Louise’s artistry as a composer has frequently been noted by reviewers and listeners alike:
“…[Denson’s compositions] are not just improvising vehicles, they are pieces, which, with their rhythmic momentum and attractive chord changes, all but ensure that strong improvisations emerge…” John Shand, Limelight Magazine
“Similarly, the languid and sauntering Soñando de tí and Contemplacion (Two Boleros) … arranged for piano trio by jazz artist and composer Louise Denson, envelop the audience with luxurious, rich, captivating Cuban melodic and harmonic material” - Prof Kimberly Greene, IAWM Journal
“…expertly crafted compositions from Denson…” - Dr. Sandy Evans, saxophonist/composer, OAM
“The Wild Silk Project is a mesmerising fusion of a traditional jazz combo with the lush sound of strings. The arrangements of originals, classical music, classic popular music and standards were melded together with … care and finesse … originality of both arranging, instrument blend, vocals and repertoire.’ - Danielle Manche, pianist/vocalist, educator
Composition became a serious part of Louise’s musical life after she completed her Bachelor degree in jazz at St. Francis Xavier University (Antigonish, N.S.) and moved to Montreal. Wishing to continue studying, she took a jazz composition class at Concordia University. The first semester, taught by musician/musicologist Andrew Homzy, involved writing 40 tunes, yes – 40! in 16 weeks. That’s 2.5 tunes a week! The idea was that as a composer, you can’t wait until an inspiration wafts in from the ether: you need to learn how to inspire yourself by getting down to work on a regular basis. The class was a turning point in the development of Louise’s compositional voice, both with regard to skills and self-concept. In fact, it’s fair to say that she didn’t have a self-concept as a composer at all until she finished the semester with a portfolio of forty tunes – all of them playable, and a good many of them ‘keepers’. Also, having come originally from a classical background, this course helped cement her understanding of the defining musical characteristics of straight ahead jazz such as steady rhythm, common time feels, the use of song forms, blues inflections and the aesthetics of jazz melody writing.
Louise’s two-year Masters program at New England Conservatory (Boston) broadened her musical mind in many ways. She studied Lydian Chromatic Theory in George Russell’s composition classes, and played a lot of his music in his ensembles. A highlight was performing Russell’s “New York, New York” suite with the NEC big band, and the concerto he composed for Bill Evans, “All About Rosie”. Lessons with Joe Maneri and Paul Bley began a process of trying to hear beyond the conventional harmonic language of jazz, and an exploration of 12-tone composition and free improvisation.
Meanwhile, extended tenures in Afro-Cuban and Dominican dance orchestras in Montreal during the 1990s continued to influence Louise’s musical tastes, with the result that a ‘Latin’ flavor can often be heard in her compositions, in addition to her signature lyrical melodies and rich harmony.
Louise has composed well over 100 works to date and is an Associate Artist with the Australian Music Centre. Her current projects are a 3-movement concerto for big band featuring saxophone soloist Diana Tolmie, and a new music composition for 14 pianos and two percussionists as part of this year’s Piano Mill. While the majority of Louise’s compositions are jazz tunes and arrangements, including the 30+ original compositions recorded on her own CDs, her Doctoral research (DMA, 2014) occasioned a close examination of her early training in classical music and resulted in a number of compositions well outside the realm of jazz. She did a piano trio arrangement of two of her (many) boleros for the Griffith Trio in 2007. ‘Two Boleros’ was recorded by the Muses Trio in 2016 and has since received frequent ABC airplay. She was one of 20 Brisbane composers invited to contribute compositions to Smoke Encrypted Whispers, settings of poems by indigenous poet Samuel Wagan Watson performed by the Southern Cross Soloists. Her miniature ‘Fisherman Islands’ was included in the 2012 recording of the project (Melba Records). Brisbane ensembles Collusion & Trichotomy premiered ‘Resolve’ in 2014, a cross-genre work for jazz piano trio, cello, violin and bass clarinet. An arrangement of ‘Pondside’, a jazz waltz composed for George Russell’s composition class, was recorded by the Barega Saxophone Quartet for a digital album released in June 2015.
Her 2002 CD Clean Start won a Queensland Sunnie Award (Best Jazz Recording), and her composition ‘Time to be’ (Denson/James) received the Queensland Music Award (Best Jazz Composition). Several of her songs have been finalists or highly commended in recent rounds of the Queensland Music Awards, including ‘All I Know’ (Denson/Hoyt), which was recorded by Bell Award-winning vocalist, Elly Hoyt. ‘Lonely Wing’ (Denson/James) has been published in the first Australian Jazz Real Book, and ‘Lost My Heart’ (Denson/James) was the title track on a CD recorded by the L.A. based San Gabriel Seven featuring the internationally celebrated trombonist, Bill Watrous.
In addition to the many songs and arrangements Louise has written for jazz or contemporary voice, she has also composed four art song cycles for classical voice and piano. Four Songs (for Soprano and Piano), Desire and Fragment 40 were premiered by New-Zealand soprano Sarah Court at recitals at the Queensland Conservatorium in 2015/16. The fourth, Time, was performed by soprano Margaret Schindler and pianist Stephen Emmerson in 2016. Four Songs, Desire and Time have been published by Wirripang.
Other commissions include ‘Wild December Wind’ and ‘Out of My Way!’ for the Queensland Conservatorium Saxophone Orchestra, ‘Hear Me’ Elly Hoyt’s current project The Composer’s Voice, a 3-movement suite for the Brisbane International Jazz Festival (2014), and an arrangement of ‘Life Itself’ for St. Paul’s Anglican School Senior Band.