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Deanna Witkowski: Liturgical Jazz

Deanna Witkowski is a pianist and vocalist whose latest project embraces the sacred.

Like Mary Lou Williams before her, she's taken her jazz talents and merged them with liturgical music. Witkowski's new album From This Place sets hymns, psalms and even part of a Mass service for jazz quartet and multiple vocalists.

Witkowski has plenty of jazz chops — this is her fourth recording, and for the past three years, she has been the pianist for the BMI/New York Jazz Composers Orchestra led by Jim McNeely. But for several years, she was also the musical director for All Angels' Church in New York City.

"I found out that there was a tradition in the church that music directors there would write a Mass setting specifically for that congregation," Witkowski says. "So this particular service at All Angels' was primarily gospel music. So I wanted to write something that kind of fit in with the music that always was present there."

In an interview with Liane Hansen, Witkowski talks about how she approaches writing sacred jazz. She says she grew up in Protestant traditions without Mass liturgies — not that there was no music in her churches.

"I did grow up listening to hymns, though — or at least singing them in church," she says. "So some of the record that takes old hymn texts and resets them — those are hymns that I've sung for years."

Click the link at the top of the page to hear the full interview with Deanna Witkowski, starting around 12 p.m. ET Sunday, April 11.

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