Interview with Jennifer Hartswick

Hailing from Vermont’s rural northeast kingdom, Jennifer Hartswick has lived to tell a musical voyage that most only dream about in her small town roots. from Vermont’s rural northeast kingdom, Jennifer Hartswick has lived to tell a musical voyage that most only dream about in her small town roots. The polished trumpeter and prolific vocalist has been  thrilling audiences with her enticing stage performances as a member of the Trey Anastasio Band and her ongoing collaborations/solo work. Having shared the stage with Dave Matthews, Phish, Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock, Hartswick’s musical resume is equally enticing.

Hartswick  is featured on Putamayo’s latest release, Women of Jazz, alongside artists Melody Gardot and Madeleine Peyroux and her latest album, True, released in 2007 on Rubber Jungle Records, is a collection of jazz standards captured through Hartswick’s  smooth up-tempo swing.   Most recently Hartswick has been playing as a member of Van Ghost,  the brainchild of Chicago indie promoter Mike Berg.  Self-described as “classic or folk rock,” the heart of Van Ghost’s songs lie in the interaction between Berg and Hartswick, as her powerful vocals and elastic trumpet phrasing leave the audience intrigued and captivated.

MB: I can’t really imagine the Burlington Jazz Festival without you, what feelings surface when you know you are coming back to VT to play?

I have been a part of the jazz festival since 1996, except I missed it one year. It’s always so wonderful to come back to Vermont no matter what. People here are all so welcoming and loving. Any excuse to get back to Vermont is always good!  I love it here!!!

MB:I read that you started playing music at the age of four, who was the biggest inspiration for your interest in music at such a young age?

JH:Definitely my mother, she is the most talented and beautiful musician. She is also one of five kids, all of her siblings are incredible musicians. Her parents as well are musicians. I would take lessons(as much of a lesson as you can have in your home) my grandmother would come over after school and teach me music, it was just a huge part of my  childhood and life for as long as I can remember!

MB: What did you discover first your voice or your trumpet?

JH:The trumpet. My uncle handed me a trumpet when I was 10, at this point I already knew how to play the flute and saxophone. I think the tuba actually came first, this was in the 3rd grade, and I was playing the sax, everyone said I had way too much hot air to play the sax, and thought I should play the tuba. I never played another woodwind instrument again. I always sang in a chorus and stuff like that, I love being a small part of something huge. It was not until I was 20 or 22 that I really started singing solo and people could hear me as a soloist. I had been playing the trumpet that whole time and so that was my instrument.

MB: After traveling with Trey Anastasio for seven years what was one of the most significant things you gained from that experience?

JH: Trey taught me how to listen to music in a different way. We sat and listened to so much music! His enthusiasm for  showing me music I have never heard was great! He would say ” You have to hear this…” or “you have never heard this..?” He would bring us to the biggest record store we could find and buy us like 12 CD’s, and say “I can’t believe you have not heard this.” I pretty much grew up listening to classical music, so he was kind of astounded, intrigued, and appalled by what I had and had not heard. He would say “I can’t believe you don’t have this record” and we would get arms fulls of cds. He would never listen to the song as a whole. When he would demand I listen to something, it was always  “this is the best note I have ever heard” He would just point out all the parts of the song. I realized that was a really fun and intelligent way to listen to music. I do that naturally now.

MB: I read that you are  “one of the best kept secret in jazz”, yet you have worked so hard and have played with so many influential musicians, even Dave Mathews said ” She is a star.” Do you like this description or would you like a part of the fame. A “secret” just seems like the wrong word to me.

JH: I am not one to care at all about fame as long as I am able to do what I love with the people that love it too, that is what makes me happy. My favorite kind of gig is in the most intimate setting. So if I am playing a jazz club for 40 people and the place is slammed, packed in a little dark room, that is what I love to do. If I am able to change someone’s day, if they  are having a terrible day and they come to see me play and they like what they see or feel better because of it.  If they can understand that all we are trying to do is bring joy, that’s what I care about, that’s all I ever want to do. I want to make people as happy as I am. That’s why I play with the musicians I do because we all share that common thread.

MB: How has living in Chicago affected your music and/or you as a musician?

JH:  When I first moved to Chicago it was hard, I won’t lie about that. I moved from the east coast where people knew me, they would come see me,  or want to play music with me to a new city thousands of miles away where I kind of had to start all over.  There has been a struggle to find those human beings that really share the same love as I do for making music.  You know it took me 15 years to find these guys, I know it’s not going to happen over-night and that has been a real challenge for me. I have learned to just sit back and say “its fine” and I still get to go play music with great people.  You learn a lot about yourself, it’s been a very humbling experience.

MB: Congratulations on your latest album TRUE, can you tell us a little about what it’s like for you in the studio?

JH: I have spent a lot of time in studios, the first time it was very overwhelming. It’s a skill like anything else to be in a studio and make it sound great. What order do you put it all in, do you record all together, do you do it separately?  Probably one percent of all records are made live, and I don’t want to make a record any other way. I just don’t see the point! When you are trying to capture something you can’t do it with just one person at a time. To me music is the energy you create when you are all together and so being in the studio can be a beautiful experience you never know what can happen, it’s like a show. True happened in two days and we never did more than two takes on anything. There are no over-dubs it is what it is, it’s like a live record.  The hard part is getting everybody together. We just have a great time laughing and playing music and having fun! I think it came out pretty well. I like to listen to the album, I really do.

MB: What are some of your favorite venues to play?

JH: Red Rocks and Alpine Valley- hands down.  I could play the Blue Note every night of the week for the rest of my life and be happy.

MB: What are some of your favorite bands to see live?

JH: Good question people usually don’t care about that!!! I really do like Umphreys McGee. I really like to see stuff I have never seen or heard before.  That’s why I really like the jazz festivals because you can go to those tents where nobody cares about who is playing and see some of the most amazing music. Those crowds are the best too! I try to see as much music as I can.  There are a lot of great musicians I am excited to see, I just try to vary my music, I don’t ever just have one thing in my CD player.
MB: What is one interesting fact about you your fans should know?

JH: I love dogs, I am a huge animal lover. I am a Reiki practitioner, hopefully a master soon!  I love -love and positivity. That is the way I live my life.

MB: What is the best advice you have ever received?

JH: That is an easy one, it was from Herbie Hancock. He did an album called Possibilities, and he had a track with all different musicians who played on it, and Trey was one of them, he came to the barn and I got to be on it, which was huge for me!
I was getting ready to play, getting all situated, I am in the booth with my head phones on, and he comes in to my booth, he picks up one of my head phones and puts his mouth right to my ear and says “just remember man, the only mistake  you can make is not being yourself” and put my head phone back, and walked out. I will never ever forget that! That was serious for me!