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March 03/06/23, 2023
William (Billy) Denk is a guitarist, synthesist, and composer. Billy’s recent focus has been to fuse elements of jazz, ambient, electronic, electro-acoustic into a collection of experimental avant garde recordings and performances. What I hear is a fresh blending of sustained gossamer tones beaming in the darkness, bringing a soft, tender, and romantic feeling. There is no hurry, I am floating and blissful, I hear pianos and woodwinds within the synthesizers.

Billy has been moving naturally into a more introspective phase of composing, and by redefining his path from jazz to ambient, we are able to perceive both distinct genres in new ways and to then realize that enjoying good music is what counts, not fitting into genres. Billy has been building a freewheeling, multi-faceted resume in Chicago jazz circles, playing a fusion of jazz, funk, Latin, rock and experimental music, with recordings starting in 2012. He has performed with Glazz Ensemble, Phil Ciancio, Ian Hall, John Weber Trio, Chris Greene Quartet, and Paul Abella Trio in addition to hosting concerts with his own trio and performing solo compositions.

What Billy brings with his new sound is his secret longtime passion for minimalist ambient music, a seasoned jazz player’s feeling for elements of structure, a sense of adventure and curiosity, and glimpses within the veils, layers of veils. I clearly hear a powerful blend of moods masterfully expressed via a fusion of ambient guitar, synth, electro-acoustic and organic sounds, using a combination of the Ableton Live digital audio workstation and a variety of synthesizers and effects pedals.

Looking at the sound, Billy reflects, “We can’t define what we see without the contrast between darkness and light.” In Praise of Shadows is inspired by and named after an essay on Japanese aesthetics by author and novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, first published in 1933 and in English in 1977. Comparisons of light with darkness are used to contrast Western and Asian cultures. From “The Sun Was Shining” to “Unto This Light” and “Reflections in Darkness,” the eight tracks capture Billy’s various impressions of the theme.

The artist traces his inspiration in this genre back to the classic ‘80s-’90s Windham Hill vibe, legendary bands like Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream, influential ambient/electronic pioneer Steve Roach and other genre artists like Kevin Braheny and Hearts of Space artist Bill Douglas. Jeff Beck has always been a major inspiration too.

In 2019, after several decades as one of Chicagoland’s most renowned and versatile jazz guitarists, Billy made a creative shift in his recording career to begin exploring his longtime passion for minimalist ambient music. Engaging his talents as a composer and synthesist, he launched a prolific series of recordings, starting with the auspiciously titled Positive Space and Starbound, whose focal single “Solar Wind” has been a top streamer and featured track on Journeyscapes, a popular ambient electronic radio show.

Receiving his first acoustic guitar at age nine, Billy performed in folk and rock groups in high school while also playing clarinet in the school band. As he became more fluent playing jazz guitar, Billy started a regular jam session in nearby Woodstock, IL that evolved into the organization Jazz on the Square, which promoted jazz performance and education in the community. This included an annual jazz festival featuring predominantly Chicago-based jazz musicians, including Tim Fitzgerald, Chris Greene, Frank Russell, Outcast Jazz Band, and others. He also hosted the Northern Sky Jazz Show on Harvard Community Radio 101.3 FM, which featured music and interviews with musicians from Chicago and nationwide.

In this era, Billy released a total of five recordings — Soul Immersion (2019), Connection (2020), Introverse (2021), Blue Lotus Dream (2021) and Night Songs (2022). “In Fairness to You” is the first single off his next album In Praise of Shadows, which fuses elements of ambient, electronic, electro-acoustic, and jazz. This new track, “In Fairness to You” is now available on Bandcamp, and the album In Praise of Shadows will be available later this Spring.

“Both as a jazz musician and now as a composer and producer of ambient recordings, I feel that I have the depth and maturity to create music that resonates with people, that has something significant to say and shares heartfelt emotions that others can connect with,” Billy reflects. “I have been moving naturally into a more introspective phase of my composing, and it contrasts with some of the previous works that had more of a feeling of positivity and lightness, infused with repetitive sequencer-created patterns. I’ve always been interested in aesthetics and design, so the themes of Tanizaki’s book struck a chord and led to some interesting sonic explorations. The idea behind In Praise of Shadows is that we can’t define what we see without the contrast between darkness and light.”

Watch the minimalistic video:

Billy’s indie label Waltzing Square Recording is releasing the album, distributed worldwide by OneRPM. Music and production by Billy Denk. Art direction by Beau Skaronea & Erin Denk. Artwork by Billy Denk.

Visit his official website at

The space between illumination and shadow reveals the shape, texture, and depth of our being…