Jazz and Blues on the pipe organ – Barbara Dennerlein

Why this "special"?

We all know that a pipe organ can do a lot more than just play our revered composers Bach, Reger, Franck, Widor, etc. Throughout history piano and orchestral works have been transcribed for the organ. But for some decades now there have also been attempts to play Jazz and Blues on a church organ. Now here opinions clash: some consider this a sacrilege, others are just fascinated.

For many years Maria Scharwieß – District Cantor in Berlin-Schöneberg – has played Jazz, Blues and Gospel improvisations on church organs. Before she completed her A exam in church music in 1979 she worked for ten years as a professional keyboarder in a band. For me personally, it was a good friend of mine, Albrecht Gündel-vom-Hofe, who gave me a better understanding of this type of organ music. Besides playing the piano in his jazz quintet, he also plays Jazz improvisations on the pipe organ.

But there is no name in the world so closely connected to "Jazz & Blues on the pipe organ" as Barbara Dennerlein's. This is why I would like to dedicate this Organ Site "special" to her and to Jazz & Blues.

From Hammond organ to church organ

Barbara Dennerlein, born in 1964, fell in love with the sound of the Hammond organ at a very young age. When she was eleven years old, her father – himself an organ fanatic – bought the first home organ, and it got Barbara hooked. Later on she lived her enthusiasm on an original Hammond B3 (then already out of serial production), on which, besides playing the standard classical repertoire, she started composing her own music.

By the age of fifteen she regularly performed in clubs; at twenty she was celebrated as the "organ tornado from Munich" and the Los Angeles Times brought a headline on her, "German Organist Pumps You Out". She was granted many awards for her albums (all published under her own label).

Barbara has always been famous for her virtuosic foot work on a full pedal board just like the ones in a pipe organ. So why shouldn't she try out on a large church organ what she had always practiced on the Hammond organ. And she did, at the 1994 Würzburg Bach Days. Ever since she has spent more and more thought on the "queen of instruments", on how to tap its full sound potential and how to to get the pipe organ, this fairly slowly reacting instrument, to swing.

By now Barbara is familiar with all the world's major pipe organs and she is a very popular performer at organ concerts of the special kind. She performed 50 out of the 120 concerts she gave in 2008 either exclusively as church or concert hall organ concerts or as combined Hammond and pipe organ concerts.

The picture on the right was taken at a concert of hers in February 2008 when she was sitting at the console of the great Sauer organ at the concert hall (former St. Ulrich's church) in Halle on the Saale.

Jazz & Blues on CD

In 2002 Barbara published the first CD she recorded on a church organ, presenting her own compositions: Spiritual Movement No. 1. This CD includes curiosities like "Rankett-Blues" or "Psychedelic Cluster", but also classics arranged for the organ, such as "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Tin Tin Deo", recorded on the great Goll organ of St. Martin's Church in Memmingen.

The picture on the left shows Barbara at the console of the Goll organ in Memmingen.

As the title of the first CD indicated, she already had a sequel to it in mind. This sequel was recorded live at a brilliant concert she gave on the great Schuke organ of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in Berlin in November 2007 and finally published in fall 2008.

The very first title "The Unforgettable" – on "unforgettable" Jimmy Smith – jumps right in and then ends, just like several other pieces, too, so abruptly and strangely that you might think you were listening to a Hammond B3 in a Jazz club rather than to a pipe organ in a church. This piece also includes a pedal bass solo that provoked spontaneous applause – something that is fairly unusual in a church setting...

Then there is that wild piece "I-797", completely against the grain of a church organ, that through its rich organ instrumentation develops a phenomenal groove. "I-797" deals with the difficulties around applying for (and finally even obtaining) the US form I-797, a work permit for temporary workers. After that Barbara "goes funk" and finally, in "New York Impressions" she presents her Jazz arrangement of Bach's Toccata in D minor. The Rolling Stones classic "Satisfaction", too, gets an entirely new drive in her arrangement for the church organ.

Picture on the left: Barbara at the console of the Berlin Schuke organ.

So much for words now – let's move on to what is most important: the music and the sound samples. Have fun!

Sound samples


Memmingen, St. Martin

  01. Introduction
  02. Rankett Blues
  03. Pendel der Zeit
  04. Tin Tin Deo
  05. Holy Blues
  06. Change Of Pace
  07. I Miss You
  08. Spiritual Movement
  09. Longing
  10. Waltzing Pipes
  11. Ain't Misbehavin'
  12. Psychedelic Cluster

Download the complete tracks / CDs in top sound quality at a reasonable price from the Organ Site's MP3 download portal:

to the online CD shop and music download portal

Berlin, Kaiser-Wilhelm-

  01. The Unforgettable
  02. Always Remember
  03. I-797
  04. Funkish
  05. New York Impressions
  06. Farewell To Old Friends
  07. Satisfaction
  08. Home Is Where My Heart Is


  Pedal solo

Fehring (A), Stadtpfarrkirche

  01. Waltzing Pipes
  02. The Unforgettable
  03. Pendel der Zeit
  04. I-797
  05. Farewell To Old Friends
  06. New York Impressions
  07. Tin Tin Deo


  Barbara Dennerlein Trio auf der AVO Session Basel (Hammond B3)

Und noch ein paar Pfeifenorgel-Fundstücke von YouTube:

  Komplettes Konzert in der Trinity Wall Street Church, New York (USA), Juli 2008, > 1h!
  Konzertausschnitt Trinity Wall Street Church, New York (USA), Juli 2008
  Konzertausschnitt Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, Berlin (D), November 2007
  Konzertausschnitt Orgel + Schlagzeug in der Reformierten Kirche, User (Schweiz), September 2008


  The Barbara Dennerlein Trio at the AVO Session in Basel / Switzerland (Hammond B3)

And now some few pipe organ videos on YouTube:

  A complete concert (1:06!) at Trinity Wall Street Church, New York (USA), recorded in July 2008
  A clip of the same concert at Trinity Wall Street Church, New York (USA)
  A clip of a concert at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in Berlin (D), recorded in November 2007
  A clip of a concert for organ and drums at the Reformed Church in Uster (CH), recorded in September 2008


Barbara Dennerlein: Barbara Dennerlein's homepage, including an itinerary, some concert reviews and press coverage
Maria Scharwieß: Maria Scharwieß's homepage, including music downloads, press reviews and concerting partners
International Archives for Jazz Organ: International Archives for the Jazz Organ: All about Jazz organists and their music (in English) – hosted by Jürgen Wolf
St. Martin Memmingen: Homepage of the Lutheran St. Martin's Church in Memmingen (Germany)
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche Berlin: Homepage of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in Berlin (Germany)
Photo gallery: The Organ Site's 8 Megapixel photo gallery of the organ at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche
Photo gallery: The Organ Site's 8 Megapixel photo gallery of the organ at St. Martin in Memmingen

I'd like to thank Barbara Dennerlein for providing me with the pictures, videos and sound samples.
Thanks, too, to Sabine Seip, for her picture of Barbara Dennerlein at the console of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche in Berlin.