Rediscovering Deanna

While I was at pycon this year, I had a chance encounter. Here I shall recount the story.

On the morning of the first day, I gave my spiel about time-traveling debuggers. After multiple years of working on the project, and a hiatus later, I was elated and relieved to finally properly put it out into the world. I relaxed afterward and strolled around the cultral district of Pittsburg. A poster caught my eye. It was list of jazz concert dates. My eyes scanned through the list of concerts and at the bottom of the list: Deanna Witkowski. I gasped.

I became acquainted with Deanna's music when I was a teenager. I saw her in concert inside a cozy church in New York City. I bought two of her CDs and had listened to them repeatedly enough that I can recognize her original compositions as well as her special arrangements of jazz standards, such as "Just One of Those Things". I hadn't heard her music in quite a while, however, due to not being able to find her music on my current music streaming service, much to my chagrin.

I was thrilled at the chance to listen to her music live once again. But when I saw the concert date — May 21st — 2 days after my departure date, I put my hands up on my head in distraught. A few pedestrians walked by. I wonder if they were amused or confused to see my reaction to the poster. After coming to terms with my loss, I settled for dinner.

Later, it occurred to me that if she's in Pittsburg, she might perform on other dates around town. I searched online. It turns out she's based locally in Pittsburg and has been studying at the University of Pittsburg for quite some time. Moreover, she has a website, complete with testimonials, a discography, a store, and a gigs page. Bingo! She had a gig at Con Alma on May 18th. "I can make that!" Words cannot describe how excited I felt.

I went to the conference on the next day as planned. Towards midday I started getting chills and a headache. I took a nap in a quiet corner of the conference center. It helped and I decided it was okay to go to Deanna's gig. I walked to Con Alma after the day's festivities.

The name Con Alma sounded familiar. It was only afterwards that I found it was named after a Dizzy Gillespie tune I'd knew by heart. It's from a "Compact Jazz" album I bought as a child with my dad's money. The tune has a nice afro/latin groove. The main melody of the tune was played out-of-tune which really put me off when I was a kid. But nevertheless it has taken up a permanent spot in my musical memory, and now I consider it a classic. No More Blues on that album is also absolutely beautiful.

Con Alma — the restaurant is an afro/latin jazz venue, true to its name. As I walked in, I heard her music immediately. I found a visual of her at her piano and her band without too much trouble. I asked for a seat. The hostess seemed distressed. A leak was coming from the ceiling onto the bar. A bucket was put under it. The mess took out three of the seats. After some moments of indecisiveness, she apologized to me that they are full. I asked to wait for 15 minutes and she allowed it. I didn't mind as I was already engrossed by the music. Deanna's piano playing was exquisite: virtuosic but not flamboyant. Her harmonic taste was just my cup of tea: hip and crunchy, as Geoffery Keezer would say. Her singing, when she chooses to, is beautiful: cool and genuine. She started with a couple of jazz standards, and then dived into latin grooves that felt so good. She got applauses when she employed the cuban syncopated piano riff. Then she played two Mary Luo Williams tunes in honor of her hero. I was also able to catch a couple of tunes from the CDs I knew. It was satisfying to recognize the tunes so well as they were being played to me again live.

As she was finishing her first set, my dinner came. It was an afro-style fried red fish. It was a big plate, but I finished. I didn't order a drink because I didn't feel well. In fact, I put my head down and the waitress told me I couldn't sleep at the bar. At that point that I decided it was time to go even though I would have loved to hear two full sets of music. I reasoned that I wasn't in the condition to fully appreciating the second set anyway. I wrote her a nice note and dropped it into her jar along with a twenty while picking up her latest CD, this time mostly as a souvenir. We made eye contact. She muttered a "thank you" with her hands still on the piano. I made a namaste gesture toward her and left.

After coming back from the trip, I browsed through my old CD collection and rediscovered a treasure trove of music. "American Jazz in Paris" featuring Lee Konitz and Bob Brookemeyer is a an album that's been imprinted deep inside my soul but could never find anywhere online. Re-listening to this early Lee Konitz music brought me great joy. I found one of the two Deanna Witkowski CDs I own. I still remember the songs and I can hear her great love for latin music on display back then just as much as now.

Nostalgia is a great joy. I know there are still other treasures in my mind which I have lost connection to in the form of regular listening, or even due to forgetting the names of the artists and songs. Although it saddens me that I may not ever hear whose songs again, it also brings me joy that:

  1. they are still inside me,
  2. maybe, just maybe, one day, at the most serendipidous moment, I'd rediscover them and receive such great joy that I'd want to write an article about it.
Jun 9th 2024