Since their modest musical beginnings in Nanaimo, Christine and Ingrid Jensen have gone on to become jazz giants. Following in their mother’s pianistic footsteps, Christine and older sister Ingrid were quick to pick up on music as children and participated in the Nanaimo Musicians Association Big Band before moving on to bigger jazz endeavours. Now, New York-based trumpeter Ingrid is among the top jazz artists in the world and saxophonist Christine has collaborated with many notable musicians including Geoffrey Keezer, Lenny Pickett, Brad Turner, Gary Versace, Joel Miller and Donny McCaslin – the latter also performing in Oak Bay for JazzFest June 25.
Christine says Vancouver Island helped foster her love of the music from an early age.
“I had a great time in my youth, playing with musicians my age or with the teachers, because they were all very active as music educators. Their specialty was jazz [at that time],” she said.
Jazz, for young Christine, was a form of music that allowed for improvisational freedom. “It was always liberating, after practicing all the Mozart et cetera on the piano, to switch over to be in the now with the music. To play with others was much more informal.”
The musician found it difficult to decide between piano and saxophone when she entered college. In the end, both instruments benefited each other for the style she would go on to compose, create and improvise on. Christine visited Victoria several years ago with her own jazz orchestra – fittingly titled The Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra – and says the experience was a huge “career moment.”
“I never thought I would be leading my own ensemble across Canada and Europe and playing all of my own music,” she said. Christine won the “Contemporary Jazz Album” JUNO award for her album Treelines in 2013 and the same award for her album Habitat the next year. Her suite Under the Influence was recently released through The Montreal National Jazz Orchestra.
Christine, Ingrid and Ben Monder performed together for the first time in 2012. Previously, Christine had witnessed Ingrid and Monder performing in an international orchestra and imagined that the pair would have even more power in a smaller ensemble. When the three, including Christine, came together, they were an instant success on-stage. “Every time I get to play with Ben it’s a new voyage into the music,” Christine said. “[Ingrid and I] did a few concerts back in 2012, 2013 and 2014 with Ben on the East Coast with this formation and every time, we went, ‘Wow, it’s getting bigger and bigger.’”
Monder was the guitarist for David Bowie’s Grammy-winning Blackstar album, and offers great expertise to the small ensemble. In 2015, the group recorded an album titled Infinitude. Their current tour, which goes by the same name, will include the June 27 performance in Oak Bay. Compositions by Ingrid Jensen, Christine Jensen and Ben Monder will be performed – along with “something everybody knows,” said Christine. That something will be a mystery until the night of the show.
“We always look forward to playing on home turf,” Christine added. “We love bringing back our explorations of the world to our home base. It’s really exciting to play for friends and family.”