"Next‚ we have a new friend‚" bassist Christian McBride says about 15 minutes into "See Jam‚ Hear Jam‚ Feel Jam" on his 2006 Live at Tonic album. Both Charlie Hunter and Jason Moran had their turn to dazzle‚ and you can feel the electricity in the room. He continues speaking with the music still moving‚ "This is our first time working together. She's going to come up here and play a little violin. Her name‚ in all her splendor‚ is Ms. Jennifer Scheinman." The groove's infectious‚ light and airy‚ yet it has punch. The players are thick in the bounce. Patiently‚ Jenny glides in with her violin‚ giving the music a whole new flavor and texture. The ride that follows builds wonderfully. It was love at first listen - well‚ first consciously aware listen.
With her name forever stuck in my mind‚ it wasn't really surprising that I started to connect the dots and see her on all this wonderful music I've heard: Bill Frisell‚ Norah Jones‚ Nels Cline‚ Scott Amendola. I picked up her album‚ 12 Songs and was floored by her composition and arrangements -- music with so much space‚ mood and expression.
Her two new releases‚ the self-titled vocal debut and the instrumental Crossing the Fields‚ are a perfect snapshot of a musician who is incredibly dynamic. It seems as if her curiosity never stops. Over the course of our conversation‚ she was just as curious about my take on the music as I was of hers. And just like so much of the music she's a part of making‚ it was a great conversation. Every time I hear her play‚ I hear a musician with so much heart and vision.
Congratulations on the two records you just released. How are you feeling about them now?
God‚ I'm thrilled‚ man. Making two albums takes a long time. It was a long process and now I'm through to the other side to where I get to hear responses. I'm actually already starting to write more for the next. But‚ yeah‚ I'm thrilled. It's interesting to make two at the same time. The producers are drastically different and that was totally interesting. Contrasting experiences are always revealing. So I definitely learned a lot.
The singing record [Jenny Scheinman] was made about two blocks from my house at Tony Scherr's studio. He's an old friend‚ and I admire him immensely. He has a really impulsive‚ passionate approach. You know‚ nothing for three months‚ and then we'd work eighteen hours a day for three days straight‚ then nothing for another couple of months. We're all busy‚ touring and stuff. But I feel like he really got me‚ especially for being my first singing record‚ to be able to work with someone who immediately understands it so deeply -- not only the lyrics of my originals‚ to really get where I'm coming from‚ but also my interpretation of the covers as well. He encouraged me as a singer and to put into context where I really have to take that risk‚ which makes it emotional‚ moving and worth it.
Yeah‚ definitely.
And to be able to work with him was a real honor‚ and I just learned so much. He's just amazing. And to be responsible for a record that lets him shine so much as a player also was a real joy‚ because I'm real moved by his playing. As with a lot of my records‚ I've played with people that I really admire and I can sort of create the context to have them play the way I love‚ and bring out the qualities in them that I especially love. I definitely got that with Tony. He really plays with so much heart and visceral power‚ and he just sounds so great. That whole thing came together really magically‚ even though it took a long time. But I'm really proud of that.
The other record‚ Crossing the Fields‚ was with my longtime collaborator‚ producer‚ engineer Sasha Von Oertzen‚ who just knows me really well. It's great to work with someone for many years and see that it's developing. She really gets it as well‚ and she's… really different than Tony. She's very organized‚ very meticulous‚ and she lets me be the wild one. She tracks things down and is very careful. And not careful in the sense that it's careful music‚ but she wants to makes sure that we really get it and that the process we use enables us to get it. Because this record was very elaborate. There's like 30 people on the record. And I didn't have a budget when I made it. I ended up raising the money to do it‚ and then luckily got a record deal that was lots and lots more money then I've ever had for other record deals. All of my other records have been like $5‚000 records‚ so this time‚ to be able to have an orchestra and seven-piece band and actually be paid back for that…. It was all actually just going out on a limb.
I feel really proud of it. It's really great to immortalize this group of people‚ not only the jazz players like Bill [Frisell]‚ Ron [Miles]‚ Kenny [Wollesen]‚ Doug [Wieselman]‚ Tim Luntzel -- I know them so well. And then Jason Moran is a more recent inspiration‚ but somebody I've gotten to know pretty well. We did a week at the Jazz Standard with Paul Motian and we did some other gigs together‚ and we've become friends. So‚ to have him in there with that other gang of long-term friends was great.
And there are all the string players who aren't improvisers necessarily‚ but are definitely trying to interact not only with jazz players but with more experimental‚ risky scenarios. It was a conundrum for me for a long time to figure out how to write music that would bring those two communities together without squashing them. Without either the string players playing whole notes the whole time -- "footballs" as they're called [laughter] -- just playing really simple stuff and not being able to be expressive. And also for the jazz players to feel hemmed in. It's a big group‚ and I think everyone's pretty expressive in it.
I had a ball. I really feel good about it.
That's good. You mentioned how each project was revealing in a different way. What did you learn about yourself?
When I said that‚ I mean it really reveals stuff about the music‚ but whenever you take a risk‚ there's something revealed‚ either a limitation or a strength. I was pushed into the singing record by Tony‚ Norah Jones‚ and a lot of people who were really encouraging me. I never really planned it. When I listen back‚ it was revealed to me that I'm actually moved by my singing‚ and it's a worthwhile pursuit. That was something I didn't quite realize‚ and I had to take that risk to jump in and make a record.