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Regardless of context, Scheinman shines

In a strange way, violinist/composer/singer/songwriter Jenny Scheinman is something of a throwback to an older American epoch. For as long as America has had borders and divisions, there’ve been people crossing/flouting them with abandon. Bing Crosby, the man that defined pop singing in the first half on the 20th century, recorded Irish ballads, Tin Pan Alley tunes, jazz, Hawaiian songs, and more. The following iconic performers recorded a healthy (or dazzling) variety of styles/genres: Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Dinah Shore, Nat "King" Cole, Les Paul, Doris Day (she started out as a big band singer), Fats Waller, Johnny Cash, "Sir" Doug Sahm (of the Sir Douglas Quintet), the Grateful Dead, Junior Parker, Elvis Presley (not merely rock & roll but blues, country, and gospel), and especially Ray Charles. "Genre" could not contain their talent-and so it is with Ms. Scheinman.

In a little over a decade, West Coast-to-NYC transplant Jenny Scheinman has amassed herself an outstanding resume. She’s been voted the #1 Rising Star Violinist title in the DownBeat Magazine Critics Poll and been listed as one of their Top Ten violinists for the last five years. She’s recorded and/or performed with Norah Jones, The Hot Club of San Francisco, Myra Melford, Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, John Zorn, Lucinda Williams, Leni Stern, Ron Miles, Danny Barnes (ex-Bad Livers), Ben Allison, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and the incredible ROVA homage to Coltrane’s Ascension, Orkestrova Electric Ascension (Atavistic, 2005). She’s played in jazz and free improv contexts, and also has a parallel career as a singer/songwriter in what could be called an Americana context (i.e., that gorgeous gray area where folk, country, rock, blues, etc. overlap/intermingle). It is the latter that brings Ms. Scheinman to Chicago (where only several weeks before she played the legendary Green Mill jazz club with Ben Allison’s ace combo), to the classy venue that is the Old Town School of Folk Music.

Ms. Scheinman played violin, mandolin, and sang. Accompanied only by an acoustic guitarist, she sang mostly originals, excellent songs whose intelligent, vivid lyrics took you into their distinct times and places and the characters populating them. Her songs are in the tradition of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Mississippi John Hurt, and Lucinda Williams, singing in a sturdy, plainspoken, heartfelt alto. Without a trace of hokum, Ms. Scheinman’s intimate songs and delivery made me feel as if I could’ve been listening to her on a back porch. While the context was in American folk tradition, her violin sound had a density that was somewhat unusual-isolated moments it sounded as if there was more than one violinist on stage.

Forgive the hyperbole, but Jenny Scheinman is a complete American musician-beyond category, in the words of Duke Ellington. As far as sobriquets on music go, they’re mainly for marketing types, not for musicians or music lovers. Hear her.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jenny Scheinman
  • Concert Date: 4/25/2009
  • Subtitle: music matters more than genre (naturally)
  • Venue: Old Town School Of Folk Music
  • City State Country: Chicago IL
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