"Live at the Castle Theatre" is the latest to showcase Denise La Grassa’s immense power and feeling, sophisticated yet melodic songwriting, and guitarist John Kregor’s inventive and soulful playing. "Sunshine in the Toxic Ballroom" and "Pieces of Peace" from the album are hints of what's to come on her upcoming "American Women" album. Her 2009 album "April Dreams" received critical praise from numerous outlets, including Jim DeRogatis of NPR's Sound Opinions, who heard “ … an impressive but never showy range and a self-assured, conversational delivery that brings to mind a jazzier Aimee Mann.”
2015's slow-burning "The Blues Ain't a Color" is the soundtrack to Denise’s one-woman show of the same name that played diverse audiences at various Chicago venues, including a summer run at the revered Theatre Wit. The album delivered torching ballads including “One More Tear” and “Davina’s Song” and more socially conscious themes including race that you can hear on the title track, “Color is the Difference” and “Spinning Jenny.”
Lyrically, Denise's songwriting is evolving, evident with the release of “The Blues Ain’t a Color.” Where universal themes of love lost and found dominated her early work, she now feels the pull to talk about the world around her. “Sometimes they are love songs but often there's just music and talking and having a dialogue about what's happening in the scene … in the daily day-to-day world, which really hasn't changed. I mean, it's been like this for centuries. But I have this idealism in my heart that says ‘we can do this. We can have that new day, new world.’”
Denise’s distinctive sound is grounded in her early love of soul, R&B & pop, with Aretha and Al Green being particular faves. Astute ears will hear that Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan also found their way into her songwriting and performance, making her music difficult to put into a single box.
Denise’s songwriting gift revealed itself at a young age. At six she took a fistful of freshly written songs to the front steps of her suburban Chicago neighbors and serenaded them with her morning’s work. Hoping to make enough money to buy Christmas presents for her family, she persevered until Mom caught wind of the young entrepreneur’s exploits. Confidence was gained.
Denise discovered The Second City in Chicago on break one summer from college. "I couldn't believe what I found. A school for people like me! I left college and soaked up improv writing and acting. Within a year I was traveling with The Second City Touring Company and having the time of my life.” One of her favorite bits was inventing songs on the spot from audience shouted ideas.
Denise has also written and produced numerous musical one-person shows and landed small parts in a couple of made for HBO movies, including the Hometown Boy Makes Good with Anthony Edwards (She's the funny secretary). You can still occasionally catch her portrayals of real-life people on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries.
Today, Denise shares her songwriting gift and passion for music to a new generation of musicians as the head of Contemporary Jazz Studies at Lincoln College, IL.