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'Joyful' jazz maven Jeannie Tanner talks traveling, newest CD
by Sarah Toce

This article shared 5932 times since Wed Feb 12, 2014
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Her musical style is a force to be reckoned with and she approximates her odds well. With a miniscule amount of force, her melodic voice cuts through the proverbial thickness surrounding humanity as a whole and dives into a new environment waiting to be nourished. Chicagoan Jeannie Tanner—who has been with her life partner for almost seven years—has her work cut out for her because now that fans know what they can expect, they want more, and more, and more … and she might just give it to them.

Windy City Times: Congratulations on your new CD, Joyful Season! What can your dedicated fans expect from this release?

Jeannie Tanner: Thank you so much. This new album is evergreen, so it will be great for next year's holiday season as well, and the next, and so on. [I wrote] five original songs on Joyful Season, along with new arrangements of traditional holiday favorites. All of the songs have been signed for television and film projects by Heavy Hitters Music in L.A.

Four of the five songs I wrote are songs all about the holidays, and the New Year, that don't really mention specific holidays, so they are songs of the season—about love, etc… Although the first track, "Christmas in a Cup," is all about the spirit of Christmas. The lyrics are: "A little cheer, joy and kindness, mixed with season's greetings; spending time with family, sprinkled with good tidings. Laughter is the spice to add, for this recipe of love—a drink that will always warm your heart, it's Christmas, in a Cup."

WCT: In what ways is the music different on this CD than your previous ones?

Jeannie Tanner: Well, this CD features a new drummer, Darren Scorza. Darlene DuFay, my good friend and longtime drummer—who is amazing, and she played drums on my last four albums—decided to relocate out of Chicago and focus on her photography, so Darren has become my main drummer. We've been working together for about a year now. He brings a different kind of energy to my music, which I love.

This album also features an orchestral arrangement by [pianist] Lisa McQueen of my original song, "You're My Gift Forever." Lisa wrote the film score for the movie Scrooge and Marley that was filmed and released here in Chicago in 2012. And finally, this project was literally recorded live in about four hours, and then mixed/mastered—with graphics designed—in a week. Everyone had such tight schedules, so we finally found a day and just did it. It was recorded two weeks before Thanksgiving and released on Thanksgiving. Bam! That's how we roll!

WCT: Your music has been selected by major television studios and has been Grammy-considered. Have you had the "pinch me" moment yet?

Jeannie Tanner: I've been incredibly blessed to have had, and continue to have, so many wonderful opportunities. Being a full-time musician is amazing, and just recently, yes, I had to "pinch myself," when I found out that I had been nominated for a Chicago Music Award in the category of Best Female Vocalist; the ceremony is Feb. 23. Not to mention the VH1 show Single Ladies, produced by Queen Latifah, has been using one of my R&B tunes, "Feel With My Heart Again."

WCT: The Jeannie Tanner Quartet sounds like a close-knit family. Can you share with us a story or two from the road?

Jeannie Tanner: Well, "What happens in the band stays in the band…" We are a very tight group and I've had some really wonderful times on and off the stage with this talented group of musicians. We bond on so many different levels, but especially in dealing with the various venues and club owners—things can get kind of crazy out there. If you don't trust that you have each other's backs, it can be tough. We just laugh a lot, and because we love performing and creating music together, it's all good and it makes for good songwriting material.

WCT: In what ways have you accomplished your goals?

Jeannie Tanner: I am a working, full-time musician. That really is living the dream. I have songs that have been used in television and film, and I've recorded, produced and released nine CDs in the last 15 years, that include 90 percent of my original music. Those albums are on iTunes and CD Baby with worldwide distribution. My music has been played on the radio, TV, and on videos all over the world. I've performed in front of thousands of people including at the Taste of Chicago, singing the National Anthem for the Cubs, Sox and Bulls and at various clubs. And, I've shared the stage and recorded with some of the world's best musicians. Pretty cool.

WCT: In what ways do you still have a long way to go?

Jeannie Tanner: I would really love to compose music for film scores. I wrote a score for an independent short a few years ago that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, but nothing ever happened with it after that. So, I've still got a long way to go in fulfilling that dream. I also want other well-known singers to sing my original songs. I would love to tour the world performing my music. I was hoping to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival this summer. So, as my mom used to say, "We'll see."

WCT: As an award-winning composer, vocalist and trumpeter, what fuels your creativity?

Jeannie Tanner: Life fuels my creativity when I write. World events, my experiences/personal life and those of my family and friends, always seem to end up as melodies or lyrics in my music. And when I sing or play trumpet and I'm improvising, the spontaneity of the creative moment makes me feel like I can fly. Seriously—it may sound trite, but it's really true. There's no drug that can do that on a consistent basis, without those nasty side effects, like premature death. Hey, not to be morbid, but in my business, "sex, drugs and rock n' roll" is, well, not a cliché. I think because we're all searching for the next high if there's not a healthy release, it can lead to dangerous choices. I've always chosen music, and although I've gone down many difficult roads chasing my dreams, I'm doing okay these days.

WCT: Are you at times more inspired to write, play or sing? Or is it a good mixture of all three for you?

Jeannie Tanner: Well, because I perform three to four nights a week and sometimes more, I hope I can pull it together to be inspired for each show. Some nights are better than others, but I always give 150 percent. I perform a lot of solo shows where I play piano and sing, and those are the hardest because it's just you for four or even five hours.

I live for collaboration, so it's a real gift when I can perform with my band—whether it's duo, trio or with my quartet. And, when it comes to writing, sometimes I'm truly inspired, but there are times when I've been given a job or I'm writing for a specific idea/theme for a show and I just have to do it. Creative inspiration is wonderful and, thankfully, most of the time there is a good mixture of being inspired to write, play and sing.

WCT: When you're having one of those down-in-the-dumps days, what music do you turn on to make yourself feel better?

Jeannie Tanner: Even though I perform and write mainly Jazz-Pop these days [a mixture of jazz, pop, R&B and Latin rhythms], I still listen to a lot of pop radio—along with NPR. If I really need to get myself going, I like Pink, Adele, Justin Timberlake, and a lot of Train's music. I also put on a little Maroon 5 or Jamiroquai. Sometimes "Glory Box" by Portishead does the trick, and I'll probably lose my "Jazz license," but hey, good music, is good music. I have several French CDs that I really love when I need a pick me up with tunes like "Assedic" by Les Escrocs and anything by Paris Combo. I have very eclectic musical tastes, but good music, no matter what genre, can be a great pick-me up.

WCT: Who are some of your favorite musicians?

Jeannie Tanner: In the jazz world, I've always been a fan of Herbie Hancock. He's an icon—a great piano player and composer—and it was awesome in 2008, that his CD River: The Joni Letters [music of Joni Mitchell] picked up the Grammy award for Album of the Year.

I also really admire the innovation of bassist and vocalist extraordinaire Esperanza Spaulding. Justin Timberlake is one of my favorite pop musicians, because he is so multitalented. He writes, arranges, produces, sings [and] dances, and he's an amazing dramatic and comedic actor. I also love Harry Connick Jr. and Alicia Keys for the same reasons as Justin. I'm also a huge fan of Sarah McLachlan. I love her lyrics. I still enjoy Peter Gabriel, and I seriously adore the harmonies of the Civil Wars. Love the talented Cyndi Lauper—so gutsy with "Kinky Boots," and, I still enjoy what Bonnie Raitt and Dolly Parton bring to the party, because they're such gifted writers, singers and musicians.

Catch Jeannie Tanner with the Jeannie Tanner Quartet on Friday, Feb. 14, and Saturday, Feb. 15, at Pete Miller's in Evanston. The band will play 8 p.m.-12 a.m. Visit for more information.

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