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Ingrid Jensen: Viking Spirit

By Published: September 24, 2007
AAJ: When these big-name players were all listening to you and being very encouraging, was it a surprise to you? Did you think that was the level you were at?

IJ: I thought they were crazy. I thought, "What's the matter with these people? Don't they hear how bad I am?" Of course I was in awe of them. I knew their music and loved their personalities, and when they played it just freaked me out. For them to acknowledge me as someone who should potentially pursue what they were doing—it was a pretty heavy thing. I definitely took it and ran with it. In many senses, they were right. They were hearing much more in my playing than I was hearing. They were hearing this deep influence of great music that my mother had surrounded me with and all these great band teachers had plugged me in to. I just wasn't hearing it because I was struggling. I play trumpet. Maybe if I had played saxophone it would have been easier. But the instrument's a bit of a beast sometimes.

Ingrid JensenAAJ: You were encouraged by their words and decided to go to Berklee. What was that experience like?

IJ: It was pretty incredible. One of my best friends there was [pianist] Danilo Perez. I saw [saxophonist] Donny McCaslin a lot and he was very nice to me. I got to play in [saxophonist] George Garzone's ensemble and [trumpeter] Herb Pomeroy's band. I just met tons and tons of people who were exceptionally great to me. It was also an eye-opening experience as far as how the business works. I had no clue. I saw my peers getting record deals and getting whisked off to private lessons with people I idolized. I saw how things worked and found my way through it all.

AAJ: Did it make your goals seem attainable when you saw how things worked?

IJ: I was having so much fun playing so much music with so many people that I didn't even think about it, actually. By my third year, I was just trying to keep up with all these people I was playing sessions with like [guitarist] Kurt Rosenwinkel and [trumpeter] Kenny Rampton. I didn't stop to think, "How am I going to make it in the business?" I was too busy trying to finish my transcriptions and learn tunes and do all that.

I think the reality was abruptly thrown in my face when I finished school, because there were no real opportunities for me. Nothing. No gigs. No, "Come on down here and play in this band." Which is kind of the way it works with music school. You don't get out and get a gig like a lawyer or doctor gets an internship. You have to create that yourself. So I just took off to Denmark when I graduated. I had an aunt in Denmark and I stayed at her house for a couple months and hung out with the musicians in Denmark. [Bandleader] Ernie Wilkins and a bunch of good people. I went to a record store every day and just sat there and listened to music with the guy who owned the store. I transcribed and practiced and sat in with the local guys, which was kind of a perfect experience after college.

From then on, things just started rolling. I moved to New York, played in the subways and got gigs with all-women bands. Paid my dues there. Then, while living in New York in the 90s, I got a gig to play in Austria with the Vienna Art Orchestra. That happened via going to Berklee and then ending up in New York with one of my Berklee friends as a roommate. That got me back in Europe, but in a working situation. I auditioned for a teaching job and the teaching job landed me in Austria. Being in Austria landed me in a bunch of different scenes that were really inspiring and really great.

AAJ: From that point, did things continue to progress upward? Did it become easier once you got that first good gig?

IJ: I wouldn't say it became easier. It was kind of hellish, actually, because I was isolated living in this—


It wasn't hellish, but it was a very trying time. I didn't speak any German and I was living alone and moving every couple months because I couldn't get a place of my own because I wasn't Austrian. I spent two-and-a-half years dealing with the teaching situation, which was making me old really fast, and traveling around a lot in Europe. But in the end, being there made one major break for me, which was when I sat in with [trumpeter] Clark Terry and [vibraphonist] Lionel Hampton.

When I sat in with Clark at the [Village] Vanguard when I was living in New York, he really took a shine to me. So did [trombonist] Al Grey. So whenever they were anywhere in Europe, when they were in Austria or Germany or anywhere within train distance, Clark would say, "You come on and sit in. Bring your horn." So I went and sat in with these guys in their eighties and nineties, and this little blond thing comes boppin' onstage and plays a chorus of the blues and everyone goes "Whoo!"

One time, I think it was the second or third time I sat in with them, Clark introduced me to their road manager for Europe. He was a really cool guy named Alex. He really wanted to help me. He said, "Give me your best demo tape and I'll send it out." So I gave it to him and he sent it out to ten record companies, and the only one that was really interested was Enja, which was the one I wanted to be on if I were going to be on a label.

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