Jenny Scheinman: Free-Spirited Jazz With the Back-Porch Homey Casualness of Folk and Country,
On March 23 in Zankel Hall, violinist Jenny Scheinman, along with all-star bandmates guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade, presents the concert-hall world debut of their versatile and melodic trio. Here, Jeff Tamarkin reveals the violinist's surprising background.
When Jenny Scheinman performs at Zankel Hall on March 23, the violinist and vocalist will be both on familiar ground and stepping into relatively unknown territory. One of her collaborators, renowned guitarist Bill Frisell, has been a regular musical partner for more than a decade—the two have shared many stages together and contributed often to one another's recordings. But drummer Brian Blade—although one of the most in-demand and prolific in jazz—had worked with Frisell but never with Scheinman until a year ago, when this particular trio made its debut at a downtown club. Since then, the three have recorded an album together, to be released this year, and performed a handful of further dates, but Scheinman is still feeling out exactly what they are capable of as a unit—and marveling at what she's discovering.
"I love the way they play together," she says about Blade and Frisell. "Bill really lights fire with an aggressive drummer and you can anticipate what sort of chemistry it'll be with the three of us together. Whenever there's fewer players, there's more vulnerability, more exposure, more intimacy, more flexibility. I like the possibilities—the way Bill's guitar hugs me and the way I'm getting to know Brian. It's sort of like being at a small dinner party, so to speak."
Scheinman has never been afraid to step into new and often disparate worlds. Her music bridges the free-spiritedness of jazz with the back-porch homey casualness of folk and country, a seemingly odd hybrid that makes perfect sense when her back story is revealed: Scheinman grew up in rural Northern California in a family where music was plentiful but "there wasn't much else to do." She left at age 16 and ultimately came of age professionally amidst New York City's bustling, competitive jazz scene. Now she's recognized for both her virtuoso violin work and as a song stylist, having supplemented her instrumental music with songs drawn from the folk idiom to which she was exposed during her childhood.
"Those American country-folk type songs are where I come from," says Scheinman, who is now residing back in California with her own family, "and with Brian and Bill the differences between the two sides of my music are bridged. That was a real revelation to me in the studio, to be able to go between instrumental music and these songs that I thought of as country songs. But the fun was that we approached them the same way."
Jeff Tamarkin is the associate editor of JazzTimes magazine.