Amy Denio’s connection with music began before she was born.
“I like to say that I was hearing music from the womb, because my mom plays bass,” said Denio of Seattle. “Music is my number one language.”
The internationally known singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist — whose name rhymes, as her website notes, with “Ohio” — will perform Friday (May 22) in Olympia.
“Both of my parents played upright bass, and that’s how they met — in an orchestra,” she said. “And they both discovered they enjoyed playing jazz. When I was growing up, my mom was active in a jazz quartet in the Detroit area. In my youth, what I was hearing was mostly jazz.
“Even if I’m not playing strictly jazz, there’s definitely a strong influence of that genre infiltrating into my expression,” she added.
Jazz is still the best category for her pretty-much-uncategorizable and highly respected music. She was inducted into the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame in March, and Friday’s concert is part of The Washington Center for the Arts’ Black Box Jazz Series.
“She’s an amazing musician,” said Michael Olson, who books the series. “I kind of thought she would be the cream of the crop for the finale.”
Denio’s Olympia concert, with Seattle drummer Tarik Abouzied, “will be a combination of compositions and improvisations for sax, bass and vocals,” she said.
But her music is, literally, all over the map.
She performs internationally — she’s just returned from a European tour with the Tiptons Sax Quartet, the all-female ensemble she founded in 1988 — and her current projects roam freely across the globe.
She’s a regular third player with traditional Latin-music duet Correo Aereo and also plays her own material with the duet’s Abel Rocha and Madeleine Sosin under the name Ama Trio (for Abel, Madeleine and Amy).
She plays with Seattle’s Kultur Shock, which mixes rock, metal and punk with traditional Balkan music. The band toured internationally in March and recently released its ninth recording.
Another of her projects is OU (pronounced “oh”) Italian Jazz Sextet, which is known for its blend of funk and folk sensibilities and for vocals in several language. She’s just produced the group’s second CD, due out later this month. (That’s right: She’s a producer, too.)
And she’s looking forward to playing next month with a small ensemble for “EZID,” the latest production of the Seattle aerial troupe Cabiri, which incorporates physical theater, dance, puppetry and more. “EZID” is based on ancient Kurdish mythology, and one of ensemble’s musicians is from Kurdistan.
Denio, who also plays instruments such as accordion, clarinet and electric guitar, is almost entirely self-taught since she quit piano lessons at age 12.
But her voice is her favorite instrument.
“I love to sing the most because it’s the most naked,” she said. “It’s the most pure sound that I can make. A close runner-up, number two, would be playing alto saxophone.”
Olson, who thought of Denio for the series because of her talents as an instrumentalist and composer, first heard her sing in January, when the Tiptons played at the Rhythm and Rye in Olympia.
“She blew me away completely,” he said. “She’s got a really full range as a vocalist. I’m really excited to have her here at the Washington Center.”