rhythm of a song is like dancing

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Denis Hyland –  the rhythm of a song is like dancing

Denis Hyland was born in New York and raised in New Jersey. His father was a writer for Billboard magazine. As a young child performer, with incredible New York City influences, he was featured in the musical “Mame” until his voice changed. He was performing and touring most of the time so he was unable to attend elementary and high school regularly. Later, he studied ballet and became an accomplished dancer.

In the 70s, you had to be a triple threat (sing, dance, and act) to get a job on Broadway – being a dancer was always a benefit. After high school, he toured as a professional ballet dancer with several companies. He still teaches dance and yoga today.

One evening at the Hollywood Bowl, Denis saw Canadian jazz pianist and composer Oscar Peterson, along with two other men, performed several jazz tunes. He was immediately hooked. At this point, Denis left show music for jazz and never looked back.

While in New York, he would take the subway downtown to the Village and walk back to his apartment on 55th Street. He stopped in every bar along the way where he could sing a song.

He feels jazz and the American songbook compare to the constant performances of Shakespeare, after 500 years, and how it stays so relevant today. The same is true for songs from the 1920s through the 1950s that are performed as originally performed or completely different. There is a great deal of inspiration and philosophy in that music and to have people listening, responding, and feeling good is what keeps him going.

For Denis, the rhythm of a song is like dancing and all the craft of theater goes into jazz music. The rhythms in jazz vernacular allow you to take a song anywhere. The overall performance is a mixture of all these combined factors, especially the music, and that is why he insists on live music and arrangements.

Denis arrived in Key West in 2001 with a friend whose partner was dying of Aids. He would perform in shows plus added extra gigs and then return to New York. He began returning to Key West for winter shows.

Denis performing with the Paradise Big Band at the Tennessee Williams Theater

For the past nine years Denis and his life partner, Wayne LaRue Smith, have turned the Little Room Jazz Club into one of the best music venues in Key West. Musicians love to perform in a great listening room where the audience appreciates the performances. Key West legends like Bill Blue, Mike Gillis, and Coffee Butler regularly performed high-level music to an audience of loving fans. One of the best Key West performers ever, Coffee Butler performed a Happy Hour gig for almost two years at the Little Room Jazz Club.

Denis loves the music of his not widely known but locally revered musicians at his Little Room Jazz Club. Everyone knows and loves the timeless jazz songs and the jazz stars that made them famous. The audiences love their individual interpretations of these jazz standards by the Key West performers. The club’s audiences also enjoy rhythm and blues, gypsy jazz, soul, and honky-tonk. Occasionally, an out-of-town talent comes through and loves being on the Little Room stage.

Denis and Jazz Guitar legend Mike Gillis in a 2010 performance.

There is a genuine feeling in the club. It’s truly one of a kind. It’s becoming a community music center with a heavy jazz influence. Their role model is the New Orleans Preservation Hall, and they would love to develop a distinct musical connection with them.

During the COVID shutdown, they remodeled the inside: opening up the main room for better visibility of the band, added improved sound, lighting, and more air conditioning. It has become a temple of Key West jazz allowing musicians to connect to their audiences in a special and very jazzy way.

Denis in his favorite place the Little Room Jazz Club.

Denis has never tried to be a recording artist. He likes to use jazz music to convey and validate a performance, telling a story through an old jazz song that is relevant to a current theme or situation. He likes to put his vibe or jazz signature on a song to add to its relevancy.

Denis and Wayne have succeeded in developing one of the best music venues in Key West

In his 20s, while listening to a Billy Holiday song on a headset during a very dark period in his life, the radio personality discussed her life as a prostitute. This was a turning point for Denis, understanding how she revealed herself and her life through her music. He decided to drop theater and continue on a path through jazz music so he could tell his story and reveal things about his life through jazz.

Denis is working on a special jazz show for this fall. It will present jazz music in a format with a rhythmic sense of irresponsibility and jazzy improvisation. It’s the only way Denis can perform jazz. Each song will be a great story and promises to reveal those special things to his audience.




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