Dennis Angel began playing the trumpet when he was only 7, but it has only been in the past few years that he's made it a major career focus. A copyright lawyer by day, Angel has made up for any lost time, first releasing two singles that garnered radio airplay and two albums: 2012's debut, "Timeless Grooves," and his sophomore effort, "On Track," released in August.
Angel, who grew up with brothers who were also musicians, says he was serious about music from an early age and expected to return to it in some fashion after his studies.
"I went to college and law school and my brothers went ahead with their music career and really hit it pretty big," he recalls in a recent phone interview with HNGN. "They had a group called The Three and a Half and they were on Cameo Parkway Records and they went on tour with Herman's Hermits when they were really young.
"So music was very big in my family and I guess it was always in the back of my mind that I'd get to go with them. After my kids finished high school I found myself with a little extra time and I decided to go back full-time into music, as much as I could, keeping my law career."
No stranger to working with big-name players - as a youth Angel studied with New York Philharmonic principal trumpet player William Vacchiano and once walked into a lesson as Miles Davis was walking out - "On Track" features renowned pianist Kenny Barron, bassists George Porter Jr. (The Meters) and Will Lee (from David Letterman's band and Beatles tribute The Fab Faux) and Brazilian acoustic guitar virtuoso Romero Lubambo, among others.
Angel shifts his focus from trumpet to flugelhorn on the new release. As he did on his debut album, Angel worked with producer Jason Miles, who has produced everyone from the aforementioned Davis to Aretha Franklin. Another key cog in the making of the record was Gottfried Stoger, who not only played saxophone and flute, but also arranged the songs.
One extra special guest contributed vocals: Angel's daughter Rebecca Angel.
"It's just the best feeling to be able to play with my daughter," her dad said. "She actually started singing with my band when she was 13, then she recorded a few songs, two on the last album and one on this one; she would have done more on this one but she's in college now and her time is a little limited. It was thrilling to see her mature and grow and to have the opportunity to sing with us. Now she's at Ithaca College music school as a jazz vocal major. It's very exciting to see her follow jazz. Not that many young people are going into jazz these days."
Angel's 2009 single, "The Wall Street Recession Time Blues," made it onto the radio and gained extra steam after a Boston Herald article. Later, what Angel calls another "tongue-in-cheek" song, "From Bepop to Hop-Hop," was played by smooth jazz stations.
Angel built upon the singles success with "Timeless Grooves," which included "Rio On My Mind" (No. 67 on the Groove Jazz Music Top 100 of 2012) and "Forever Funk" (in the Top 25 of the Groove Music Top 30). An "On Track" single, "Soul Strut" continues Angel's chart triumphs, reaching both the Top 35 on the Smoothjazz.com Radar chart and the Top 50 of SmoothIndieStar.com. You can hear "Soul Strut" in an HNGN stream above.
While Angel's recording career clearly seems to mirror the title of his latest album, playing on stage remains an important part of his musical approach.
"I try to entertain," Angel says of his shows. "I feel like an artist should entertain their audience. You're there to share your music but also to keep their attention in mind, so when we do a live show I like to mix it between my original songs and standard tunes that everybody's familiar with, and you know once in a while we'll take a request.
"We try to keep the songs a little bit on the shorter side. I know a lot of jazz artists will do a whole hour-and-15-minute set and they end up playing three songs, but I don't believe when you're playing for the public that you should go on with lengthy solos that most of the audience is going to lose their interest in," he adds with a laugh. "So we tend to do more songs than most groups but I like to see that the audience is interacting, that they're having a good time."