Denman emigrated to the United States in 1976 to join the faculty of the University of Arizona School of Music, where he taught until 1984. There he forged two important musical friendships: the first with Jeffrey Haskell, Director of Jazz Studies; the second with pianist Paula Fan, who became first his sonata partner, and in 1982, his wife. The Denman-Fan duo toured the United States, England, Australia and the Far East. Denman also became the first wind soloist to be invited to the People's Republic of China by the Ministry of Culture. There he not only performed, but introduced a wealth of western repertoire to Chinese clarinetists. A highlight of his many visits included the first performance with orchestra of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto ever heard in China.
After his arrival in America, Denman was able to pursue his long standing interest in jazz. He was a founding member of Haskell's Jazzberry Jam, and, with his idol Buddy DeFranco, recorded an award winning album. Denman also toured Japan with the Monterey Jazz Festival, and wrote a series of pops programs for orchestra, which he performed in the US, Germany and Australia. His recording with the Queensland Pops, "Swinging Hits and Sweet Memories," won the BASF Sunnie Award for Best Jazz Album of 1995.
Despite his uncanny ability to literally cross over between jazz and classical repertoire from one moment to the next, Denman considered himself primarily a classical musician. He performed as Principal Clarinet with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra until 1999 and recorded most of the standard repertoire for clarinet and piano with Paula Fan. His recordings of the complete clarinet works of Louis Spohr, a composer whose work he championed, drew raves. "The artistry of John Denman strikes one like a bolt," wrote one London reviewer. His last two recordings, first issued on Carlton Classics and later reissued on his own label (denmanclarinet.com), included the two great masterworks of the chamber repertoire for clarinet and strings: the clarinet quintets of Mozart and Brahms recorded with England's Flesch Quartet.
After being diagnosed with cancer April, 2000, Denman remained busy. He composed the "Crossover Concerto," a concerto in swing dedicated to Buddy DeFranco. He continued to play golf. He continued to perform. His last performances were at a festival in Colorado with pianist Jeff Haskell in August, an appearance in September with Haskell and Fan in England at a benefit hosted by Lord Denman of Dovedale, and the first performance of his "Crossover Concerto" with the Tucson Pops on the 23rd of September. Conductor Laszlo Veres recalls "his incredible artistry...that every note had something to say...and the different colors and shading in his playing."
John Denman is survived by his wife, Paula Fan, brothers Lawrence, Neil and Nicholas, sister Hilary, son Mark (Susan Shawcross), who is a violinist with the Flesch Quartet, daughters Merion (Jeremy Willis) and Shan (Adrian Lawrence) and six grandsons. No services are scheduled. However, various upcoming musical events will celebrate Denman's life. The first of these are the three concerts he was to play with the Tucson Symphony, "Big Band Clarinet," scheduled for January 2002. The legendary Buddy DeFranco will play in Denman's place, performing the "Crossover Concerto" and other Denman arrangements. A classical memorial will be performed in March by cellist Janet Anthony and pianist Paula Fan, who hopes that all will remember his "great artistry, enormous temperament and big heart."
RACampbell, KUAT-FM (Univ of Arizona)