Interview with Rick Jensen (Part Two)
J: What's your background in regards to songwriting?
R: I'm basically a self-taught musician. I took my piano lessons from the minister's wife in town and the rest I put together.
J: Do you have any desire to write a musical?
R: Not really. I think it's important for you to have a passion for what you are doing, and I didn't grow up with a passion for the American Musical Theater. I grew up with a passion for pop songs and the pop radio. That's not saying that I couldn't have a passion for musical theater. But most musicals I see I don't like, because I don't usually buy it when a person suddenly breaks into song. That's kind of my problem. I'd rather go see a play and I'd rather put on a really good record. There have been moments in musicals that I have really been moved by, but it's been very rare. I'd say more times than not it hasn't worked for me.
J: Are there any pop singers and/or writers out now that you enjoy?
R: I love Elton John. I love James Taylor's new album, which won a Grammy this year. The writing's not flashy or theatrical, but it's realized from a very soulful and spiritual place. I don't listen to a lot of records, because I make music all day so when I'm done I like it to be quiet. So usually it's just a couple of albums a year that I get crazy about. I'm crazy about an album that was released in the 80s by a woman named Jennifer Warnes, and it's her singing Leonard Cohen songs. It's called Famous Blue Raincoat and it's one of the more amazing things I've heard recently. That's where "The Song from Bernadette" track came from on Bette Midler's new album. Jennifer Warnes' album really knocked my socks off. I would love to hear her record an album of American Popular Songbook stuff.
J: You made a good point earlier about how the great folk and pop songs of the 6s and 70s are now thirty years old. In my mind, I keep thinking that they were written more recently.
R: For example: "Both Sides Now," which is a beautiful, eloquent piece of poetry, is thirty years old. And I find it also interesting to realize that we are as removed from the 60s and 70s as the 60s and 70s are from the 40s and the songs of World War Two.
So I like to bring that point alive to people, to make them realize that the 60s and 70s songbook needs to be looked at. And I think that performances of songs, old or new, have to remain vital. The most important thing about performing is to rediscover the lyric, to keep it moving, and make it vital so people don't feel like they are sitting in a museum.
J: Do you see that happening more now?
R: Yeah, it does. There's always a danger, in that people like things to fall into neat categories. And I think that that's boring; I like the exception to the rule. And besides, people like to put cabaret into a neat file; they think that it needs to be in an upscale room like the Algonquin, and I don't think that that's the point of cabaret at all. To me, cabaret is simply an intimate experience between the performer and the audience, which occurs in an intimate place with a very simple setting. That's it. If it's the performer singing Joni Mitchell songs for an hour, well then so be it. If it's George Gershwin, so be it. I don't care what the form is or the material. It doesn't matter, as long as the performer is successful in making that connection. I think that it's significant because it's an experience you don't get from watching a movie, and you don't get it from going to a large concert hall. It's very special unto itself. Other than that, I think the rules should be wide open.
J: When you put together a show, do you only perform your own material?
R: Yeah, because I'm not going to sing covers. You know what usually happens? I tend to be lazy and book a show, because I know that if I do that, I will force myself to write songs. And then I put them in my show. It's pretty unplanned. It gives me a deadline, and I work best under pressure!
J: What's your favorite song on your CD?
R: I think my favorite cut is "Spring Harvest." I like what it says, I like the levels that it speaks to people on, I like the sound of it, I like the production of it, I like my performance of it ... I think it makes a good record. But actually, I'm pretty crazy about my whole record (laughs).
J: It's a great album, and it's very hard to pick one track to represent it, since you have such a range of styles in it. And of course I have a great fondness for "In Passing Years," since it's a song I have loved for a while.
R: I love "In Passing Years" and I kind of re-invented it for my album. Nancy did it in 4/4 time, and I thought that there was no point in doing it the same as Nancy, because then I might as well just put Nancy's version on my album! So it ended up being inspired by a Sarah McLaughlin song, "Angel." And the inspiration happened the night before I went into the studio to record it.
J: I read that you won a couple of GLAMA Awards. What are they?
R: I won two GLAMA Awards, and I'm not sure if anybody else has done that. It's the Gay and Lesbian American Music Awards, and it's a national event very much hooked up to the music industry. There are representatives from major labels that come to them to pick up cross-over artists. It's becoming more main-stream, in that they have included categories for jazz and cabaret. I won in the Cabaret division for the song "In Passing Years," and Holly Near was included in that some division! It was a great thing, because I was able to land a distributor called Lady Slipper Music, which is distributing me nationally.
J: Are you going to be working on another CD in the near future?
R: I have a feeling that I'll kick into pre-production for my next CD in the spring. It's a big thing, putting a CD together, and there's no real reason to record a new album until you have something new to say.
J: Have you been sending your songs to various recording artists? I can imagine Bette Midler singing your songs.
R: Well, not as much as I should! People are calling me, since they hear songs in clubs. The CD helps, because you never know where your CD falls. I really need somebody to shop my songs for me. I'm kind of overextended with all my musical directing and producing things. It's hard to get everything done yourself. But I do what I can!
J: Do you have another show coming up?
R: I'm going to be performing in Providence, Rhode Island with Charles Cermele and hopefully Sharon McNight, although she's not confirmed yet. It's going to be at an amphitheater in Providence. The mayor is proclaiming it "Cabaret Day" in Providence and it's going to be on September 26th. It's being put together by a company called Open Door, which is going to start a cabaret distribution on the internet, and this is the first event that they are planning. The people I know for sure that are going to be doing it are Charles Cermele, Natalie Douglas, myself, and hopefully Sharon McNight. And then I will be performing at Don't Tell Mama's for at least the month of November. But that's sort of up in the air because everybody is trying to get into Don't Tell Mama's now that Eighty Eight's closed.
J: Oh good! I'll be performing at Danny's in November, so I'll be right across the street! Hopefully I'll be able to see you then.
R: And I'm going to be leaving for the Cabaret Symposium this week. I'm going to be playing and teaching there for the session.
J: Have you done that before?
R: No, it's my first time.
J: Well, I wish you luck with all your ventures. Thank you for your time, and hopefully I'll get to see you in November.
Rick Jensen's CD, Spring Harvest, can be purchased at Footlight Records and Colony Music
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