“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Jill Jenson
Smitty: It’s certainly my pleasure to welcome to Jazz Monthly a great singer that perhaps some of you have not heard about, but we’re happy to introduce her to the world. She’s just released her self-titled CD called Jill Jenson. Please welcome the lovely and talented Jill Jenson. Jill, how are you?
Jill Jenson (JJ): I’m great, thank you.
Smitty: Super. You were born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and you came about music by a different avenue than most, and I find that kind of fascinating that you began singing to Manhattan Transfer tunes.
JJ: As a kid I had an older cousin who was involved in music and when he was in high school in the jazz choir, I was still in grade school, and I thought he was really cool. So I started listening to what he was listening to.
Smitty: Family influence is always cool. You were sort of the typical corporate America young lady moving your way through the ranks of corporate America and yet you still had this love for singing because you didn’t attend the University of Miami as a vocal major for nothing. (Laughs) So how did you make that transition? That’s such a strong thing to do.
JJ: It was part of a larger life transition. As you said, I’d been working at a job for years climbing the corporate ladder and had that kind of a career thing going on. Whether or not I was happy with it, it’s just kinda the direction my life was taking, or I was letting it take, and I had sort of a chance reunion with someone I’d gone to college with, Tim Cashion, who produced and wrote this record, and he, at the time, was on the road with Grand Funk Railroad and I had sort of an epiphany, sort of an “aha” moment, when he and I were talking on the phone about seeing each other because he was coming into town, and I sort of had this blinding moment of clarity, if you will, that here I was gonna see somebody I hadn’t seen in years and I was gonna be talking about my life and I wasn’t in music anymore and it made me realize that I really wasn’t doing what I wanted to do.
It was also part of a larger physical change for me. I ended up losing 130 pounds from that point on. After I met up with Tim and saw that he had been making a living doing music….he was also with Robert Palmer and Bob Seger….when we started hanging out in the music crowd, it really hit home with me and I wanted to try this again, so Tim and I started talking about making a record, and as I said, it was part of a larger life transition. I changed physically, I left my job, we started working on the record, which took a couple years, and in the beginning we never really thought of it as maybe a hobby CD, but we didn’t really have an idea of how big it might become or who might want to get involved, and luckily we had gone to school with Matt Pierson, who’d been at Warner Brothers in the jazz division for years, and we were able to hook up with him and he executive produced the record and he brought other folks on, so it just kinda snowballed from there, so I think it was the right time.
Smitty: How did you adjust from the one life to the other life, to the music life? Because that’s a totally different scene from going to work at a 9 to 5 and then, you come to this crossroads where you say, “I’m gonna make this change,” and now here you are, you’re doing something that you love.
JJ: Well, there’s definitely an adjustment. There’s the ambiguity on the music side of not knowing what you’re going to be doing in a couple months whereas when you’re in a 9 to 5 job, you kind of expect that “Hey, six months from now, I’ll still be here doing this.” So adjusting to be able to roll with the punches a little bit more….some of the decisions I’ve had to make are decisions that are completely different types of decisions. I had to just kinda relax and trust the people I was working with and, as you said, going from a 9 to 5 job to something else, it is an unstructured lifestyle for the most part, so for whatever reason, I was just at a point where it seemed to happen pretty naturally. It just seemed to be the right time.
Smitty: That’s pretty cool because, when I think of someone going from a 9 to 5 to singing at clubs and in the studio, that goes from early morning hours to very late night and very, very early morning hours.
JJ: Right, right. At this point I haven’t been pulling some of those late nights yet because we haven’t started playing live. And I’ve been doing some consulting off and on at different points during the recording process because there are lags and it depends on the road or when we’re not recording, so I’ll work for a couple months. So I’m kinda going back and forth now.
Smitty: What would you say to other aspiring artists who perhaps are at a crossroads or somewhere near that point to where they want to leave perhaps a traditional 9 to 5 and they may be doing some gigs on the weekend, but they really wanna get into it full-time because they really love what they’re doing and they’re just not quite sure how to make that transition? What would you say to those aspiring artists?
JJ: Well, number one, I mean, you really have to make sure that you want it because it’s not a little part-time hobby, if you really want it, and I have spent hours and hours researching, talking to people, reading things, getting my hands on everything I can about the music business, which has been a big learning experience because it’s not what you think it is; finding out different ways to get the music out there, different ways to market it…it’s a full-time job so you really have to be ready to make that kind of commitment, I think, because it’s not just a hobby.
Smitty: Yes. And I think one of the keys that you mentioned there was you’ve gotta want to do this, you’ve gotta love it, because there are some sacrifices involved and there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears, you know?
JJ: True. And it takes some, for a lack of a better term, some guts and some belief in yourself, and that’s been part of this process for me, probably working on that and holding onto what I believe about myself and the music that I like because certainly there are people who come along and tell you that you should do something different.
Smitty: Yes. Would you say that geographically it’s been to your advantage?
JJ: Well, it’s been (laughs)….it’s been difficult because the studio that I record in is in North Carolina, at Tim’s studio, Cottage Lake Music, and we also did sessions in New York, and I’m in Seattle. That’s quite a commute. And the way we did it was about once a month or every six weeks I would go out for a week and we’d work and then I’d come back and we’d work on other things, writing and stuff, during that time period. So it’s been difficult and it did add time to the whole process because we didn’t do it all at once.
Smitty: You must have some energy level and perhaps that goes along with your weight loss and all of those things, because to still somewhat have a foot in corporate America and then you’re doing this new record, you’re trying to market it, the commute cross-country, that’s gotta take a lot of energy to accomplish that.
JJ: It does. You’re right. (Laughs.) And, yes, again, because I’ve made some other changes in my life, I have more energy than I used to, and I do work out a lot, and that helps.
JJ: So, again, I’ve really got some great people on my team, certainly when there are times when maybe that energy or that belief begins to lag behind a little bit, I certainly have folks that are there to help bring that energy level back up.
Smitty: Perhaps you can continue to be a consultant, perhaps to aspiring musicians, now that you’ve gone through this process and continue to do so because not only would you be a consultant in corporate America, but now look at the experience that you’ve accomplished just making that transition, so maybe consulting is just something that’s a part of your life as well.
JJ: No, it’s funny you said that. I thought about that, and sometimes Tim and I joke about writing a book, not that other people haven’t done that before, but this project’s gone in a lot of different directions, we’ve met and talked to a lot of different people and learned a great deal about the business and about the fact that there is not just one way to do this, and that’s been another big learning lesson and another thing that I would tell people who want to try this. There is no set way to do it. Because we certainly talked to some experts who all specialize in one area and they’ll all tell you different things because different things work for different people, and you also have to be willing to try those different things and not give up when you try one thing and it doesn’t work.
Smitty: Absolutely. You attended the University of Miami as a vocal major. Talk about that experience. What was that like for you and how much did that weigh on you getting back into the music business?
JJ: That was a huge factor in me getting back into it because we ended up working with a lot of people that Tim and I both went to the University of Miami with as did Matt, the executive producer, and we were able to pull in some different folks that we knew or were still friends with or had worked with at the University of Miami. And as you probably know, it’s a pretty big jazz school, so I would say that pretty much 95% of the people I went to school with all ended up in the music business and I’m kind of the odd person out. So that’s been an inspiration for me too, just watching friends and people I knew go on to do all different types of things in music, and also just the experience of being there and being around those people, being appreciated as a musician and not just a vocalist, because a lot of times if you’re a singer, your instrumental friends will kinda treat you differently because oftentimes the two don’t go hand in hand (both laughing), being a musician and being a singer. So going to school there, that’s, you know, it’s pretty hard not to build some chops in some other areas of music. So I think going there, again, has been a really big part of me being able to do this.
Smitty: That’s very cool. Now, getting to this new CD, its self-titled Jill Jenson, so we can’t make a mistake about who its CD is attributed to, huh? (Both laughing.)
JJ: I hope not.
Smitty: Talk to me about how you really put the lyrics and this whole interpretation together because when I look at the titles and hear the music, my first impression was “Wow, there’s a lot of different genres here,” and you seem to be adept at fusing different genres together to make it a beautiful blend of music, and that was what grabbed me initially.
JJ: Thank you.
Smitty: I love the style of your interpretation of the music, which is very cool, because I hear some jazz, pop, R&B and some AC stuff there as well. Talk about how you decided to construct the CD to make it your own.
JJ: When Tim and I started talking about doing a project, most of my background and training had all been in straight ahead jazz. I had never really sung pop or R&B or anything other than standards and straight ahead and bop. So when we started talking about doing the project, we weren’t really sure what it was gonna be. We got in the studio that first session and that’s when we did “Sunshine Away” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” just kinda testing the waters to see what felt right, and from that session on Tim started writing things more in the direction of sorta that Adult Contemporary/Smooth Jazz/R&B, you know, Steely Dan, Sade, Al Jarreau type vibe. And then there’s a couple of other songs that are on the record that are things that Tim had written in years past and kinda had them just catalogued that we tried and we liked the way they sounded too. So there is kind of a wide range of stuff on the CD, and I know we’re starting a new one very soon and we’re gonna try and pick more of a focus this time, but it really was about recording what we thought sounded good and what we liked, and putting it in an order on the record so it had a flow, but as you said, it does cover sort of a wide span.
Smitty: Yes it does.
JJ: And we kinda pushed it just a little, almost to where we couldn’t go any farther.
Smitty: It’s a beautiful blend when you’ve got a great songwriter and a great singer. It’s just a wonderful combination.
JJ: It just seemed to work out. I mean, they all seemed to fit together.
Smitty: Yes. When I look at the song titles and when I listen to the lyrics, I wonder: can Jill be telling us about her personal life or is this sort of snippets of your life’s experiences?
JJ: Some of them, yeah, for instance, the song “Butterfly”? I love the lyrics to that one. That was the first time I’ve ever done that, and that is kind of about me, it’s about a transformation, it’s about believing in yourself, it’s about letting go. That one definitely….and little pieces and parts of some of the other songs too. A couple of the songs, like “Little World” or the cover of “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” those are more about the state of the world, about peace, about things that are on my mind in that area. Some of the songs are love songs about looking for love or losing love ….and I think everybody can relate to those. So certainly there’s parts of me in those songs too.
Smitty: When you’re talking about things that are close to you and personal to you in your music, does that allow you to go to a different level and what’s that like?
JJ: Sometimes, yeah. There were certainly times in the studio where once I knew the song well enough, I could kinda let go and not worry about making sure every word was right, making sure every phrase was what I thought was right, and just kinda let go. Those are ultimately the tracks that we ended up keeping. The way we recorded the record, part of the time I didn’t know the song before I came out to the studio, so I would learn the song in the studio while we recorded it, and then I would go away and listen to the song and come back maybe in the evening or the next day and cut it again, so sometimes it would take a day or two for me to be at that point where I could get in there and let go ‘cause I knew the song. But definitely there are times when I’d be done singing that perhaps I didn’t realize that I was in a different place until I was done with the song and I’d kinda step back and went “Oh, okay. I guess I left myself a little bit there for a while and was really in the song.”
JJ: But usually on ballads that, yeah.
Smitty: Oh cool. I think it’s a great record, I love the songs, I love your voice, and the whole interpretation of the songs are just wonderfully mixed, and I wonder how can people get the record because people should hear this great record?
JJ: Well, they can get it at your nice online store, www.jazzmonthlystore.com, it’s also available at www.CDBaby.com.
Smitty: Very cool!
JJ: It’s available on iTunes and all the download sites, www.Amazon.com, and they can find it in stores. They can also go to my Web site and I have links and information on my Web site.
Smitty: Okay, and give us your Web address.
Smitty: Jill, I must congratulate you on this great record and certainly wish you the best with it, I think your voice should be heard, and we certainly hope that this gets into the hands of people, especially those that are aspiring to make a change and jump to the music world, and keep making some great music, and I applaud you for what you’ve done because you’ve taken some giant leaps in your life and you’ve produced a great product with this great record self-titled Jill Jenson.
JJ: Thank you very much.
Smitty: All right. We’ve been talking with Jill Jenson. She’s has release her debut CD and its self-titled. Please pick this one up, it’s a great record, some wonderful songs, and if you like cross-genre music, she’s crossed them all and blended them very well. Jill, thanks again and please come see us again.
JJ: I will, thank you so much Smitty.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.JillJenson.com.
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