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Ingrid Jensen - Up Close and Really Cool!

There's a cool wind in Nanaimo in Northern Vancouver that seems to blow a steady stream of talented women into the world of jazz. Ingrid Jensen is one of these extraordinary women. The gifted, critically acclaimed, hard bop trumpeter gained international recognition in 1995 with the release of her first CD on Enja entitled "Vernal Fields." This was the same year Ingrid won Canada's Juno Award for the Best Mainstream Album, Best Newcomer Award at the Cork Jazz Festival in Ireland and won the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Competition. It was an impressive first release as wisely declared in the liner notes by Art Farmer. It also won accolades from Downbeat Magazine, and their Critics Poll placed Ingrid in the top twenty-five younger generation players on the scene today. Since then, Ingrid has two more successful CDs to her credit with Enja, Here on Earth, 1997 and Higher Grounds, 1999. Ingrid is a tonic for the soul and ultra-hip jazz musician who continues to gain the attention of press and thirsty jazz audiences worldwide. Jazzreview is pleased to have obtained this recent interview.

JazzReview.com: You must admit Ingrid, most women in the world of jazz have found their niche either as singers, pianists or both. What prompted your decision to select the trumpet as your choice of instrument, especially since your earliest musical influence was your mother who played piano?

Ingrid: "My earliest influence was for sure, my Mom, but not just on piano. Her record collection was the best and we listened to the radio a lot too; a lot of Louis, Ella, Jack Teagarden, Bing, etc., really good music that swung. I didn't actually choose the trumpet either, more like it was chosen for me by my Mom and my band teacher who thought my spunky attitude would be just right for it. My older sister was already playing trombone (which I wanted to play), so trumpet it was, since we were already at serious odds due to the wonders of sibling rivalry."

JazzReview.com: Certainly your success and the critical acclaim of your first CD Vernal Fields, has been a proving ground for your exceptional talent. As a woman, have you found it harder playing the trumpet and hard bop styling that are stereo-typically dominated by men in the world of jazz?

Ingrid: "I've never really thought about whether or not it's been harder for me to actually play the music that is so clearly publicized by the media as an all-male domain. I think I was so consumed in the past by the difficulty of the trumpet and finding my own voice in the greater scheme of things, that the issue of discrimination was a secondary (at best) issue. For sure, I spent a period of proving myself in the music, but that had more to do with getting my chops to a place where I could 'hang' with whomever I played with. Trumpet itself is hard and it has been such an incredible vehicle for growth in every area of my life. Certainly there have been missed opportunities out there that I was not given a chance to be part of because of my gender. But, the rich experiences I have had as a result of being who I am, and staying true to my passion for playing good music, has paid off in more ways than I could ever explain."

JazzReview.com: Roy Hargrove recently commented in an interview during this year's North Sea Jazz Festival, "If it wasn't for Europe, jazz musicians in the States would have to take a day job." Having been a professor of jazz trumpet at Austria's Bruckner Conservatory and having lived and toured throughout Europe, do you find that Europe has more venues and interest in jazz then is now appreciated in the United States?

Ingrid: "Well, in Roy's case that may be true because his life is run by his record company and his manager and he has almost zero independence! My life on the other hand is all mine. I have had a number of opportunities to sign with larger labels and give up my freedom and "hit the big time," but it's not really my definition of success at this point in my career. My date book is full of exciting and diverse projects up until 2001 and very few of these gigs are a result of management hype or me even picking up the phone to hustle work. The phone calls and the e-mails come in and off I go to wherever, to play with a big band, teach a master class, adjudicate a festival or tour with my band, or be 'side girl' with someone . . .or ...or...or...? I can remember the old guys I grew up playing with in this killing swing dance band in Nanaimo saying to me, 'Ingrid, if you want to make it, you've got to do it on reputation. Play good and people will say that and you will work!' Twenty years later, I can look back and say they were way right. To answer your question, Europe is great! I go there a lot and there is a lot of consistent funding for the arts. They are very hip in many ways and it all comes down to their education system which is so much more balanced and healthy than here. Even in Canada, we were made more aware of jazz and it's origins than students in the States seem to be."

JazzReview.com: Jazz has taken so many directions and has so many labels attached to the extreme left of the mainstream i.e., acid jazz, etc. Although you can't re-invent the wheel, how do you see today's jazz diversity in keeping jazz alive, or does history repeat itself with every generation?

Ingrid: "The label thing is a bit of a drag for musicians, I think. It puts us in a stifling position that allows the media and public to box us up into neat little packages that safely explain who and what we are. That's why I love what Miles did so much. He was constantly saying 'f-you' to everyone as soon as they printed up what he was 'supposed to be'. I read that he didn't even like listening back to things he had recorded, which to many people, seem like timeless works of art. I have to admit that I went through a phase where I was almost convinced that nothing new would ever be done in this music and especially on the trumpet. Since so many heavies were my idols like Freddie, Miles, Woody, Kenny Wheeler, etc., I felt guilty every time I'd hear a recording of me swiping their licks. Fortunately, that phase is gone and I am more inspired than ever to follow my own voice and encourage the students and fellow musicians that I work and play with to do the same. There is so much more information and inspirational communication technology available today that brings together scores of talented musicians to develop new sounds more than ever before. In other words, our world has become smaller and the 'world musician' concept is making the jazz umbrella break it's own cover on a daily basis. If anything, we should be honest and refer to the Wyntons of our time as 'historians' and the truly original voices 'beyond categorization' in the field of creative, groove-oriented improvised music. A bit long-winded but hey, why not?"

JazzReview.com: You've lived in New York now for the past several years. On a personal level, what is it about New York City that you like? Does it spark your musical creativity? Do you have more contact with the jazz scene living there? Is NY inspiring musically? And Ingrid, do tell...is there a favorite New York haunt of yours or a passion for a corned-beef on rye from a local deli?

Ingrid: "Well, I'll have to say "pass" on the corned-beef on rye, but if you have a veggie burger on rice bread with oat-cheese, I'll take it! New York is the best! Well, Vancouver Island is technically the best, but New York sure fills my needs. My haunts include health-food stores and restaurants (when I'm in town) and little gigs here and there ranging from the smoky, little 55 bar (which sends me out jogging the next morning until my lungs clear) to Birdland with Victor Lewis or Maria Schneider. After being in New York for almost 9 years, I have to admit that it is a kind of 'jazz heaven'. There are so many incredible players (both young and old) to be found in a five-borough radius, not to mention all the cats in Jersey. For a girl from little ol' Nanaimo, where there was only one guy who could actually make it through an entire gig on an acoustic bass without having to switch to electric cuz he got tired, well, it's pretty cool. I do a lot of projects and sessions at peoples' homes where we do a lot of originals. Everyone is really going for it, trying to find new ways through an old standard or just playing free, for free. It's about as rewarding and inspiring as life can be. Of course, it also helps that I am in the great space that I am in now, but that's not to say I didn't go through a heavy dues phase. At some point, everyone goes through it in his or her own way. My particular path was entirely unique in that I went from the school phase (Berklee and Malaspina College in Nanaimo) to Europe for a few months, then back to the States for a year of almost hell in New York. I then went back to Europe to live and teach, got a bunch of experience and chops together, and finally came back to New York to learn more than I ever would have imagined possible. To answer your 'inspiring' question, no-- it's not really New York that is inspiring, but the people that it draws to it and how they all respond to the incredible energy that surges through it."

JazzReview.com: You've just completed a successful tour in California. Have you any plans for additional tours or projects with this group?

Ingrid: "The tour you're referring to was with Steve Wilson (alto sax with Chick Corea), Bruce Barth on piano, Ed Howard, bass and Gerald Cleaver, drums. I have no immediate plans as of yet, but I hope to bring my own group out West soon."

JazzReview.com: Are there any projects in the works with Enja for an upcoming CD, ideas you are tossing around, directions you are headed, aspirations?

Ingrid: "I don't have any immediate plans, or rather any budget to record right now. I do have about ten projects in mind and really need to get off my butt and find some way to get them documented (and me where I am right now) before it's too late. Directions and aspirations? Many! Since my life is so rich with all the many projects, I do I want to document them all...from string projects to free small groups, from funk to big bands, from Mozambique folk songs to a Christmas CD with my musical family."

JazzReview wishes to thank Ingrid for her insightful interview and we certainly look forward to hearing more from her soon. For more information on Ingrid and her incredible talent, follow the following links and by all means if you haven't done so, add Vernal Fields or one of her other CDs to your jazz collection. Keep in touch with Ingrid at: http://www.freetown.com/Downtown/Metro/3042 and http://www.enjarecords.com/INGRID_JENSEN.htm

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ingrid Jensen
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