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Jenny Scheinman: Some Serious Mischief

By Published: February 27, 2012
AAJ: The final song of Mischief and Mayhem, "The Mite," has a tremendous punk-like energy, and the video of the performance from the New York City Winter Jazz Fest looks like it would make the perfect set-closer. How much is the music on this CD transformed when played live?

JS: It's different every time. The spectrum is different in different genres. Compared to a song-based rock band it changes drastically, but compared to purely improvised music it doesn't change that much. Definitely the sounds we go after are sounds that we haven't heard, and we don't like to repeat ourselves, but we're also not spending all our energy trying not to repeat ourselves, which is what a lot of jazz musicians end up doing. If something works and we brought it off the last time, we might end up there again, and we'll only not go there again if it's not working anymore, which sometimes happens. If you're playing two sets a night, or just every night, there's a pattern that can develop, and you don't want to remember the night before and how much fun it was, because you can never repeat that. You have to get there through a different path. We're improvisers, so we're totally seeking the thrill of jumping off the cliff every night.

AAJ: Thank you for such a great answer. The New York City Winter Jazz Fest looks like an amazing festival, with 50 or 60 bands playing in just two days. You played in a variety of settings in the 2012 edition. What's the festival like, for someone who's never been there?

JS: It's a really fun festival. It's in a very small part of the West Village, so you're not jumping around by train. Everything's within about six blocks. It's popular, and it's weird that it's popular, because it's not particularly popular music, as music goes. It's not the kind of music that attracts thousands of partying fans, but it's got an energy, and it's got a buzz. As a New York musician, it's awesome to be able to participate with my friends in something that really celebrates what's homegrown about New York.

AAJ: Earlier you mentioned Bruce Cockburn, with whom you did a 50-date tour of Canada and the U.S. in 2011. What was that experience like?

JS: That was amazing. We were playing as a trio, so it was very bare—just me and Bruce and a drummer. Bruce has a great right-hand thumb, so there was a lot of bass in it, but it wasn't formatted in a standard way, and I got to sing a lot, and I got to play a lot. The drummer, Gary Craig, was amazing—a really, really great Canadian drummer. Especially in Canada we were playing big halls, like Massey Hall and all the Arts Centers, and they were generally sold out. In the States, the venues were slightly smaller, but there were some real big ones, too. Bruce really featured me. Not only were we featuring the music from the record that I had recorded on [Small Source of Comfort (True North, 2011)]—and that featured me quite a lot—but he also wanted to do a couple of my songs in his set, as well as the songs that I was playing in my opening set. I love to play, and I got to play for three hours a night and play a lot. It wasn't tiptoeing around a singer who didn't want anything distracting—he really wanted content and new stuff. There was a bit of improvising and also some really beautiful parts.

He's a super-interesting person, and that surprised me. I knew his music from when I was a kid. I didn't know what he would actually be like, and I really love him. He's a toughie, but with a really big heart, and one of the greats in terms of songwriting. We were on a bus with a crew, so it was very luxurious. I've already talked about the solo stuff, but that was a super big creative jump for me—a great opportunity to explore that.

AAJ; Going back quite a few years, you participated on a particularly sublime recording, Gabriela's Viento Rojo (Intuition, 1999). What are your memories of that recording session?

JS: That's the record where I met Bill Frisell. And a little secret about that recording: we were incredibly sick, 104-or-above temperatures, and I was really, really sick. Bill got really sick the day after, and Gabriella got really sick. The only one who didn't get sick—and who probably never gets sick—was Victor Kraus; he's bionic or something. I remember I was delirious, and I was also so excited to meet Bill, but I had no extra energy for being nervous around him at all. So it was all very real. One of my memories of that is laying on the floor of the studio in literally a pool of sweat, staring out through the window and looking at Bill, who was sort of hunched against a wall, with his headphones on, waiting for instructions. It was very bizarre and very dreamlike. I have never been that sick in a studio.

There's so much energy wasted as people and as musicians—wasted on nervousness and social interaction. There was none of that during the recording because we were either playing and totally in the song or we were sleeping. We were just sick. It was very bonding.

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