A year and a half ago, I interviewed Joe Deninzon of the Jersey prog-rock band Stratospheerius. Little did I know that one day I would see him on the stage of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, as I did Tuesday night.
Deninzon was part of the string section that accompanied Springsteen on the show-opening “New York City Serenade” and, later in the evening, “Jack of All Trades.” (see videos below)
I talked to Deninzon — who lives in Dumont, and has a show coming with Stratospheerius at a much smaller Jersey venue, The Saint in Asbury Park, Sept. 14 (they’ll open for the Alex Skolnick Trio) — about Tuesday’s show, and the influence of Bruce Springsteen on his music.
(Note: I did ask if the strings would be used again at the second and third MetLife shows, Aug. 25 and 30, but Deninzon declined to answer that question.)
Q: From where I was sitting, it was hard for me to see exactly how many string players there were.
A: There were eight.
Q: Do you have their names?
A: Besides myself, it was Sam Bardfeld, who was kind of leading the group, Mazz Swift, Sara Caswell, Todd Reynolds, Joyce Hammon, Rachel Golub and Jamey Choi.
Q: And these were all violinists.
A: All violinists. Eight violinists.
Q: How did this group come together?
A: Well, Sam Bardfeld, he was the violinist on the Seeger Sessions album, and toured with Springsteen for that tour … he’s an old friend of mine, we travel in the same circles, we trade gigs a lot. And anytime Bruce comes to New York and needs strings, he calls Sam and Sam puts a group together — friends and colleagues. We did this once before at Madison Square Garden in 2009, when he played “New York City Serenade.” Since then (Springsteen) played it twice in Europe — most recently, I think it was in June, with local players there. And he wanted to do it here as a surprise.
So Sam called me up. This time, he wanted to get a group that wasn’t just typical classical string players who could only read what’s written in the music, and are able to improvise and do something spontaneous. He wanted people who were versatile and could do all those different things.
And what ended up happening was, we prepared that song and rehearsed it, and two hours before showtime, Bruce called us into his dressing room and had this last minute idea of having us play “Jack of All Trades.” And we put together the parts right there. Which is why having this group of people, with this skill set, came in handy. And it was a brilliant, special experience for all of us. I’ve been a fan of his since I was 10 years old. On a personal level, it was very special for me.
Q: Are you someone who had seen a lot of Springsteen concerts, and that kind of thing?
A: I’ve seen him about 10 times.
Q: What’s your favorite of his albums or time periods?
A: My two favorite albums are a tie between Born to Run and Darkness. But I like Wild and Innocent and The River. Born in the USA was the one that got me started when I was 10 years old. I fell in love with that album. But I also like the recent stuff. I think Magic is underrated, and Working on a Dream. I thought Wrecking Ball was phenomenal. Devils & Dust is kind of underrated.
Q: Did the fact that he used a violin prominently on “Jungleland” have any influence on you, as far as becoming a rock musician who plays violin?
A: It’s funny because the kind of music I write in my band is very different from Springsteen’s music. It’s more progressive rock/fusion. He influenced me as a songwriter and a lyric writer, and his work ethic as a performer: I love to put on a great show. And his storytelling ability: The way he communicates with his audience. As far as his use of the violin, I think it’s great. From a violin standpoint, I grew up listening to Mahavishnu (Orchestra) and Jean-Luc Ponty and more electric players who did wild and crazy stuff with effects. Bruce’s approach to strings is more traditional, but it serves the music he’s writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But if I was asked to name my Top 5 influences of all time, as a musician, he would definitely be among them.
Q: Had you ever played such a huge show?
A: Well, I played in Madison Square Garden, but this was 50,000 people, as opposed to, I think, 20,000 at Madison Square Garden. I played … in high school I had a band, we opened for Michael Stanley in Cleveland at the Blossom Music Center, which is a big outdoor amphitheater. But I gotta say, nothing topped last night. To play in a stadium, to 50,000 … it was like a tidal wave of humanity. I cried. It was a mindfuck, it really was.
I guess you can get used to anything. If you did that night after night it would be, ‘Ah, okay, another MetLife show.’ But for all of us, it was insane … it was an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
For information about Deninzon’s band Stratospheerius, visit stratospheerius.com.
Here are YouTube videos of “New York City Serenade” and “Jack of All Trades,” from Tuesday’s show:
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