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Christine Jensen: Impressionism

By Published: October 25, 2013
I think all of the masters that have been mentioned here have one thing in common: They were constantly writing for their musicians who were also great improvisers. It gives the large ensemble composer a large palette to work from, and it is easy to draw inspiration from the musicians they are or were working with. Another thing in general that I have not been afraid to tackle is composing in less common keys and time signatures. I really spent a lot of time working through B Major, D Major, C# minor , and so on. I continually challenge myself in finding new sounds, and part of the process is exploring keys or modes that I am less familiar with. Part of the process of composition for me is "exploration" and working on uncovering the unknown.

So no model per-say—although I am compared a lot to Maria or Kenny Wheeler. I listen to them, and I think that they are both impressionists with their music, and I probably fall into that category as well. This is not to say that I have probably spent just as much time listening to and playing the repertoire of Ellington and Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
. I am hooked right now to Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
1917 - 1996
and Basie! What a great recording of counterpoint between her and the band with the orchestrating of each section.

Anyway, it is so important to learn those basic arranging skills—organization and voicing of sections especially. [laughs] However, I am also one to break rules, but only after knowing what they are!

GC: I know you are originally from British Columbia in Canada. What makes you a Montreal resident? What are your thoughts on the scene in Montreal—not counting the jazz festival. Did you ever consider living in New York?

CJ: I spent a bit of time in NY on and off between '98 and 2001. I would go down for one to three months at a time. I got to study with all sorts of sax players as well as a bit with Kenny Werner and later with Jim McNeely where I took part in the BMI Composers meetings. I love New York, but I also love being in Canada where I have a bit more luxury in devoting so much time to creating! Montreal, being majority French presents some challenges. But I have been surrounded by a strong music community, [which] includes McGill University.

I met my husband Joel here at McGill. He is from New Brunswick in the Maritimes and I am from the West Coast, with lots of our family living on the east coast, so it is a nice city to travel from in terms of distance. The music scene in general is so strong here in Montreal, with culture being a top priority in the urban area. Two small jazz clubs and a bigger venue through the festival for larger acts makes for a busy scene as well. I have also been fortunate to work with two actual jazz record labels here. So, there have been great opportunities for me present my music, and to travel between here, NY and Toronto especially. I also got to hook into Paris jazz scene thanks to receiving a 6- month residency in the Quebec loft in 2002 at Cite des Arts in Paris. But New York... I was so fortunate to always be able to spend time there as Ingrid lives there and loves introducing me to new sounds coming out of there.

GC: Last question: How do you juggle motherhood and your busy jazz career?

CJ : Ha! Everyone kept saying if I could do that big band record and tour it, motherhood would be a piece of cake. Well, I could write a book about my experience through being pregnant as a saxophonist and the first three months so far! It meant canceling and postponing a lot of projects for six to 12 months while getting this baby fed and taken care of. However, I know that I have even more to give as a composing jazz musician in the future because of this life-changing experience. That being said, I am on a bit of maternity leave until January 2011. At the same time, I am currently doing a few gigs not as a leader but as a sideman locally right now. My husband Joel and I did our first few gigs together over the past few weeks, so it was scary and exciting to start leaving the nest a little. It was such a blast to have my horn back on my face and be in the moment with the music. We are lucky to both have a career where there is so much passion in preparing ourselves mentally and physically with the music in order to create in the moment. The act of performance in jazz is so fulfilling to the mind and soul, and I can't compare it to motherhood and family in the same way, although the same words can be used. Now we get to share tons of experiences with this new little being who is so innocent. I just hope that I keep getting to put out even more music down the road, while knowing that I have even more to share with both family and whoever my audience may be in the future. Having a baby makes me want to practice and explore new sounds even more. It's just harder to find the time at this juncture!

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