performing in plays and musicals. She also wrote and produced two musical One-Person shows. She also landed small parts in a couple of made for HBO movies, including Hometown Boy Makes Good with Anthony Edwards (she's the funny secretary). And you can still occasionally catch her portrayals of real life people on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries. Despite her busy acting schedule, Denise made time for her music, performing with her band at nearly every Chicago music venue, including The Jazz Showcase, Katerina's, Andy's, The Velvet Lounge, and The Bop Shop. She also produced three CD's of original music: The Tracks (1999), Pieces of Peace (2002), April Dreams (2009), and The Blues Ain't a Color (2016). She has also won 3 regional Emmy's as a producer for Wild Chicago and ArtBeat Chicago at WTTW-TV (PBS), and was nominated for many others in both Chicago and WILL-TV (PBS) in Urbana/Champaign.
The Blues Ain't a Color is Denise's most recent production. This original Jazz-Theater presents conversations about America's troubled history with bigotry and race. Backed on-stage by a trio of musicians, La Grassa mixes powerhouse takes on her original jazz and blues with poignant dialogue delivered by an array of characters. Both funny and heartbreaking, The Blues Ain't A Color uses the power of original music, dialogue, projected artwork and doc-style video to shine a light on America’s ongoing struggles with racism, fear, compassion, and dignity.
Now Lead Faculty of the Jazz Studies program at Lincoln College in Illinois, La Grassa is passing her talents and passion to a new group of students eager to explore their own talents and abilities.