Today’s featured Woman for Women’s History Month is Denver’s own Janine Gastineau. With a Master’s degree from the University of Denver, in Jazz Performance, this lady brings both education and heart to the table.
I spoke to her recently regarding some of her Sheroes in Jazz, what inspires her about Jazz and more.
Janine who are some of your Sheroes in Jazz?
“My “She-roes” in jazz – all women I feel who are totally unique within the genre, and who advanced the genre for other vocalists in myriad ways (listed in order of importance):
Billie Holiday, for being a true original, singing the music as she heard and felt it from within, and being such an emotionally raw and vulnerable performer
Joni Mitchell, another original in jazz, deeply committed to her musical vision, and courageous in her efforts to continually grow and develop her unique “voice” within both music and lyrics
Elis Regina, for her effervescent personality, her extraordinary rhythmic gift, and her always playful way with a tune
Tierney Sutton, for the clarity and beauty of her singing and vocal improvisation, and her success in leading her band for years, sustaining that collaboration both artistically and financially
What got you interested in jazz?
“My dad had albums by Herbert Alpert, Dave Brubeck, and Hubert Laws when I was growing up, but it wasn’t until college that I really fell in love with jazz. My best friend, also a singer, made me some jazz mix tapes: George Shearing, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Randy Crawford, Michael Franks, and others. I was struck by the utter coolness and amazing range of the music.”
What is your favorite jazz song?
“This is hard to answer, because jazz is such an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great tunes! But I have to say Louis Armstrong’s 1928 recording of King Oliver’s WEST END BLUES. It begins with that utterly audacious cadenza by Louis that just knocks you off your feet. Then the rest of the band enters, and there is something so charming and simple about each solo that follows, with Zutty Singleton’s weird little cymbals clicking away underneath, before ending up that high Bflat that Louis holds and holds and HOLDS in the final chorus, that just makes me laugh and cry at the sheer beauty of it all. It’s pretty much the perfect rendition of any tune. And of course, it revolutionized the way everyone played and sang the music afterwards.”
Lastly Janine, what inspires you about jazz?
“Well there are two things:
A: It’s such a completely American art form. It could only have happened here, born of the uniquely African American experience of chattel slavery that birthed the spiritual, which led to the blues, and on the other side, from many first-generation sons and daughters of Jewish immigrants who wrote popular music for the Broadway stage and Tin Pan Alley. The melodies, harmonics, rhythms and structures from both are all in jazz from the beginning. Not to mention all the European classical music that had its influence, too.
And B: I love how jazz, over the decades and as it’s made its way around the world, is able to absorb elements of other musics and other cultures, while still remaining true to what it is. Jazz is the ultimate democratic genre, and its emphasis on improvisation means that anyone, anywhere – if they can hold their own amongst other jazz musicians on the bandstand – is welcome. Improvisation requires trust, courage, mindfulness, openness, and living in the moment, all qualities we need much more of in all aspects of our lives, today more than ever. To me, jazz is as pure a metaphor for equality and democracy as you can get, and I hope people who see jazz performed live can feel that. It’s what we’re all trying to live up there, when we play & sing for everyone.”
To learn even more about Janine, go to her website.