Brandon Dennis is ready to manifest his destiny and pursue music full time.
A vocalist, songwriter, and public-school educator, Dennis began formally exploring his musical gifts during high school. It was there he embarked on private vocal lessons and joined the musical theater program. That led him to a degree in Vocal Performance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and, since then, he’s performed at venues such the Paul Robeson House, NJPAC, the Academy of Music, and the Media Theater. He seeks to create music that “encourages the listener to reflect on the past, appreciate the present, and look forward to the future.”
“There has never been a day where music hasn’t been a vital part,” says Dennis, who is part of the inaugural cohort of Jazz Philadelphia’s CORE Cooperative. “Music has been there to express the depths of my joy and pain when no words were present. Music has always been my greatest passion. Attending the CORE cooperative program will guide me in taking the necessary steps to take my greatest passion and curate that passion into a viable career.”
Making that leap understandably comes with a healthy dose of fear and self-doubt. “Fear occurs as I realize that pursuing a dream comes with unknown variables. Facing the unknown comes with the risk of failure,” says Dennis. But he’s not going to let it stop him. “I don’t want to allow fear to stumble me when it comes to investing in myself. The unknown may invoke fear, however, it is not worth the regret of not trying at all.”
With that critical self-awareness, Dennis is able to use different tactics to move through and past the uncertainty. “When things get hard, I motivate myself by meditating on how challenges of the past were overcome. Next, I express gratitude to the universe for the present. I acknowledge the blessings of the day–-health, sustenance, employment for instance,” says Dennis. “Finally, I sit in a quiet space and affirm the life I want through manifestation exercises.”
But he’s not just concerned about his own fear or well being. One of Dennis’s favorite creative collaborations was with Catholic Charities. “I was blessed with the opportunity to perform a song I wrote for victims of domestic abuse. I performed for women who were in transition to obtaining a safe home.”
Like many, he’s concerned that the rise in violent crime in the city, and the continued scourge of poverty, is keeping everyone from reaching their potential. That goes for the people who live here, the musicians who are trying to play here, and even visitors to our city. Furthermore, says Dennis, “The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated financial and food insecurity, brought death, shutdowns, and a number of other challenges to Philadelphia.”
Together, it makes for a tough road. “These obstacles make developing jazz musicians challenging,” says Dennis. “If a musician is preoccupied with fear of violence, how are they going to thrive financially or nourish their body? How will they face the Covid-19 pandemic? How can they thrive creatively?… The obstacles can be overcome by ensuring that musicians are provided with accessible opportunities to hone their skill set.”
“If a musician is preoccupied with fear of violence, how are they going to thrive financially or nourish their body? How will they face the Covid-19 pandemic? How can they thrive creatively?”
Surmounting these city-wide challenges is critical, says Dennis, as is investing in our creative community. “Fostering musicians is vital for the progression of jazz music in Philadelphia. Without spaces to nurture musicianship, jazz musicians will migrate to other cities to develop their craft. Providing jazz musicians with multiple spaces to share and grow their gifts will give them incentive to root themselves in Philadelphia.”
He also wants to see more attention paid to honoring Philadelphia’s history as a jazz city, and to connections among generations. “With a comprehensive understanding of the important role Philadelphia has played in music history, musicians can appreciate the past and help craft the future of jazz music,” he says. “Integrational jazz musicians educate one another in a number of ways. Whether it be monetization of artistic expression or stage presence, intergenerational collaboration bestows an invaluable learning experience.” He also already puts into practice the idea of reaching out with one hand to the generation below him and another to the generation ahead of him: He volunteers as a coach with Girls on the Run and with Sing for Your Seniors. He’s also currently expanding his outreach to developing a community youth program as a teaching artist.
Dennis is hoping that the CORE program will give him more of the tools he needs for success as a full-time musician. “Having a dream and passion is not enough to ascend to success. Understanding how to market, package, and present artistry is needed for success as an artist. Participating in the CORE program will provide me with the tools to face the unknown variables of my vision confidently.”
Given his already impressive work, it should surprise no one that his personal vision is based on giving and building up those around him. “I envision helping to provide jazz music to communities in Philadelphia that don’t have access to live music. I also want to help provide resources to budding musicians who want to pursue music but are unsure of how or do not have the financial means.” He’s committed to being a leader and to the values of, “compassion, honesty, humility, empathy, optimism, loyalty, kindness, imagination, dependability, and being just.”
For Dennis, it’s all related to one big purpose. “My personal vision and vision for the city are one: In both cases I want to uplift the Philadelphia community through acts of service.”
Find Dennis online at @still_waterz
Jazz Philadelphia is proud to have Brandon Dennis in the inaugural cohort of the CORE Cooperative, an entrepreneurship, leadership, and wellness program for jazz artists and advocates. For more information, visit Jazz Philadelphia.
“I want to use my gift to celebrate those who I’m fortunate enough to have in my audience as well as the wonderful musicians who have supported me on this incredible musical journey.”