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Jenny Scheinman - Interview

  by Lisa Torem

published: 23 / 4 / 2011

Jenny Scheinman - Interview


Lisa Torem speaks to violinist and singer-songwriter Jenny Scheinman about balancing her own solo career with motherhood and working as much in demand arranger

Dr Shinichi Suzuki believed that each child is born with the potential to perform musically. While traditional teaching may include learning to read notes immediately, this method involves learning repertoire by ear and building skills and technique around songs learned in early childhood. I wasn’t surprised, therefore, to learn that violinist Jenny Scheinman began her musical career early on, and that she embraced this imaginative method, which, as opposed to the more traditional approach, relies immensely on the student’s ear. Scheinman is embarking on a US tour with fellow musician Bruce Cockburn, another artist with a superb ability to convey emotion into lush waves of music. Both are promoting new albums and both have performed together in intimate spaces. Both artists require collaborators who know their way efficiently around their instruments, but can also step out of the spotlight to allow the other to sparkle. Scheinman, who has also discovered her love of singing, recorded a self-titled debut, and has arranged searing instrumentals on the also recent release,‘Crossing the Fields.’ But her career has always included multi-tasking. Working with the versatile avant-garde jazz drummer, Kenny Wollesen, and the eclectic Bill Frisell, who weaves bluegrass and country licks out of the most standard ballads, providing arrangements for contemporary artists has been occupying a great deal of Jenny’s time. Outside that she has also been spending time working on her own material in the recording studio and is also the mother of a toddler. If anyone needs more than twenty-four hours per day, it might just be Jenny Scheinman, who explains the details before hitting the road. PB: Hi Jenny. At what age did you begin to play the violin and what method did you use? JS: Age seven. I used the Suzuki method. PB: How did you feel when you picked up your first violin? JS: I don’t remember. PB: You’ve collaborated with an impressive roster of artists: Sean Lennon, Lou Reed, Aretha Franklin, Bono, Lucinda Williams and Bruce Cockburn. What are the pros and cons of collaborating, and which collaborations have surprised you or stretched you the furthest? JS: This is a big question. Being stretched is different than learning, maybe too big for this interview. Another time? PB: Of course. Your uncle, Victor Scheinman, pioneered in the field of robotics. Was scientific thought a large part of your own childhood? JS: No, my father was the Yin to my uncle’s Yang, so my cousins got all the engineering and I got the songs. My father can quote Shakespeare, but he can’t make heads or tails of a user’s manual. PB: ‘The Littlest Prisoner’ is a striking composition, newly released, in which Bruce Cockburn plays guitar. Does this composition provide us with a clue of what to expect during your upcoming American tour? JS: We play that song every night as part of Bruce’s show so literally, yes, but yes, also, because it’s part of a group of songs I’ve been writing and collecting from the perspective of what I call “Cantankerous Philosophers” – I will sing a few other songs from this group in my set, namely ‘My Old Man’, a sprightly little ditty about domestic violence in the tradition of the old time murder ballad, and ‘I’ll Trade you Money for Wine’, a song from the perspective of a bum on a street corner heckling passers by. PB: Speaking of Bruce, you are a featured presence in his band and on his recordings. JS: I’m very featured on his recent release, ‘Small Source of Comfort’ which is the album we are emphasising on this tour. PB: What has been your working style and which of his songs, off of 'Small Source of Comfort' are your favorites? JS: ‘Iris of the World,’ ‘Parnassus and Fog’, ‘Called me Back’ ‘Five Fifty One…’ PB: You are touring in support of your own releases: a self-titled, vocal debut, and your fifth instrumental album, “Crossing the Field.” Bruce Cockburn also enjoys composing instrumental works. Have you and Bruce considered writing an instrumental album together? JS: Yes, we’d love to. The way we’ve been playing my instrumentals together has been very inspiring. I’ve never felt so free as an improviser within such a relatively scripted context. Usually that makes one feel constrained, but the way Bruce and his drummer Gary Craig play parts is very liberating – it reminds me a bit of how some of Sonny Rollins’ bands operate. PB: Besides singing and playing, you have undertaken several arranging assignments; Lucinda Williams’ 'West' and Bono’s 'A Dying Sailor to His Shipmates' for example. Do you prefer to perform when asked to arrange or act as an objective voice? JS: I like to play my arrangements. It’s the easiest way to lead the phrasing and nuances of the music. PB: Do you work using charts or by ear? JS: Sometimes I jot down notes, or if it is a complicated part, I’ll often write it out. Lots is by ear, and lots is improvised. PB: Having played with such a wide range of artists, you’re obviously a well-rounded musician, but, that said, what kinds of songs are most suited to violin? JS: Expressive music suits the violin – it can be lyrical, percussive, aggressive, subliminal, ghostly…It can translate lyrics back into emotion. PB: Who have been your major musical influences? JS: I would say it’s the people I’ve played with: Bill Frisell, Madeleine Peyroux, my parents, Bruce, Lucinda Williams, Kenny Wollesen, all my main staple band members over the years. Of course, there are also people that I adore and they have a certain type of influence, but maybe not as subtle or as deep. PB: When you embark on a recording project, do you tend to listen to the music of others, or try to stay focused on your own works, even if that means being reclusive? JS: I like listening to other stuff, but I rarely have time when I’m making a recording since I have to go through things many times in real time. I spend hundreds of hours listening through sequences. That may change now, though, because I have a little one-and-a-half year- old baby boy and I don’t got time for that shit anymore! Hopefully, it will free up some of my controlling tendencies and we’ll all be the better for it – time will te11! PB: Speaking of roles in the family, if your violin were a member of your extended family, which member would it be? JS: It would be my twin sister. PB: What are the plans after completing this American tour? JS: I’m going to record my sophomore singing album which will have all original songs, and I’m going to release an already recorded, mixed and mastered album with my instrumental band, ‘Mischief & Mayhem.’ I have two runs at the Village Vanguard, in NYC, August 16-21, with M & M and Dec. 6-11, with Bill Frisell. I’m very much looking forward to those. I’m also recording more with Bill Frisell and several of my other band leaders, but I’ve got to focus on getting my next two albums out and into the hands of the world. PB: Thank you.

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Jenny Scheinman - Interview

Jenny Scheinman - Interview

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