Jennifer Hartswick’s Electrifying Fuse
Most fans are likely family with trumpeter and vocalist Jennifer Hartswick through her association with Trey Anastasio and his touring band. She is the first female musician to ever perform regularly with Anastasio, and has quickly become a favorite both of audiences and the bandleader. She recently formed her own solo project, The Jennifer Hartswick Band, which includes four of her colleagues in Trey's ensemble: drummer Russ Lawton, keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, trombonist Andy Moroz and saxophonist Dave Grippo. Guitarist Dave Diamond, bassist Chris Henry, vocalist Christina Durfree and multi-instrumentalist Luke Laplant round out the octet.
Hartswick's new album,Fuse, explores many themes, from soulful ballads, to reggae rhythms and classic funk. Her vocals are impressive throughout, displaying a more mature, sexy tone than some heretofore may have encountered. This fall, her band will play select dates in the Northeast. While there are no confirmed plans beyond early October, she hopes to have the project go "as far as it can possibly go."
JW: You grew up in a very musical family with a lot of classical music in your life. How did that influence you?
JH: My grandparents kind of started the whole thing. They went to music school and had five kids who were all music teachers and ridiculous musicians. So that's kind of how I grew up, with that type of background.
JW: What sorts of things were you listening to as a kid?
JH: I was listening to anything from Mussorgsky to Tchaikovsky and that kind of thing. At any family gathering we had, there were always brass quintets or brass quartets and stuff like that. Our Christmases were kind of messed up like that [laughs].
JW: So then in high school you started playing with Dave Grippo, which eventually led to your collaboration with Trey Anastasio?
JH: Yup. I was at a jazz festival and he saw me and then came right backstage and asked if I wanted to play with him.
JW: And that led to bigger and better things down the road.
JH: Yeah, you might say. Obviously he's been friends with Trey for a long time and Trey was looking for a trumpet player for Story of the Ghost and I was playing with Dave at the time and he suggested me.
JW: What was your experience like at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford. You eventually wound up quitting?
JH: I did end up quitting, yeah. It was great while I was there; phenomenal musicians. I spent two years there, but it just wasn't the right place for me so I left.
JW: Did you leave for musical reasons?
JH: Yes. It was partly staff-oriented and political reasons, but ultimately I felt like I wasn't being challenged.
JW: Some people feel that music school can put a damper on creativity because you’re concentrating too much on theory.
JH: That wasn't too much the case. I think there are some places that are definitely like that. If you couldn't find creativity in the faculty at Hartt, you could definitely find it in the students.
JW: And now you’re a teacher. What’s that experience like?
JH: It's interesting, ya know? It's a huge learning experience. I enjoy doing it and it's fun. I teach kids of all ages. I teach jazz trumpet at UVM, but I also teach regular trumpet to little kids too. So, it's a whole different ball game compared to college kids.
JW: You spent a couple of years playing with Trey’s band. I would assume your classical background helped, but what kinds of things were you turned on to with that project?
JH: My musical upbringing has kind of been in stages. It was classical until I was in high school and then it was jazz through college. Then it sort of branched out from there into what most kids were probably listening to, in terms of their dad's record collections, and that's sort of when I got turned onto 60s and 70s music, when I met Trey. So it's definitely played a huge part in my current musical life.
JW: Talk about the transition from touring with Trey’s band to putting together your solo project.
JH: I had known a lot of the musicians before and I just got so comfortable playing with them because we had played together so much. It came together about a year ago I guess. We started out in October and recorded in November I think. I had been working on getting it together the summer before and I just wanted to do something new and do a little project on my own and see how it went. It turned out to be really cool and people were really into it. The band was digging it so we decided to play some gigs.
JW: What sort of musical vision did you have? The album is certainly very eclectic.
JH: That's what I like about it. It's very spontaneous and there are a lot of different styles. That sort of goes back to my musical upbringing. It's important to me because I haven't listened to one style of music my whole life. I think it's important to always be playing and listening to different kinds of music. So the album, I hope, expresses that.
JW: What was the recording process like? Did you write most of the material ahead of time or was there a lot of collaboration with the rest of the guys in the band?
JH: I wrote most of it really quickly. We had one rehearsal before we actually went into the studio. We did the album in three or four days and I ended up writing just sort of sketches of ideas. I had lyrics all written out too. We went in and I explained the ideas I had and it sort of fleshed itself out from there. Really, we did a lot of the work in the studio, but never did more than three takes of anything, so it's all very spontaneous.
JW: For a lot of the funk tunes, I noticed a big stylistic difference in the rhythm section. You’re using Russ Lawton on drums, who you’re obviously accustomed to playing with in Trey’s band, but talk about the difference between your bass player, Chris Henry and Tony Markellis. Chris sounds like more of a traditional funk player, with actual fills, as opposed to Tony’s "rock solid," sparse approach.
JH: Right. It's a whole different thing. I love the way Tony plays bass. I absolutely love it and I love the way he plays with Russ and that whole connection. It's just a whole different feel that I'm going for. It's a lot more traditional. If the music calls for some bass fills, then I know that Chris will just bust out and do it himself [laughs], ya know? Where as Tony is just so rock solid.
JW: What is that feel that you’re going for with your band?
JH: The whole idea behind the band is to get people to groove and dance and be intrigued about funk and about different styles of music.
JW: What have you learned from Trey as far as being a bandleader on stage?
JH: He's a major influence. It's hard to pick just one thing. Even listening to music, he's taught me so much about different ways of listening to music. I used to just be a passive listener, like anybody else listening to something on the radio and he's just taught me so much about listening to minute details and really focusing on absolutely every part of the music. I mean, that's just one thing obviously, that's been great about working with him.
JW: You’re playing with a lot of the same musicians in your band. The improvisational chemistry must carry over.
JH: It's a lot easier when you know your band really well. I think that that's pretty evident when we all get together. Then you add the new people in, who I have a really strong musical connection with on another front. When you put it all together, it's really interesting to see what happens, like for instance with the horn section. We've been playing together for so long and we can read each other's minds without even looking at each other. So then you add in new people who maybe don't have the Trey connection that we have and it completely changes everybody and makes us all much more aware and makes us listen that much harder.
JW: So I assume the horn section comes up with spontaneous parts the same way in your band, where someone will sing a melody in someone else’s ear and then you’ll harmonize it.
JH: Yup, that's exactly how it works. That's how we're most comfortable and it seems to work pretty well.
JW: So you’ve only done a couple gigs with your band. What have your thoughts been thus far?
JH: It's been great and the response has been great. We're having a blast and just sort of getting our feet wet in terms of playing and playing together. We're writing new music all the time. It's been great and we're looking forward to a lot more playing.
JW: What do you think the future holds for this project?
JH: I'd love to see it go as far as it can possibly go. I mean, there are a lot of possibilities and we're doing a little tour in September and we'll see how that goes, but I'd love for this band to exist for a while.