Pianist Mike Denham was awarded 149 marks out of a possible 150 in his Grade 1 piano exam at the age of 8. It’s all gone downhill from there! Introduced to the piano by his father, who needed someone to accompany his violin, mandolin and guitar playing, Mike’s music career soon suffered a setback when he was ‘invited to leave’ the school madrigal group – too much syncopation!
Ragtime was and still is his first love, and he has performed rags at every opportunity – from St Pancras Station concourse to concert venues including St George’s Bristol and London’s Purcell Room.
He discovered jazz at university and, for years, juggled a career as a chemical engineer with band and solo performances. American pianists Jelly Roll Morton, Pete Johnson and Ralph Sutton (first heard in the Judge Jefferies restaurant in Dorchester, Dorset!) are Mike’s heroes.
As a young man Mike was asked to duet with the great Humphrey Lyttelton on Humph’s hit “Bad Penny Blues”, a number inspired by boogie woogie pioneer Cripple Clarence Lofton. This kindled a lifelong interest in the style which has been rewarded in recent years by opportunities to perform as featured soloist at the UK International Boogie Woogie Festival.
These days Mike's piano playing ranges from the very earliest days of jazz with ragtime and blues, through Fats Waller's "Stride" style, much-loved popular jazz standards from the "Great American Songbook" and 1950's style Rock ‘n’ Roll created by the likes of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. A feature of his solo concerts much enjoyed by audiences is a liberal sprinkling of anecdotes about the music and the colourful lives of the musicians who invented it.
Mike’s renowned SpeakEasy Nights, when he duets with guests of the highest calibre, have proved extremely popular and have featured many musicians including (but not limited to!) Enrico Tomasso, Steve Graham, Ben Cummings (Trumpet), John Wurr, Mike Snelling, Pete Allen (Clarinet), Jim Fryer (Trombone), Spats Langham, Martin Wheatley (Banjo, Guitar), Mike Piggott, Chris Garrick (Violin).
For nearly thirty years Mike has also led the seven piece New Orleans style jazz band, the Sunset Café Stompers. Based in the West Country, this band has a national reputation and today it is as busy as ever, thanks to its undimmed respect for the tradition of ensemble improvisation, some tight arrangements of jazz classics and a broad repertoire.