Every Friday night a different performer shows off their musical talent performing with Eddie Bruce & Friends at SugarHouse Casino, 1101 N. Delaware Ave. This Friday, April 13, it will be North Philly native, pianist/vocalist Dena Underwood.
“I look forward to playing with Eddie and a welcoming crowd at the casino,” Underwood says. “As a self-taught piano player, I know this is a great opportunity for me to stretch out … and just be able to sing. Most of my gigs have me just playing the piano. But now I can sing and do more intricate things. And so I really look forward to it.”
Underwood explains that she got the chance to show off her talent because she’s a fan of Tom Adams, who performs with his trio behind Eddie Bruce. “I’ve known him for many years and he helped get me this opportunity.”
But even before Adams’ help, Underwood’s talents have allowed her to climb up a ladder of success, first graduating from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.
“I come from a musical family and realized I would probably always go into music in some way,” says Underwood. “Today, that makes it really great for me because my family gives me a lot of support and comfort. I also know I can talk to them and they’ll understand everything I’m going through — both the good and the bad.”
After high school, Underwood worked for a time at a center doing HIV testing and counseling. It was satisfying work, she admits, but she missed her music. That’s when she decided to continue with music and study Jazz Voice Performance at Temple University.
“I still have one more year to go before I get my degree but, for me, I know it’s important to get my education,” the performer says.
Over time, Underwood has performed at a number of venues, including the Academy of Music and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, World Café Live, Plays and Players Theatre, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and New York City’s Lincoln Center.
Additionally, she performs regularly with her trio, as well as with her family, The Underwoods, throughout the Philadelphia area.
“I love music and I love what I do,” Underwood explains. “I’m doing something I really love and now I don’t have to be bothered with a nine-to-five job. I’m a full-time musician and I teach piano classes at a senior center.
“I’m also collaborating with other musicians, going to jam sessions, and seeing how other musicians react with each other,” she adds. “So I’m actually living out my dream.”
Of course, things don’t always go well for struggling musicians. “And that’s when my faith helps see me through, and also my family as well as a strong community of other musicians.”
Several years from now, Underwood confesses she’d like to be in Europe, perhaps singing on a much larger scale. She explains, “I’d like to go back and forth between Europe and the States because I feel like there’s more of an appreciation for jazz in Europe — maybe a little more than we have here. So I would love to perform somewhere where jazz is a little more appreciated.”
For more information, call (215) 868-8514.