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.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.