As you listen to Jenna Mammina tell her story, you come to feel that she was destined for a life in music. “When I was a baby,” she says, “my mother would sing Nat King Cole songs. Those were my lullabies. And I would wake up almost every night at midnight and coo…my first vocal performances!”
Years later, thousands of miles, and many vocal performances later, that musically inclined baby has grown into a vocalist of great power, imagination, and artistry. Jenna’s first album, Under the Influence, was one of the most widely praised debuts in recent memory, earning a four-star review in Japan’s most prestigious jazz magazine, Swing Journal, and appearing on numerous critics’ lists of the best recordings of 1999. And now comes the eagerly-awaited Meant to Be, a new collection of songs that proves to be a worthy successor to her auspicious premiere.
Like its predecessor, Meant to Be, reflects the breadth and depth of Jenna’s musical tastes and her command of a vast range of styles. The album features an array of songs from the repertoires of Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, Steely Dan and U2, as well as two originals. Choosing material with daring, Jenna makes a convincing case for herself as an artist whose music transcends category.
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Jenna feels that her adventurous artistic sensibility is a reflection of the diverse ethnic, cultural, and creative atmosphere in which she grew up in St. Joseph, Michigan. “I’ve always been surrounded by music, art, and all kinds of people. There was always music around; both my mom and dad as well as my brothers and sister are all musicians. “My mother listened to big band music while she cleaned the house. That’s how I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald. One of my dad’s best friends was Gene Harris, the great jazz piano player. Growing up in Michigan, our heroes were the musicians who came from the state – all of the Motown artists, of course – and Aretha Franklin, Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, and later on, Madonna.”
In addition to the musically rich atmosphere of home life, Jenna’s family experiences included playing nightclub with the kids in their basement, singing in the Catholic church, and traveling to visit her mother’s family in New Mexico, where the healing role of music in Native American communities made a lasting impression on a young Jenna.
Jenna discovered rock’n’roll when she hit her teens “…mostly from 45s that I stole from my brother.” Those early influences were The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Carole King, Jim Croce, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell. “After that I began to dig some of the more adventurous rock bands that improvised – Yes, Genesis, and especially the Grateful Dead. From there, I “graduated” to jazz – John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Abdullah Ibrahim.”
Jenna made a big change in 1986 and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, with its rich and varied musical heritage. She didn’t take long to fully immerse herself in the jazz scene meeting Bobby McFerrin, Ed Kelly, Eddie Marshall, Peter Apfelbaum, and Tuck Andress. She was also attracted to the burgeoning women’s music community, where she worked with June Millington, Vicki Randle, Chris Williamson, and Barbara Higbie. During that time Jenna began to build an impressive list of recording credits, including session work with Narada Michael Walden, the Spinners, and Ray Obiedo.
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Jenna continued singing in a variety of Bay Area clubs through the 80s and into the 90s, winning new fans and earning raves from critics, including Phillip Elwood, the widely respected jazz writer for the San Francisco Examiner, who wrote that Mammina “…radiates a feeling of ecstasy on stage…loving every minute in the spotlight and treating every song in a most remarkable and personal manner.”
Jenna’s restless artistic spirit is reflected in her constant travels, as she divides her time between San Francisco, New York, and her hometown, St. Joseph, Michigan. She has performed extensively in her home state and throughout the Midwest, including regular gigs at Chicago’s Green Mill, appearances on the Detroit-based syndicated radio program of noted journalist/author, Mitch Albom, and multiple visits to the Michigan WomynÕs Music Festival. In New York, she has appeared at the Knitting Factory, Wetlands, Town Hall, and at the JVC Jazz Festival. On the west coast, she has performed at noted venues such as Yoshi’s, The Fillmore, and the Great American Music Hall, and at the Monterey, Big Sur, San Francisco, and Mount Hood Jazz Festivals.
In the past few years she has performed with members of the popular rock band, Phish, with Sun Ra Arkestra veteran, Michael Ray and the Cosmic Krewe, and has played the same stages as Rosemary Clooney, Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman, and Christian McBride.
And of course, she continues to play club dates with her own groups, assembling the stellar talents of musicians such as pianist Matt Rollings, reedman Paul McCandless, bassist James Genus, cellist Matt Brubeck, and violinist Darol Anger. Jenna most often teams up with her musical director and guitarist, André Bush. “It’s always a new challenge. The interaction with every musician is always an inspiration to me. It allows me to be who I am as a vocalist and to give my audience the best performance possible.”
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