Dean Pallen

About Dean Pallen

Dean Pallen is a saxophonist and composer. He is largely self-taught on the saxophone although he did take lessons from the likes of Rob Frayne, Frank Lozano and friend Devon Woods.  An important influence on his music has been his time spent in countries like Ghana, Mali, Cuba and Madagascar playing with both professional and amateur musicians.  Around 2000, he began taking piano lessons with the intent of learning how to identify the chords in songs he badly wanted to share with other musicians. Quickly his focus on the piano gravitated towards composing.  As his repertoire developed, he formed the “Dean Pallen Quartet” as an outlet for his compositions and began playing around Ottawa.

Dean Pallen on CBC Radio, talking about his release "Strathcona Park".

This fall he is releasing Strathcona Park, an album made up in good part by songs from that early composing period.  Strathcona Park on the Rideau River along the eastern edge of Sandy Hill and two minutes from his home has played an important role in the life of his family. At the same time Strathcona Park became emblematic of what Dean has tried to do with his music.  He has explored different melodic and chord arrangements, rhythms and time signatures. But in the end, certain rules and foundations underpin his music.  In the same way that he tinkers with his music, people change how they enjoy the park while leaving its foundation intact.   

Today, with his wife the singer Maggy Razafimbahiny, Dean is the co-founder and leader of Raivo, a group that has released two recordings, Hommage (2002) and Mahabibo (2008). Raivo explores a mixture of jazz and Malagasy rhythms and other forms of popular music.  Preparations are currently underway for Raivo’s third recording “MADAGASCAR” that will be a conceptual album that explores musically the emotional ups and downs of the Malagasy Diaspora during this period of great political and economic uncertainty in Madagascar.  

Click album cover to learn more about Una Aventura Mas.

He is also the leader of Rimbombante that released its first CD in the spring of 2010 entitled:”Una Aventura Más” dedicated to the great Bolero singers of Latin America.  Rimbombante mixes Latin rhythms with jazz and other influences like Brian Wilson. Today, Dean composes the music for both Rimbombante and Raivo. The “Dean Pallen Quartet” is being reconstituted and he will be doing the official launch for Sunswept Sunday in the spring of 2011 an album he recorded with pianist J-P Allain. Sunswept Sunday is a collection of rare Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn songs.

Click album cover to learn more about Sunswept Sunday.

As a composer some of Dean’s most important influences include Duke Ellington, Abdullah Ibrahim, Theolonious Monk, R.R. Majunga, Herbie Nicholas, Billy Strayhorn, Claude Debussy and Brian Wilson. As a saxophonist, Dean counts among his numerous influences the playing of African saxophonists, Dexter Gordon, Steve Lacy, Carlos Ward, Stan Getz, David Murray, Charlie Rouse, Art Pepper and the saxophone players in the Duke Ellington Orchestra.  His Myspace page ( ) has been configured to allow the visitor a chance to gain a sense of Dean’s musical taste over the years.

Dean strives to produce improvised music in a form that one would normally associate with jazz but he is also motivated to create non improvised music like what should be case with the new Raivo album MADAGASCAR.  Dean tries to compose music that is centred on the melody even if improvisation does take place.   Dean sees jazz as an adventurous form of popular music where improvisation and non-improvised music can be mixed with a multitude of influences to create an endless array of musical possibilities. The end result he is striving for is a broad musical mosaic. The challenge for him is to weave everything he is hearing and liking together and make sense of it conceptually. He returns constantly to the idea that modern jazz should be more melodic than it presently is perceived as being and this should result in a highly engaging form of music that is not automatically commercial in nature. This sounds rather technocratic which is too bad. Because what Dean is really trying to do is make music that is accessible even if it at times it can be challenging.