Christine Jensen: Looking Left
CJ: That's right. I didn't think that song would go so far, so fast. I was studying with a wonderful composition teacher named Jan Jiracek who was helping me. There's a big step between just writing a tune and making something good. He was guiding me through some traps I was getting myself into compositionally. It was pretty amazing. A few other tunes of mine got on there as well.
AAJ: You released your first album in 2000 [Collage (Effendi Records, 2000)]. What was that like?
CJ: It was such a process. I think the big thing for me was, before doing the album, having people support me and say, "You're ready to do this."
AAJ: Since then, you've released two albums including the present one. Will you talk about the folks who are on the new album, Look Left?
CJ: Sure. The previous two had more sextet writing with Ingrid and my husband Joel Miller on saxophone. He's also a phenomenal inspiration to me in writing, because he's a wonderful composer and player. For this one, I decided to make it a smaller group setting and focus on myself as a player. In fact, there's one composition on there that Joel wrote with my group in mind ["Mark Adam Drum"] because he really enjoys the drummer that I work with.
Dave Restivo from Toronto is on piano. He works with [bandleader] Rob McConnell and does all sorts of new, innovative things out of that scene. He's around my age. We have a lot of the same influences, musically, which is interesting when you're on the road and you can talk about jazz in the 1980s and who we were listening to.
Fraser Hollins is on the bass, and he's also around my age, so it's neat to be playing with these guys. Then we have Greg Ritchie, who's ten years younger but kicking up a storm on the drums. He lives in New York now. But they're all Canadians! And also Ken Bibace on the guitar, who I use more as a horn-line player. He also does some rhythm work on the guitar, but he's supporting my horn lines more, replacing the other two horns I used to have. It's a lot more intimate for me, especially with Dave. We have a great conversation together.
AAJ: What's coming up next for you and the band?
CJ: Lots of great things. We're playing at Dizzy's [at New York's Lincoln Center] on the last Monday of May, May 28, with Ingrid as our guest. Then the Burlington [Vermont] jazz festival on June 5. The Montreal Jazz Festival on July 6. And I think I have about fifteen dates across Canada in June and July.
AAJ: I want to ask you about a saxophonist you had a chance to become friends with in Paris. There's a tune on Look Left called "A Tree Thing" that's inspired by him. Will you talk about Lee Konitz?
CJ: Lee is the most beautiful person walking on Earth. I've only spent a bit of time with him, but he said, "You sound great," and I said, "Get outta here. You sound great." He listened to the first album I did and thought that Ingrid and I had a special sound together. For me, that's a really deep compliment coming from a man who is all about sound. We would just talk on the phone and walk around Paris together. He was spending quite a bit of time there working with François Théberge on a project. [François] is a friend of mine, so he hooked me up with Lee. It was great. [Lee's] such an influence on how I play the saxophone.
AAJ: How so?
CJ: One thing I admire about him is that he's done all these recordings, and if you go through them all, the majority of them are based on certain standards. Maybe twelve standards or something with a bit more after that. He's really an artist at innovating himself each time he plays "All The Things You Are" or "What Is This Things Called Love?" or "Alone Together." Each time I hear him, I find that his sound gets richer and richer through time and more strong. He's been strong since the beginning, but it's like he's constantly evolving from these basic forms. He's a huge figure in jazz who's been very under the radar the whole time for that reason.
Top Photo: Michel Laplante
Bottom Photo: Courtesy of Christine Jensen