Jenny Scheinman: Touching Many Strings
"There's a little inside joke, which isn't so inside. There are other albums called 12 Songs, including one of the great albums ever, which is a Randy Newman record, called 12 Songs, which is just a fucking great record. There are some other ones. But that's one of my favorite records. It seems like a form that non-classical writers can fit their music into, similar to a string quartet or a symphony; all these unnamed forms of music people have been writing forever.
She's also fond of the band she assembled for the record, which include Frisell, who splashes intriguing lines throughout the violinist's melodies, and trumpeter Miles.
"Bill, I've played a ton with. With Ron [Miles] I've played a lot, always with Bill. He's tried to get me on a few of his gigs, which hasn't worked out for schedule reasons. I've played with Rachelle in her group. I was playing with her a lot right before I made that record. Doug Wieselman [clarinets] is just a wonderful player. Doug and Rachelle are really insightful in that world of improvisational music that's based in song. There are a lot of incredible jazz players that still can't really play songs. Songs have the feel of form; what it is to have a bridge and what that means in terms of the story of the lyric. Granted, there are no lyrics on the record.
"It's gotten pretty nice feedback, man, in terms of the press. It was named one of the best records of the year in the New York Times and all these other places. Somebody likes it, says Jenny with a chuckle. "That's great. I want to make music that the people like. That's not true for everybody, and I certainly don't think that's necessary. But that's where I'm coming from. So it is nice that people like it. That helps me hear something in it that I like.
Scheinman isn't sure what her fan base is and doesn't seem concerned. She's appreciative of her critical notices, and is warm to know her gigs at places like Barbes in Brooklyn keep bringing in an audience. Doors may be opening for her. But in the meantime, she keeps applying herself to her art. In particular, she has been concentrating on writing more material. At the time of this interview in December, she had spent three days immersed in it.
"I'm kind of a worker bee. I sit down and write and it's not always good. I'm not sure the stuff I wrote in the last three days is any good, but I spent 10 hours a day doing it., she says. "I do like writing. Stuff gets stored up. I think a lot of people are like that, at least people that create things. They have to release some of the information that gets stored in their brains. It's therapeutic in that way.
"I like working on things. The moment of getting the melody is usually pretty quick. Then I fuss with things forever. I don't really change notes, but I add some notes and I obsess on song structure. Simple things like whether the A section should repeat, little compositional things. ... The original melody and the gist of the tune comes in 5, 10 minutes. But the life of a composing process is pretty long.
"I sort of think of it as karmic. If you put your work in, then even if the good stuff doesn't come when you're doing your 10-hour day of practicing writing, then it pleases the muse and she'll come through with some good melodies at some inopportune time.
Scheinman grew up playing folk music with her family in a very rural part of northern California. She says, "My parents are New Yorkers. They moved out to California and raised me in probably one of the more remote places you can get in the States. It's a town of about 300 people. There were six people in my high school. It took two hours to get to town. It's way out there.
"My mom grew up with a lot of classical music. They were sort of fancy New York people. My dad's father was really into jazz. My father used to go see jazz when he was a kid. He was a regular at the Village Vanguard when he was young. Then he got taken away with the folk scene, the '50s east coast folk revival. He knows a million songs. He plays guitar. I grew up singing those, playing with him. There are folk songs, Beatles tunes. He was in Liverpool when the Beatles were starting. And a lot of jazz tunes. So I played those with him.
She took private piano and violin lessons. Her high school class was comprised of six students, a school "my parents and other adults created to avoid sending their kids two hours away to a public education facility, she says. But it was not underprivileged. She attended an arts camp and toured at times with a dance group, so the arts were always important. The education system may have been different, but not limiting. Scheinman was 16 when she attended Oberlin Conservatory and performed as a violinist.
The family traveled to the fiddle festivals where she won her competitions, and to New York City every year to visit relatives. They also went to Europe, where Jenny first encountered busking, something she would do from time to time in Frisco and the Big Apple.