The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Ingrid Jensen’s career demonstrates the unifying power of music

Ingrid Jensen and the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra headline Iowa City Jazz Festival from July 5 -7.
Contributed by Ingrid Jensen/Mariana Meraz

Music festivals offer a chance for audiences to open themselves to new experiences they have never heard of. Renowned jazz artist Ingrid Jensen seeks to continue this tradition of discovery at the Iowa City Jazz Festival.

The festival will light up downtown Iowa City with a wide variety of jazz performances beginning on July 5. Jensen’s performance alongside the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra will kick off the festival. This collaboration has been years in the making, and listeners have reason to be as excited for the concert as Jensen is.

“When I’m playing I’m always paying attention to the sounds around me, and that includes the audience,” Jensen said.

Jazz music in particular is so reliant on atmosphere, and the audience plays a major role in that.

“I’m very in tune with vibe, and music is all vibrations. When the audience opens up to that atmosphere, it can be very rewarding,” she continued.

A week before the festival kicks off, Jensen — who is now dean of jazz arts at the Manhattan School of Music — led a camp for high school-aged jazz musicians. During her instruction, she found herself astounded by the talent of the young musicians.

“I was watching these kids play like they were 60 years old,” she said.

Teaching music has seemed inevitable in the trajectory of Jensen’s career — a career in which little else felt inevitable.

Both Jensen’s parents were teachers and were insistent on both Jensen and her sister learning an instrument. Although she is now an award-winning trumpet player, trombone was her initial interest. However, when her sister chose to learn trombone first, Jensen was saddled with a trumpet instead.

“I don’t think they expected me to follow through. I just think they thought it was cool for me and my sister to play different instruments,” Jensen said.

Her mother played a lot of Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson in the house when Jensen was growing up on Vancouver Island, a very early jazz-centric taste that Jensen carries with her to this day.

As Jensen continued playing the trumpet, she attended summer camps at nearby community colleges. One such camp happened to be taught by a lot of New York jazz musicians who recommended she seek out the music scene in Boston. So she did.

After graduating from Berklee in three years — bouncing around programs as a performance major, then a composition and arranging major, and finally a business of music major — she spent a year in Denmark to grind out her practice. She attended jam sessions and played for six-to-eight hours every day while abroad until she returned to New York to study under Laurie Frink.

These eight years of constant learning and practice are what made Jensen such a revolutionary artist, and her career wouldn’t be the same without the bouncing between both country and study.

“Not being a planner is what really helped. I was never a big planner,” Jensen said. “It was just being in the right place at the right time.”.

While it’s impossible to summarize everything in Jensen’s storied career, the major theme she admits is constant throughout everything she’s done is conversation. Whether that conversation comes in the form of building connections to pursue career goals or the natural conversation between musicians on stage while performing, communication is key for Jensen.

“It’s an insult to say all jazz music is from New Orleans, and is just in this time signature, and it swings — it’s not. It’s a whole potpourri of spirits,” Jensen said. “There’s a common language we speak, but with the directions of conversation. That’s where the differences of culture come into play.”.

Throughout her career playing and teaching music, Jensen has worked with people from around the world. In her interactions with pianists from Estonia, singers from Budapest, or instructors on the west coast of Canada, she learned how music is a constant.

Differences in culture shape music, even if that means certain people will never hear it simply because of geography. But that’s why Jensen continues to teach and perform at festivals. At the Iowa City Jazz Festival, Jensen and the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra will play an assortment of music spanning from Radiohead to Joni Mitchell, an original piece from Jensen, and music written by members of the orchestra.

“[The music] should be challenging, and it should be an active experience,” Jensen said. “If people let themselves experience it, it’s exciting.”

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About the Contributor
Charlie Hickman
Charlie Hickman, Arts Reporter
Charlie Hickman is a sophomore at the University of Iowa. He is majoring in English on the Pre-Law track with minors in Political Science and Cinema.