Born in London of St. Lucian parents on 14 September 1969, Denys took his first lessons in music at the age of 13. He was considered too small to hold a tenor sax so, to placate the aspiring saxophonist, he was given a clarinet instead. But he was never happy with the instrument; his inner urge was to play tenor sax and, at 14, he had grown the required number of inches to merit being awarded his first dream instrument.
His introduction to jazz came from videos of Morrisey-Mullen shown by the music teacher at his school, and from listening to recordings by Charles Mingus and Count Basie. At a time when his contemporaries were decorating their schoolbook covers with pictures of the likes of Duran Duran and Depêche Mode, Denys was covering his with images of John Coltrane and Tubby Hayes. Another hero who made it to the front cover of his books was the man who inspired so many young Black British musicians, and who later became one of Denys' key influences and mentors: Courtney Pine.
In 1990, after completing an HND in Engineering, Denys went on to study music for two years at the West London Institute (Brunel University) and, in 1992, was accepted onto the jazz course at London's Guildhall School of Music.
Throughout his period of study, Denys participated in workshops led by saxophonist Tim Whitehead, often getting the chance to "sit in" with his band in late night sessions at the 606 Club, Chelsea. He also performed with pop and funk bands which led to appearances on BBC Television, including the popular chat show, Wogan.
But it was his performance at Watermans Arts Centre, Brentford in the second half of 1992 that started the ball rolling for Denys and opened the door into one of Britain's most prestigious jazz networks.
At this time, Watermans Arts Centre was hosting Tomorrow's Warriors, a series of open jam sessions for young jazz musicians organised by double bassist and original Jazz Warrior, Gary Crosby. Although Gary himself was not there to witness Denys' performance, his session leader, alto saxophonist Brian Edwards, was sufficiently impressed to take his details and pass them on.
Within a week, Denys received a call from Gary inviting him to come to his Jazz Café jam sessions in Camden the following weekend. Denys demonstrated such remarkable technique, energy, swing and commitment that, in a matter of weeks, he was taken on as the tenor saxophonist in Gary Crosby's Nu Troop.
Soon after, in 1993, Denys became a member of The Jazz Warriors, the seminal big band founded in the mid-1980s by Courtney Pine et al, and which has been responsible for producing some of the UK's leading lights in jazz.
1993 and 1994 were hugely successful years for Denys which took him on UK tours with Bheki Mseleku (with Marvin "Smitty" Smith and Michael Bowie) - supporting the Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Al Jarreau and Courtney Pine - and Gary Crosby's Nu Troop. He also got to play in bands led by Julian Joseph, Jason Rebello, Omar, and Orphy Robinson, to name but a few.
By 1994, Denys had taken some giant steps, gaining maximum respect from his musical peers. It is widely believed that when Courtney Pine handed down one of his treasured Selmer Mk VI tenor saxophones to Denys in September 1994, it was a clear sign of the respect he has, and his great expectations for this outstanding young player.
It is also evidence of his high calibre that, in January 1995, Denys was called to take his place on stage alongside Courtney Pine and Steve Williamson at a concert at the Jazz Café, London taking Denys to a new and higher level.
Since then, Denys has been called to record with artists as diverse as Incognito, Jazz Jamaica, Ernest Ranglin, Gregory Isaacs, Juliet Roberts, Montage, J-Life, Gary Crosby's Nu Troop, The Jazz Warriors, and on a British all-star Tribute To Bob Marley produced by Courtney Pine (ONE LOVE - A TRIBUTE TO BOB MARLEY, Mercury Music Entertainment/Polygram 1996). He also had two of his original compositions recorded - 741 and Incentricity - on Gary Crosby's Nu Troop album, MIGRATIONS (Dune Records, 1997).
In July 1998, Gary Crosby's Nu Troop - of which Denys was then a member - won the award for Best Ensemble 1998 in the International Band Competition at the prestigious Jazz à Vienne International Festival in France. Denys also won Best Soloist 1998 (3rd). The band won a substantial cash prize and performed on the main stage to open the last night of the festival in front of an audience of 8,000+ in the spectacular open air Roman amphitheatre Théâtre Antique. This performance was recorded and broadcast on French radio and television.
Denys rounded off 1998 with the recording of his début album, BE WHERE YOU ARE (Dune Records DUNECD03, released April 1999). It is an incredible début recording, featuring no less than seven of his original compositions and three superb arrangements of other composers' works. The album also features a track, Have A Talk With God (Stevie Wonder) performed by the glorious and hugely popular R'n'B vocalist, Juliet Roberts.
Jazz on 3, BBC Radio 3's Saturday night contemporary jazz programme selected Denys to represent the Best of British Jazz at the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) Jazz Festival in May 1999 which, in this year, formed part of the Karlovi Vari International Jazz Festival in Prague, Czech Republic. He performed two concerts with his quartet, broadcast worldwide by international broadcasting companies.
In July 1999, Denys travelled to Canada with Jazz Jamaica at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival and Du Maurier Atlantic Jazz Festival, Halifax, immediately followed by a recording with Ernest Ranglin for the great Jamaican guitarist's new album, MODERN ANSWERS TO OLD PROBLEMS, for Palm Pictures (released on Telarc).
August saw Denys travelling south with the Damon Brown Quintet for an appearance in the Red Sea Jazz Festival, and in September 1999, just a week before his 30th birthday, Denys - along with 11 other top artists including Blur, Manic Street Preachers, Chemical Brothers, and Talvin Singh - was the recipient of one of the UK music industry's most coveted awards for An Album Of The Year in the 1999 Technics Mercury Music Prize, celebrating the top 12 Albums Of The Year across all musical genres. To receive such a tremendous accolade so early in his solo career was a significant achievement, especially with a début jazz album.
Just a few weeks later, at an international star-studded ceremony held at London's Royal Albert Hall, world champion boxer Chris Eubank announced Denys Baptiste as winner of the prestigious Malibu 1999 MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act.
1999 was rounded off with news that one of Britain's top soap operas, BBC TV's Eastenders was to play one of his original tracks from the album, BE WHERE YOU ARE in a romantic teenage farewell scene! Eastenders has since used tracks from the album on at least two occasions. Proof indeed of the accessibility of Denys' music that it could be used for prime-time television.
In April 2000, yet another award was bestowed on this remarkable artist: The British Jazz Award for Rising Star 2000.
The year 2000 was a great year for Denys. Not only did he tie the matrimonial knot with his partner of six years, but also he had an eventful schedule which saw him touring internationally in Russia, Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Greece and the Caribbean, both with his own band and as a special guest with other artists including the Jazz Jamaica All Stars and Martin Taylor. He also made his début, with the Denys Baptiste Quartet, at the prestigious North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague, the RomaEuropa Festival in Italy, and the Berlin Jazz Festival, Germany.
In 2001, Denys toured extensively with a number of top artists including McCoy Tyner UK All Stars, Manu Dibango Afro Funk Orchestra, Jazz Jamaica All Stars, Juliet Roberts, Martin Taylor, and others. He also travelled far and wide with performances in Europe, Zimbabwe and New Zealand.
September 2001 saw the release of his much-anticipated second album for Dune Records, ALTERNATING CURRENTS this time working with a larger band featuring Martin Taylor and Juliet Roberts - see Album Release. As with his début, ALTERNATING CURRENTS received great critical acclaim and consolidated his position as one of the top saxophonists in Europe.
In November 2001, Denys made a spectacular appearance in the prestigious London Jazz Festival in the 3,000+ capacity Royal Festival Hall, London where he was double-billed with the top young US saxophonist, Joshua Redman. The show was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and BBC World Service, and also webcast on the BBC Radio 3 website.
2002 has already delivered for Denys one of the brightest highlights ever: the birth of his first child, a beautiful little girl named Solana, born on 4 February 2002 just before the start of a major UK tour! Needless to say, both Denys and his wife, Sian are completely over the moon with the new addition to their family. It remains to be seen, of course, whether Solana will follow in her father's footsteps but both parents agree that she is already showing signs of having a powerful set of lungs!
Denys Baptiste's ALTERNATING CURRENTS will tour nationally from February 2002, starting with a 10-date UK tour, and internationally thereafter. Denys will also be touring his Quartet for special projects, including a one-week residency at the famed Ronnie Scott's Club, London in March 2002.
©2010 Saint Lucia Tourist Board