The Infectious Musical Appeal Of D-Erania
Innovative saxophonist has put her indelible mark on smooth jazz
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THERE is much that’s special about musician D-Erania, from her name to the not-so-regular-looking saxophone she plays so splendidly.
Focusing on the special elements in her life, let’s begin with the name. For Donella Stampley, she wanted a stage name that served two purposes––one that would generate attention for her and at the same time serve to honor a special person in her life. “The ‘D’ is for my first name and Erania (E-rain-e-ah) is the actual name of my mother, who was my first musical influence,” says the multitalented entertainer who is making her mark in the jazz arena. “I chose D-Erania as my stage name because I had told my mom I would put her name in lights.”
After the recent release of D-Erania’s new CD Language of the Heart, the spotlight is shining brighter and brighter on a career that began to shape when she was growing up in Maywood, listening to her mother play piano and organ while singing traditional gospel songs. And as the youngest among her three brothers and three sisters, she also listened to the R&B, soul and funk music that her siblings enjoyed by artists such as Stevie Wonder, George Clinton and Earth, Wind & Fire. But by age 17, things began to change after she heard the music of saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Even though she had been playing piano since she was a 3-year-old, it was the saxophone that suddenly consumed her.
“I wasn’t introduced to jazz until I was in high school and started listening to Wayne Shorter, and that’s when I decided to try to play the saxophone,” says the Proviso East High School graduate who continued her education at Triton College, Chicago Music College and Roosevelt University. “I really wanted to learn to play the saxophone.”
For D-Erania, growing up in a musical family had its benefits––expected and unexpected. For instance, she found an abandoned saxophone in the attic, had it refurbished and started, as she says, “to squeak and squeak” with it. But her unwavering discipline and determination paid off, to the point that her sound is now being compared to that of Shorter and Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Kenny Garrett. With Language of the Heart, her expertise has opened even more eyes and ears, thanks to the ability to expertly combine jazz, funk and R&B in an effort to generate a sultry, satisfying experience. The recording is multifaceted and reveals her different musical interests, channeling those different influences that yield some Brazilian-sounding tracks, R&B, soul, traditional jazz and funk. “That’s who I am as an artist,” she says, “and I think it comes through on the CD in a nice, creative way.”
In an industry where there are few female saxophonists, D-Erania not only has done things in a creative way, but she has done it her way--beginning with the selection of her special saxophone, which has a different look and produces, she says, a darker, richer sound. Unlike “regular” saxophones, D-Erania’s instrument, a Sax Dakota straight alto, is, as its name suggests, straight in shape. While the fingering is the same as traditional alto saxophones, she says her sax has allowed her to create a unique sound that has prompted music lovers to describe it as “Grover Washington on steroids,” generating tunes that are gritty and organic. “My sound is very soulful, perhaps not as smooth as some other smooth jazz players,” she says. “It’s unique, but at the same time, you’re going to feel it. I just play from the heart.”
Since D-Erania began playing her brand of music, she has shared it with listeners locally, nationally and internationally, including stops in Asia, Europe, Australia, Canada and Mexico. She’s currently working to put the final touches on another international tour schedule.
D-Erania's All-Acoustic Quartet includes guitarist Aaron Weistrop, drummer D'Artagnon Gunn and bassist Joshua Ramos.
So as Language of the Heart––described by reviewers as “very mainstream and unique at the same time”––continues to climb the charts and attract new followers, D-Erania is focused only on delivering more music (recorded or during live performances) that reflects her as a complete artist. “I strive to take my listeners on an emotional joyride,” she says, “and hopefully touch their hearts in the process.”
During her career, the accomplished pianist and saxophonist has done that over and over again, but she refuses to rest on her laurels. “I’m always in competition with myself to improve my sound,” she says. “I’m just constantly trying to be better at what I’m doing. I just want to be the best musician I can be."