Ingrid Jensen: Viking Spirit
“ I play music that evolves out of my social environment. ”
For years, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen wanted to bring together her friend, pianist Maggi Olin, and her sister, saxophonist Christine Jensen, for an album celebrating their shared Nordic ancestry. That album is Flurry (ArtistShare, 2007), by their band Nordic Connect. It's another deep and moving recording from the Juno-Award-winning Jensen. All About Jazz contributor Jason Crane talked with Jensen about the Viking feeling, the long road to her present success, and whether or not Phil Woods, Bob Brookmeyer and Bobby Shew are crazy.
All About Jazz: This is a fascinating record. I know from the liner notes that this project was a long time in conception, and it seems like a big victory that it finally arrived. Can you talk about that?
Ingrid Jensen: Well, when the stars align and you can do a tour and then record, it's kind of like everyone's dream. And we were able to do that with Christine and Maggi and my husband Jon Wikan on drums and a bassist from Sweden as well, Mattias Welin, thanks to a lot of grants from Canada and Sweden and then some gigs at Canadian festivals last summer . Then we went in the studio and recorded in Montreal. And the rest is history. We mixed and mastered it in Montreal where Christine lives.
AAJ: You've known Christine since she was born, but you've also known Maggi for a long time. How did you first meet?
IJ: We met in Boston at Berklee [College of Music]. We were in an ensembleI think it was Herb Pomeroy's ensemble or one of those original music ensemblesand we just liked each other a lot and started hanging out. We kept in touch over the years. I started going to Europe a lot and working with different bands with different contacts that I'd made when I was living in Austria and when I went to Berklee. Then we just started playing a lot together. Every year for about five or six years, she'd bring me over once or twice. I was finally able to return the favor with this project.
AAJ: What makes you and Maggi a good musical fit for one another?
IJ: From the beginning, I always loved her compositions as well as her feel for the music. She was not so much like, "I have to play on every beat and show off all my major impressive chops to everyone." She has a great amount of technique, and she has a very unique harmonic sense and comping sense as well. I always liked the way she would shape what I would play, and how her music would give me space to shape my ideas, rather than just having to play it like a head-solo-head approach to the music.
AAJ: Is it hard to find that kind of empathy in another player?
IJ: I'm pretty fussy about comping instruments, as far as piano and guitar go. I play a little piano myselfnot that I would ever play professionallyand I have an idea of what colors are available. And of course, playing with [bandleader and composer] Maria [Schneider] and hearing all that music as well... But just the amount of space and the interplay that can be enhanced or ruined by a player's approachit's something I really listen for and really go for.
It's funny. I finally had time to watch YouTube lately. I never had time until about two weeks ago. And I saw [trumpeter] Miles [Davis] say something that really hits home for me. I think I'm going to have to steal this phrase: [he said] "This is social music." An interviewer was asking him, "How does it feel to be a jazz musician, one of the greatest jazz musicians?" [Miles] said, "Jazz? What's jazz? This is social music. I play social music."
That's how I feel. I play music that evolves out of my social environment. Maggi and Jon get along really well. And Maggi and Christinethe minute they met at my wedding it was like they were best friends for life. The trust between all of us is very, very deep. That comes into the music.
AAJ: When Christine was on The Jazz Session a few weeks ago, she was mentioning that the difference in your ages, while not huge, was enough that it wasn't until she was in her twenties that she really felt comfortable stepping onto a stage with you. She said since then, not only has she become really comfortable with it, but [saxophonist] Lee Konitz mentioned to her how well you two play together and complement each other. What's your experience from the other end, watching Christine come up behind you? What's it been like to collaborate together professionally?
IJ: It's very cool. It's the most intimate experience I can have playing music next to playing with my husband, whom I know very well. [laughs] As far as Christine's development goes, I was playing her music before I was playing with her. She wrote some tunes that I played and recorded. I recorded one of her first tunes she ever wrote on my first Enja record [Vernal Fields (Enja, 1994)], which was called "Vernal Fields."
AAJ: And the tune won a Juno Award [Canada's version of the Grammy award], right?
IJ: It won a Juno. Her tunes were so unique and so beautiful and lyrical, and the players could really add something to them as well. It was a challenge for her to decide between playing piano and saxophone. As we all know, if you're going to compose and write and play, it takes a lot of time. I think her skills developed in a different way than mine. I just took the trumpet and said, "Okay, I've got to learn how to play this or I'm going to quit." Now I'm more in a writing phase than ever. I played a gig the other night and thought, "Wow, I just played all my own music. I never thought I'd do this."
With that sensibility that we have as sisters, it's magic. Even from the beginning, when she was still getting her chops together and developing, there were always times when we would just go into these places where there was no need to talk. You couldn't have even explained what it was that we got into. It just happens, and now it happens more than ever because we're at much higher technical levels on our instruments, and we're more developed players from having more experiences.