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Saxophonist/Composer Jean Fineberg Makes Her Long-Awaited Leadership Debut With 'Jean Fineberg & Jazzphoria,' Set For April 8 Release On Pivotal Records


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I don't want all my music to sound the same. I'm too interested in different things.
—Jean Fineberg
Jean Fineberg
Tenor saxophonist-flutist Jean Fineberg puts the icing on the cake of a 50-year career with the April 8 release of Jean Fineberg & JAZZphoria on her Pivotal Records imprint. While the album is her first under her own name, Fineberg is anything but a newcomer to the music world: She has since the early 1970s been building up a jaw-dropping body of accomplishments that includes rock and fusion bands, session work on pop hits, and touring with jazz, salsa, and singer-songwriter icons. Many of those accomplishments are reflected in her debut album, which places her at the front of an octet (the JAZZphoria of the title) with baritone saxophonist-bass clarinetist Carolyn Walter, keyboardist-flutist Erika Oba, trumpeters Marina Garza and Tiffany Carrico, guitarist Nancy Wenstrom, bassist Susanne DiVincenzo, and drummer Lance Dresser, plus special guests.

Much of JAZZphoria’s personnel overlaps with the Montclair Women’s Big Band, the celebrated Bay Area ensemble of which Fineberg has been assistant director and resident composer since 1997. She wanted to concentrate the 17-piece band’s creative force into a streamlined, four-horn powerhouse. “I wanted a team atmosphere,” she adds regarding her strategy. “We have that in the big band, as well as in JAZZphoria. … However, we do have a man on drums, so we’re not one of those single-gender bands!”

It's not really a single-genre band either, despite the obvious jazz context. Fineberg leads JAZZphoria through a wild variety of sounds and styles. The opening “Bluesworthy” is classic big-band swing, while “Unfinished Business” is a sly tango. “Dive Bar” is a stinging guitar-led blues. “Raw Bar,” though it uses a Middle Eastern harmonic language, harks back to the fusion band DEUCE, which Fineberg co-led in the 1980s.

“I don’t want all my music to sound the same,” Fineberg says. “I’m too interested in different things.”

The album’s wide range of musical flavors gets a boost from its equally wide range of soloists. Each of the band’s eight core members gets moments in the spotlight (and on multiple instruments, in the cases of Fineberg, Oba, and Walter). So do their guests. Jennifer Jolly takes a muscular piano turn on the New Orleans groover “More Funner”; percussionist Michaelle Goerlitz brings zesty energy to “St. Mildred the Short’s” calypso; Ariane Cap doubles down on the bluesy “Live at the Buck Snort Saloon” with her driving slap-bass; and Ellen Seeling—Fineberg’s directing partner in the MWBB—delivers a gorgeous, sultry trumpet line on Nancy Wenstrom’s “Unfinished Business.”

In short, Jean Fineberg & JAZZphoria is the sound of not just one, but a whole array of highly accomplished and versatile talents. Even so, it is Fineberg, who, in addition to leading the band, composed all but one of the tunes and arranged the whole album, whose vision is at the album’s heart.

Born April 1, 1946 in the Bronx and raised in nearby New Rochelle, Jean Fineberg knew she was a musician from early childhood. She began studying piano at 6 and violin at 9 before discovering the flute at 11. She also dabbled in drums and guitar as a teenager, then eventually began to study tenor saxophone, which became her main instrument. She took it and the flute with her to Pennsylvania State University, where she earned two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in succession.

In 1972, Fineberg became a founding member of Isis, an all-female jazz-rock band based in Manhattan. While the band never achieved major commercial success, it won positive notices and opened doors for Fineberg on the New York music scene. Along with Isis’s three albums, she played on dozens of recordings across the 1970s and ’80s, including smash hits by David Bowie, Sister Sledge, and Chic as well as the Brecker Brothers horn section. She toured with Laura Nyro and jazz trombonist/bandleader Melba Liston and performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry at Carnegie Hall. In the mid-’80s, Fineberg co-founded (with Ellen Seeling) the fusion band DEUCE, which became a staple of jazz festivals and recorded two albums of her original music.

Settling in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fineberg reestablished herself in the 1990s as a first-call West Coast musician before joining Seeling’s newly established Montclair Women’s Big Band in 1997. In the 25 years since, it has been her primary outlet, both in the reed section and as the band’s primary composer and arranger. The superlative musicianship she encountered in the band was the catalyst for Jean Fineberg & JAZZphoria, Fineberg’s long-in-the-making debut as name-above-the-title bandleader.

Fineberg is on the faculty of the Jazzschool at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, where she directs annual Jazz & Blues Camps for women and girls (“my way of trying to pay it forward”). On the extramusical front, she has published her poetry in more than 20 journals; her new collection is A Mobius Path (Finishing Line Press).

Jean Fineberg & JAZZphoria will be performing at San Francisco Music Day, War Memorial Veterans Building, on Sunday 3/20 at 4pm; at Rendon Hall, California Jazz Conservatory, Berkeley, on Friday 4/15 at 8pm; and at Move ’n’ Groove, Albany, CA, Sunday 4/24 at 10am.

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Track Listing

Bluesworthy, Synesthesia, Raw Bar, Hemiology, Unfinished Business, More Funner, Key Westing, St. Mildred the Short, Dive Bar, Away with Words, Live at the Buck Snort Saloon


Album information

Title: Jean Fineberg & JAZZphoria | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Pivotal Records





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