Making the Waves and Wild Water Come Alive

Ingrid_jensen_3_3"Watching [Ingrid] Jensen lead all-star bands at Port Townsend, I’ve been impressed with her centered, athletic grace and Milesian strength," writes jazz critic Joseph Blake.

Ingrid will be teaching and performing at Jazz Port Townsend, July 22-29. She sat down with us for a recent interview about her music, discussing her development in jazz, how jazz can move from the artist to the listener in the post-CD era, and what the future could hold for the next generation of jazz musicians.   

Centrum: You grew up in Nanaimo, Canada, you’ve played in the subways of New York City, and you now teach and play at internationally renowned conservatories and workshops. What was your development in jazz like?

Ingrid_jensen_1_3 Ingrid Jensen: I got started in the public school system. There were a lot of good players and a good jazz scene in Nanaimo, and there was a local big band called the NMA (the Nanaimo Musicians Association). I was mentored by a lot of great people in that band that really loved the music. A big step for me was when I went to [Jazz] Port Townsend after my second year of college. It was a big epiphany for me, to play with such a high level of musicians.

They encouraged me to go east, which was something that I had no thought of doing up to that point. I had a bunch of scholarship money that I’d accumulated over the years, as well as grants (I would later receive) from the Canada Council, and went to Berklee for three years. When I graduated from Berklee I moved to Europe for while, first Denmark (to practice and think) and then to Austria where I taught and played. It was great time for me in both places as I played a great deal with a variety of musicians and in a wide variety of styles.

Ingrid_jensen_2 C: In the liner notes of your CD At Sea, which has been nominated for a Juno Award, you describe the music’s collective spirit as making “the whales and wild water come alive.” Could you talk a little bit about the process of creating that CD?

IJ: It was really an experiment in trust for me! I was in the studio with people I had known for a long time and who really had my back as far as the music goes. My husband Jon [Wikan], along with Geoff [Keezer], and Matt [Clohesy] had been out as a trio and we’d been playing together for awhile in different settings before we went into the studio.

It was really an incredible experience working with these guys. Since we weren’t under the pressure of a big recording budget with a producer looking over our shoulder, we could experiment with different takes and different versions of the tunes.

Both Jon and I grew up in an ocean environment and Geoff had come with us on the boat trip we’d taken in Ingrid_jensen_at_sea southeast Alaska, a spectacular trip that Jon charted and captained! As a result of sharing this experience together, our imaginations were easily able to go to those places that the music was alluding to, allowing us to create a sense of the adventure through our instruments.

C: Could you talk a little bit about Artist Share—what it is, and how it is revolutionizing how music gets from the artist to the listener?

IJ: Artist Share is about sharing my work with an audience in more ways than just one mere CD presentation. It’s about letting the audience in on more of the experience than just the song titles, some liner notes, and a few pictures. What were the environmental inspirations? What were the personal inspirations that led to this project coming to fruition? What went right? What went wrong? It’s about letting people know what’s going on inside our world, the process and more.

It’s amazing, and I have a lot of things I want to do with my site ( and the tools that Brian (the brains behind ArtistShare) has uploaded for us to create with. It’s a rewarding experience to make things more personal than simply making another CD and trying to market it. It’s something beyond just the production of the disc. And, as we know, the traditional record industry is really falling apart. Record stores are almost obsolete, so what’s left is obvious: the Internet. On my site you have video from our new project, video from the road, bootleg audio/radio, funny things that have happened to us, and numerous photo galleries, plus trumpet lessons and collectors’ packages. It’s a virtual experience that is designed to give the listener a deeper understanding and connection with the artist.

C: Who were some of the musicians who were the most influential during your earliest development as an artist?

IJ: My mother was the first and most important influence, in the way she taught my sisters and I to appreciate and love good music and to live in a way that was full of creativity and joy.
Diana Krall was very encouraging to me, kind of a role model in that she played hard and still retained her sense of feminine spirit, without sacrificing the quality of her music. She does that more than ever now, playing and singing great! That’s what I want to go for, being honest and playing the music I love, really well.

My other role models, aside from my band teachers, were mostly African-American men from Louis Armstrong to Clark Terry and Freddie Hubbard and Miles…some women too, but not horn players, mostly pianists and singers. Aside from Diana, who was a year older, I didn’t see a lot of women playing hard when I was growing up. I was very fortunate though, to be encouraged by men like Clark Terry, Art Farmer, Bobby Shew, Freddie Hubbard, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Al Grey and Hal Galper and many, many more along the way…

C: How can jazz best nurture its next generation of players and teachers?

IJ: It’s important to have hands-on experiences as a young player and to meet the people who are out there doing it and living the life! Because it’s crucial to interact and communicate when learning to play, young players need to be immersed in a playing experience with people on their level and with professionals. Who knows, they may realize that it’s actually possible to make a living playing jazz or that they want to be a player and teach, or get into the business or be a hobby musician and do something else.

The bottom line is that a young person should be allowed and encouraged to express themselves through free play and structured improvisation! Jazz improv is one area, outside of sports (and dance and theatre) that a creative mind can find release and focus at the same time. Jazz can’t do much on its own as it is just a word that sort of defines a style of music, but (!) the jazz community should be made available and supported to get involved more and more in education and to help young people connect with music outside of their peer world.

Taking rap, hip-hop, swing, funk, New Orleans, free-jazz, and pop or whatever the next generation are into, and finding a way to connect the historical and musical ties linking all of them is one way to get things rolling. It’s important to just get younger players exposed to as much good music as possible—not regurgitations of stuff that’s been done before, but to get a good sense of the history while supporting their  important original voices. Kids are hip and they know if something is not from the heart. I love to teach, although I keep it in balance with my playing as I need time to write and play to be the example I aim to be.

C: What are you currently working on? What’s new in the future for you? 

IJ: I just finished a tour with Jon and Nordic Connect, we got back from Sweden the day before yesterday. Flurry is the newest release on my site and it’s the music from the band, Nordic Connect, a co-operative band with music written by my sister Christine, myself and pianist Maggi Olin. I’m in writing mode and getting ready for the ITG, two summer camps, a trip to Brazil for a festival and a possible vacation and of course, Jazz at Port Townsend!!!