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I am entering a new era of jazz and standards….but folk music is not to be forgotten

I have loved every minute of playing and writing folk music and recreating traditional songs and I will still play these songs if requested, but I have entered a new musical era that I really cannot see turning back from. Once bitten by the jazz bug, it becomes an obsession. You want to know who wrote what song and what year it was written and in what movie it was sung and then of course you have to go on You Tube and hear every version of the song so that you can create your own version or sing it as closely as you can to one of your favorite performers. It’s always best to be yourself, but certainly it is okay to be influenced.

I think I shied away from jazz and standards until now because the chords are more difficult and the singing requires more precision, versatility and creativity. Just listen to Ella to know what I am talking about. Basically, you gotta have guts! I have the fullest intentions to put down the guitar more and just sing most of the night and play on a few songs, but first I have to learn all of these songs on the guitar myself. I have finally taken my “new” Gibson electric guitar out of the case after purchasing it two years ago and I am playing it. My son Johnny bought me a new electric guitar chord and that started it all.

It was a long time coming for me. I grew up listening to Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Edith Piaf–the little sparrow with the big voice from France. I listened to classical music as well, Beethoven being my favorite when I am in an aggressive mood and Chopin and Rachmaninoff when I am feeling soft and gentle and romantic. I learned from Piaf to express and to regret nothing while singing! Listen to “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien”. I had the wonderful pleasure of seeing the master of phrasing, Frank Sinatra, with my mother, at the Concord Pavillion. Frank was 75 years old and his voice was superb! He sounded like the record. No autotune! I also have seen Tony Bennett who I felt was singing just to me in the big hall in San Francisco. I never saw a guy smile so much while he sings. He taught me to smile more. I saw Liza Minelli three times! (once at Carnegie Hall with the great French singer Charles Aznevour!). These are the singers that I admire! Recently I have discovered, after much prodding by friends and family, great singers such as Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day (who I believe influenced Amy Winehouse..rest her sweet soul) Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney. There’s also Melody Gardot alive and singing as well as Diana Krall! The songs they sing are from the Golden Era of Swing and Big Bands songs that will be listened to 300 years from now I believe much like classical music. Jerome Kern, Duke Ellington, George and Ira Gershwin, Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter and more. My Norwegian grandfather, Magna Nygard,played in the swing bands and jozz combos. He played the upright bass, banjo, and Gibson guitars in the Northeast and Ohio from the 30’s to the 80’s. I get it from him. My father who emigrated from France sang in a Black Gospel Choir in the U.S. Army. My mother sang her whole life at home and in the local church choir and taught me about diction,vowels, phrasing and breath control. I had a very good teacher here in Sacramento, Sana Christian, who still teaches and Claudia Newberry in San Francisco. I mostly just listen to my favorite singers and listen to what they are doing. I cannot even come close to the improvisational genius of Sarah Vaughan or Ella, but I am pretty good at imitating what they have already created. I want to do the creating. That is what excites me about jazz. What can I bring to the table?

I try to always tell a story while singing. That is what Liza Minelli taught me. And to be yourself! She had to distinguish herself from her famous mother by over singing the notes. She’s fantastic! I am always learning and jazz can never be completely learned. The masters of jazz are learning every time they step on stage. I want to keep this music alive. I want to write love songs, songs about broken hearts, funny songs and also passionate songs about socially conscious issues and set them swinging to a jazz beat. If I listen enough maybe I can write something good like the master musicians and lyricists of the Golden Era. There’s some great songs still being written and I want to be part of that. Burt Bacharach comes to mind. The music was still soft and loving up to the mid 70’s.

I still love folk music and love the masters of folk music..Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell,Kate Wolf and many others. Perhaps I’ll take some of their songs and set them to a swinging beat. I have learned the great Americana ballad”Brother Can You Spare a Dime” , a song my grandfather used to perform. It is quite timely. There is even a Bossa Nova version of the song by Judy Collins.

You can find me singing at the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society’s monthly jazz events, local wineries and restaurants and in Europe. France loves jazz and I plan to spend a lot of time there with my relatives after I retire from teaching in 7 years. When I am 60 I will be in full swing and ready to go anywhere I can sing jazz and standards. I intend to go as far as I can go. Maybe my name will be on a billboard one day along with Michael Buble playing in Reno, or Tahoe or Vegas. I will go where there is a listening audience! Dreams are as big as you let them be. Recently, I performed at the Heritage Oaks Winery in Acampo,CA (www.heritgeaoakswinery.com )and for two hours they all just listened while they ate their cheese and bread and cakes and sipped great wines made by Tom Hoffman. No one talked or played on their cell phones or watched a game on the tv or shouted over us to their table mates. I thanked them. During the break, people expressed gratitude and were very complementary. I am always trying to do better and I am always humble!I loved it although it was completely unnerving. I had their total attention…a little too much! I look forward to more shows like that where I can create a relationship with my audience and tell stories through song and banter and give my best shot at singing songs sung by the very best.

So here’s to jazz and all who struggle to bring it back and keep it alive! Here’s to Harley White Jr. and his orchestra, Rick Marcroft (performing at Luna’s this Monday night) Shelly Burns, Todd Morgan and the Emblems, Les Haber, Vivian Lee, Beth Duncan and Ken Teel and many others in Sacramento. Here’s to making it a dominant presence once again in Sacramento, in California, and in the United States. I hope my Social Studies students that I teach at Capital City School will take the time to look up and listen to Ella, Sammy, Sinatra, Judy Garland, Count Basie, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Benny Goodman, Edith Piaf and Peggy Lee whose pictures I have put on my office walls. I think music was intended to be melodic and beautiful and make you feel good. My good friend and fellow Jazz musician Ken Teel is very excited that I have made the “evolutionary jump” as he calls it. Ken started in rock bands (no offense to rock musicians! My boyfriend and drummer Fred Nelson Jr. was the original drummer in Oleander) I still love Led Zepplin! A lot of jazz and blues in that band! Melissa Collard, an excellent jazz musician and singer-songwriter and teacher of jazz music here in Sacramento made the same leap years ago from folk to jazz. I still like folk very much and it serves a very important purpose. It is simple, and accessible so that everyone can sing and play it. Try Kate Wolf songs! It is perhaps the most historically educational music we have and tells about our history and the history of the world. Perhaps I will find a way to merge the two like the great Holly Near has done.

Peace and blessings and Blessed Be! I thank God/Goddess for the ability and continued interest to make music and share it. I spend about a year in reflection and transition wondering where I was going. I am so very grateful for all of you out there who take the time to listen and come to my shows and anyone’s shows and buying our music so we can create more. Music feeds our souls. If I had no one to sing to I think I would, as Frank Sinatra puts it so eloquently,just roll up and die. So I thank you for being there. If it wasn’t for my love of music I would still be out riding horses that I miss so much! Truly yours, Jenn Rogar born Jennifer Andree Rogar