I first met Deanna Bogart when I saw her playing saxophone and sitting in with the band at The Nest in Indian Wells. I was struck by the joy with which she played—which makes it seem as if the music is coming through her rather than the instrument.
Bogart, 58, a Palm Desert resident for four years, has been making music since she began playing piano by ear at the age of 2. She went on to the guitar, to the saxophone, and to writing and singing her own songs. Whether it’s blues, boogie, jazz, rock or country, she does it all.
“I was born in Detroit, the middle of five sisters, and raised in New York and Arizona,” says Bogart. “I remember what it felt like to always be the new kid in school. When it came to music, I just knew it was something I could do, in spite of being kicked out of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music at 5, when I didn’t want to learn to play the notes!”
She laughs with the same sense of abandon you hear when she plays.
“At about 9, I began playing the guitar. My mom had bought a guitar from the Spiegel catalog and was playing in the living room while I was in my bedroom. I could hear she just wasn’t playing well; the timing of the chords was off. I walked out and grabbed the guitar out of her hands, knowing I would probably get in a lot of trouble. I showed her the right way to play the chords and then gave her back the guitar, and went back to my room expecting the worst.
“Mom tapped on my door, and when I opened it, she gave me the guitar.”
At age 14, Deanna got a job, and her grandparents agreed to match what she was able to save. She bought a 12-string guitar that she still has to this day.
In the fifth-grade, at age 11, Bogart wanted to be in the school band—and decided she wanted to play the saxophone.
“To this day, I don’t know why,” she says. “But I was told girls don’t play saxophone. In my 20s, learned to play the sax by ear, and now when people respond, I can’t tell you how it affects the 11-year-old inside me.”
Bogart’s first experience onstage was also in the fifth-grade. “When I closed my eyes and sang, nothing else mattered.”
Bogart left home at 17 and came to Los Angeles on a bus. She met musicians who turned her on to an opportunity to sing harmony. Her first gig was at 20 with a band on the road. Being a woman in what was a man’s game was a challenge.
“One of the lessons of my life is that people try to thwart you along the way, so my music is a way of showing I can do what they thought I couldn’t or shouldn’t,” she says. “When things are scary, if you just push through, something amazing happens.”
Bogart’s professional life has indeed been amazing. She is the winner of three consecutive Blues Music Awards for sax, and has been featured at music festivals and clubs all over the world. “I was recently in Norway at the Dark Season Festival, on the edge of the Arctic Circle,” she says, “and then two concerts in London. I’ve played in New York and Washington, D.C., and I’ll be in Panama in February.” She has played with Ray Charles and B.B. King, among many others.
On a trip to Las Vegas, someone broke into Bogart’s hotel room and took her instruments, passport and identity. “I got the instruments back, but I’m still fighting through the ID theft and bank fraud. I feel as if the people who did this are the real victims by having chosen to do what they did. Something good will come of it—I believe that’s the way the universe works.”
Bogart also took a trip to Egypt to play at the pyramids during a “Blues on the Nile” tour—and it was was life-changing. “I came in on a camel, playing my horn,” she laughs.
Bogart is the featured draw at the annual Jam on the Rocks, at a private home up Highway 74 overlooking the Coachella Valley; the event has become a large draw for locals who love blues and jamming. (The next one will be in November 2018.)
Being on the road is not easy, especially for a single mother. Bogart’s daughter, Alix, is now 23 and heading into a career as a marriage and family therapist.
“Even though we were divorced, her father helped, and that made it possible for me to do what I do,” she said.
Watching Bogart lead her band—excellent musicians with whom she has played for the past 20 years—you sense the intimacy with which they relate musically. “For me, it has to be authentic,” she says. “I trust them, and they trust me. That’s what live music is all about. I’ve always wanted to work with people better than me.”
When Bogart first began writing songs, they were on the guitar. “When you get into the intention of the music, you connect to your true self,” she says. “I had music and lyrics in my head that wouldn’t go away. But I’m the most undisciplined writer ever. It takes until a deadline, and then I go into my psychotic place and get it done.” One of her most beautiful songs was written for her daughter, “Back and Forth Kid.”
Bogart loves to do improv rather than just stick to written music. “My chaotic, inconsistent life was good training for improv,” she says. When you watch her play, you’ll marvel at the way the music comes through her—whether she’s banging out blues on the piano or riffing jazz on the sax. No two performances are ever alike.
“When you get into the intention of the music, you connect to your true self,” Bogart says. “I never wanted to be famous or a star. It’s not that I want to play, but that I need to. I don’t know how not to be me, for better or worse.
“I just know I wouldn’t be alive without music.”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.