Class of

2021

Humanities & Cultural

Denny Jiosa

It is a short, simple review, but it speaks volumes.

“If Eric Clapton played jazz, he’d be Denny Jiosa.”

The comparison from a leading music magazine puts into clear context the quality of Denny Jiosa’s music and the level of regard the guitarist has earned over his career in the industry. He is a Grammy-nominated producer and sought-after session guitarist, playing everything from polka to gospel, rock to country, to blues and his signature jazz. All those influences plus his natural gifts have fed into a distinct solo style, giving him a sound that defies classification and draws respect as an innovator.

Making music is all he has ever wanted to do.

When Denny Jiosa was six years old, he told his mother he wanted to start a band. Alberta Jiosa encouraged her son, but suggested that he first might want to learn to play an instrument.

As luck — or fate — would have it, there was an old acoustic guitar in their Huntington home. Jiosa’s father, Mathew, didn’t play the guitar, and Jiosa has no idea why it was there. Whatever the reason for its presence, the younger Jiosa picked up the instrument and started teaching himself to play. A year later, his father bought him an electric guitar and Denny started taking lessons.

As a student at Northwest Elementary School, Jiosa recalls being reprimanded for not paying attention to the content of instructional films, preferring to tap along to the rhythm of the film’s background music. By the time he was 12 years old, Jiosa was writing his own jazz compositions, and formed his band. A couple of years later at Crestview Junior High, his band played a four-song set during a school variety show that included two of his original creations.

Jiosa doesn’t necessarily claim to be a natural jazz artist, but from early on he had the ability to sit and put together a tune or develop jazz riffs quickly. His training took a step forward when he began taking lessons in Fort Wayne with Bob Hartman of the Christian rock group, Petra. He was listening to jazz greats like Joe Pass, Howard Roberts, and Indianapolis-born Wes Montgomery. Guitar-forward rock bands such as the Doobie Brothers and the Eagles caught his ear. He was particularly influenced by the Latin strains from rock guitarist Carlos Santana.

While at Huntington North, Jiosa worked at the school’s radio station, WVSH. He had his own radio show, and learned about production. He played the trumpet, french horn, and bass, and sang in the school choir. He also acted in school plays, developing an interest in performing on stage.

Graduating from Huntington North in 1976, Jiosa went on to Anderson University where he continued his education in production. He worked at a studio there and assisted with artists like the Gaithers and Sandy Patty.

Jiosa left Anderson after a year and went to IPFW, but he still wasn’t finding what he was looking for. He just wanted to play guitar. He did connect with Fort Wayne native Troy Shondell, who had a No. 1 hit in 1963. Shondell hired Jiosa to lead his ‘50s rock-and-roll revival national tour band, and they opened for big-name stars such as Bo Diddley and BB King.

After the tour, Jiosa made his way to Hollywood, where he enrolled in the Guitar Institute of Technology. Many of his early jazz idols were teaching there, and Australian jazz fusion guitarist Frank Gambale became his private instructor. Jiosa returned to Huntington to help care for his mother, who died in 1984. But he returned to California to graduate, and in 1987, he made a move to the American music mecca of Nashville.

Once there he began running a studio and was sought after as a session guitarist on a number of albums. Jiosa also continued to perform as an actor and musician, and even toured with a Broadway show. He turned down further opportunities to tour with country music acts, opting at that point to stay in Nashville with his wife, Lisa, and raise their three children, Nicholas, Adrianna and Alyssa.

His association as a producer with gospel artist Yolanda Adams garnered three Grammy nominations. A fourth Grammy nomination came with his work on a polka album, further cementing Jiosa’s versatility in the industry.

Fate again intervened to help launch Jiosa’s solo career. In Nashville, he became acquainted with jazz promoter Michael Moryc. After listening to Jiosa’s music, Moryc said he could get his friend a record deal, and Jiosa eventually landed a multi-album contract.

His first album, “Moving Pictures,” reached the top 10 in 1995, and the second, “Inner Voices,” hit the top five. The track “Lights of the City,” was radio’s most played jazz song of the year. His 2002 release “Body 2 Body” even made its way onto the playlist of Air Force One.

Jiosa has now put out nine solo albums, including two from his own label, Sonic Canvas. He even put out an album of Christmas standards that included one original track, the title song “Christmas in My Town,” influenced by his childhood holiday memories in Huntington.

Credits show that he has worked on more than 200 albums as a solo artist, featured artist, engineer or producer, working with many top artists. He has become one of the most highly-regarded jazz guitarists working today.

The newest venture for Jiosa is pairing his love of wine with his musical talents. He frequently performs live in conjunction with wine and food events, demonstrating the depths of his passions.

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