Ingrid Jensen

Ingrid Jensen

Hearing The Music

Internationally renowned jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen traces her journey from growing up in Canada, through the subways of New York, to producing her own recordings. In town for a two-day crush of rehearsals, clinic and concert at Glendale Community College, Ingrid graciously agreed to hang for breakfast (only after I bribed her with a double espresso).


Ingrid, Watch the Bucket!
(mp3, 1.6MB)

Horses and the Evil Piano Teacher
(mp3, 1.8 MB)


JK: Why don't you start out by describing your progression from Canadian music student to world-class jazz trumpeter?

IJ: When I started playing, I actually wanted to be a trombone player. I didn't get to play the instrument I wanted, so I made my best friend play trombone. Her name was Gina, and I said, "If you play the trombone, then I'll play trumpet." My parents had actually already decided with the band teacher that I was going to play the trumpet, because my older sister played the trombone, and we were fighting all the time, so there was no way we were going to have two trombones in the house! That would have just been really bad. People would have lost eyes, limbs, things would have just gone wrong. It would have been really wrong.

So that was fine, I picked up the trumpet. I'm left-handed so I started playing left-handed. That's where all my coordination was, my right hand was a disaster. My confidence was very bad for many years as a result of that. I had very low self-esteem, because every time I would try to do something with my right hand on the trumpet, which is the way the trumpet is designed, I couldn't do it. But I could hear what I wanted to play, so I was frustrated in that way for quite a while. Fortunately I also knew that if I could hear the music in my head and could sing what I wanted to play (I also played some piano, which helped) that the music was there, and that I was Ok.

I started improvising right away in 7th grade. I had a good band teacher who taught us how to find the notes by ear. He'd put on an Aebersold record and we'd play along. He'd tell us what notes to try out. "Here's a blues," ," he'd say; we would learn the blues melody and then start to play over it, landing on good notes and not-so good notes, but having fun either way. In retrospect, finding out how to improvise really opened the door for me, as far as not having to be a flashy technical player goes. "Oh, I can just play three or four notes and then groove out on those." I'd play some rhythms, and play what was in my head, ideas that came from being exposed to hours of Louis, Basie and Oscar (Peterson) as I was growing up.

JK: Were your parents musicians?

IJ: My mother was a pianist who taught Kodaly music in the school. She also had a lot of private students and she played "club date" kind of things, solo piano gigs and musicals. She didn't improvise until she was in her 60s, shortly before she died. Mom knew all "the tunes," she played all of the classic American songbook repertoire, what are commonly referred to as standards. She had old lead sheets and tons of books filled with songs and lyrics all over our house in Cedar, a rural area outside of Nanaimo. I learned to read by just looking at the melodies, watching her play and then matching up the the notes with my fingers. Ingrid at piano She started out as a classical player. Her parents told her, "You can't make a living as a musician," so she had to have another job. So she got her university degree to teach in the elementary schools, a decision that kept her fairly miserable and stressed out for years until she remarried. My stepfather, Al, encouraged her to go back to school and get her degree in teaching Kodaly, so she could be doing something with music instead of teaching grade school kids. That was a great change for all of us! She was much happier and was able to bring jazz into the schools, play the kids Ella Fitzgerald and all the stuff they needed to hear. Those were great times for the school system in our area, times that helped develop better musicians in the younger grades.

Al, my stepfather, was hired as the principal of one the elementary schools in our district. My mom was not very happy that there were no elementary school band programs in the area, so she used her connections (her husband) to pull some strings in the school board and get things rolling. Being a professional player she knew the importance of playing as soon as possible."These kids need to get experience now, to better prepare them for the junior high band program," a program that had just hired a new teacher, one who was putting out high level bands and great players. I think Mom just wanted to see and hear us playing too, she NEVER missed a band concert or fundraising event.

So my stepfather started band programs in all these schools. We were taught by a jazz saxophone player; which may be why he never saw that I was playing with my left hand! Eventually he noticed that something wasn't right and made me switch to my right hand and that was that.

I did a lot of listening during those teenage years in Cedar. I had one of the first Walkmans, a horse and a bunch of great cassette tapes (mixes) that my band teacher had made for me with guys like Clark Terry and Freddie Hubbard on them. I'd go riding through the forest and along the beach listening to jazz. It was great!

JK: Did you grow up on a ranch?

IJ: No, my mother couldn't afford that, but she made sure my sisters and I were all really busy, so we couldn't get in trouble. (laughs) We were very active kids. We had a lot of activities, and I'd keep the horse up the street from where we lived on a ranch, go get her and ride after school every day.

JK: What was your horse's name?

IJ: The first one I had was a pony named Nipper. He was from Iceland; that was the horse my dad bought me. My mom and dad were separated and lived four hours apart so actually I had two horses at a certain point. Melanie was the horse I had my mom buy for me when I was at a piano lesson one day. It was the end of my piano lesson career, because I had the classic evil piano teacher that closed the curtains and smoked and told you that everything you were doing was wrong and hit you on the fingers with a ruler. And I remember coming out of my piano lesson one day, sad from another bad lesson and waiting on the front steps for Mom to pick me up. I told Mom, "I don't like piano lessons." (laughs) I want a horse! I pointed next door where there was a sign that said "Horse for Sale" and I said, "Mom, can we get that horse? I don't want to do piano anymore, I want to ride horses." And she said, "Ok, why not?" so she bought the horse. And in a weird way, that actually kind of put me more into music than had I stayed in piano lessons. I got more into it because I was just free to do what I wanted. I was already in band. My band teacher was really great; if he saw anyone interested in jazz, he would just load them up with music. "Here's a cassette, it's got Clark Terry, Freddie Hubbard, Don Ellis"—a great mix of everything.

JK: So you knew music didn't have to be drudgery.

IJ: The opposite, it was fun and an escape as well. I quit piano lessons and started riding horses. My best friend played trombone (and I got her to play her trombone so that I could play it too), I had my horse and a trumpet, so life was perfect. We would hang out in her basement, put the stereo on and play with rock and roll records, jazz records, whatever. Her dad was in a wheelchair and couldn't leave the house much, so he set us up to hang out there. He was easily entertained by our jamming out and we were kept safe from all of the crazy drunk drivers in our neighborhood. (laughs) He bought drums (they had a lot of money), and a bass, piano; just set the whole thing up for us. For about three years I did that, just hung out and played a lot.

JK: You know, every accomplished improviser I know has a similar story: "When I was young, I played with every piece of vinyl I could get my hands on."

IJ: Oh yeah, we played with Boston, we played with The Cars, and then we'd put on a Basie record and play with that. It was pretty funny but it must have sounded terrible, I'm so glad no one recorded us! I'm sure we were just awful. But we were having a great time. We got our ears going so that we could actually put something on, listen to it a few times and pick up any instrument and match the note or rhythms.

JK: So you played in school growing up, and then you decided to go to Berklee? Someone told you that you should go to Berklee?

IJ: Hmmm, how did that work? You know, my parents were not too excited about my being a professional trumpet player, but by the time I graduated high school, music was the only thing I was interested in. I was fairly literate in the world of English—that was easy for me—because my mother encouraged us to read a lot as kids. So it was like, "Oh, you should be an English teacher." And I thought, "I don't want to do that, I'm not interested in anything but music." Basically, everyone discouraged me: my band teacher at the time, my parents, my grandparents. They were not excited about it, especially because they'd never seen any women as professional jazz trumpet players. One person who was pretty great to me during my growing pain years in Nanaimo—grades 10 through 12—was Diana Krall. She was only playing piano at the time and hadn't begun singing yet; her force on piano was astonishing to all of us. Ingrid She was always very positive about my choice as far as what I was doing musically, even though I was still in my early development phase. She never said, "Oh, you're playing the trumpet? That's weird." It was more like, "Yeah, that sounded great! You should play. Keep playing, don't stop." So I think that stuck in my mind, because she was such a powerful player at such a young age and I had such respect for her. She was always working so hard at her music and was a constant inspiration through my early years. Diana took off to LA, studied with Ray Brown and Jimmie Rowles, got a record deal, and the rest is history. Now she's driving a Lexus on TV and married to Elvis! She was my one main role model, Diana. I think because of knowing that I could do it too, somewhere in my brain, I just kept playing, despite all of the hard times.

I went to a local college for two years, practiced a bit, played gigs (which I'd been doing since I was 15) around town, in Vancouver and different places on Vancouver Island. At one point I got a scholarship to a jazz camp, the Port Townsend Jazz Workshop, a camp that Bobby Shew and other great teachers were working at. Bobby had heard me play when I was in 10th grade, and he thought I was an old black man. He first heard me from the back of the stage and said, "Who's that old black man playing up there?" (laughs) I was very embarrassed when he announced that in front of the entire band, later realizing that he was being positive and encouraging and didn't intend to embarrass me; have I mentioned how insecure I was back in those days?! (laughs) Bobby, and many of the festival adjudicators, were always very positive and encouraging to me in my early years. When I went to Port Townsend I met and hung out with many of my idols—Phil Woods, Tom Harrell, Bobby, Hal Galper, and more—making the camp a pivotal experience for me. At the time I had major doubts whether or not I was good enough or talented enough (or all of those weird words that people attach to being an artist or musician sometimes) to really make it. One day I was playing at a jam session at the camp and somebody said, "Let's play rhythm changes." I had never played rhythm changes; at least I didn't think I had and was pretty sure I didn't know what they were. Someone said, "C'mon Ingrid, just play, close your eyes and listen." So I did. I closed my eyes and I listened really super hard, played through the changes, kept the form and played what I was hearing. Then, shocker of all shockers, and I opened my eyes and the entire Phil Woods quintet was standing there watching me, nodding their heads. (laughs) As the week went on I found myself playing with all of the best student players at the camp and I grew quickly as a result of being around them. [Pianist] Hal Galper pulled me aside and said, "You know, Ingrid, you should really take your studies further, go to the East Coast so you can get your education on a whole other level and be around a high level of both players and teachers." Not that there aren't great schools and scenes in other places, but Hal just felt that I would be challenged and inspired by the east coast energy, and he was right!

So I went to Berklee on a whim. It was August, and by September I was enrolled and sleeping on my friend's cold, dorm room floor! I had missed the housing deadline thanks to my last-minute decision. I went to school there for three years and got my performance degree. Being Canadian I needed a visa, so I had to really finish the requirements so that I could graduate. I didn't really want to graduate, because most of my friends that were players were like, "You don't' really need to graduate from this, you just go play and meet people," and all the sudden these people are in Art Blakey's band, or Joe Henderson's band, or whoever. Back in the late 80s that was still possible. These days things have changed a bit. My path went a little differently than most of my peers, as I did not get gig offers when I finished school. I was getting better and knew I really wasn't ready for them yet—I still had a lot of practicing to do!.

So, I took all of the recordings and tunes that I was too busy to learn while at school (completing my degree requirements) and moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. I had an Aunt there who had a house with a spare room I could stay and practice in, so off I went.

JK: You mentioned the first time someone validated your playing, the Phil Woods Quintet. It's kind of nice to hear somebody else that didn't always know that they were going to be a great jazz musician, and somebody else would have to give them that kind of input, outside of their own ears.

IJ: Well, I think parenting is very important. As a parent, you have a responsibility to allow your child to gravitate towards what they love, and then once you see that they are passionate about something, I think that it's then your job to encourage them in that. Especially in this day and age, kids are having a harder and harder time finding things to be passionate about and are saturated with so many distractions. Music is such a great focusing tool.

JK: There are a lot of distractions these days!

IJ: Yeah, they're so busy, too many things going on.

JK: I just meant technology-wise: iPods, video games, etc.

IJ: That's what I mean, they're busy in their brains, they don't have any time to slow down. I rode my horse through the woods listening to Dizzy Gillespie playing "Round Midnight," from the beginning to the end. How much more focused can you get than that? People pay millions of dollars to get into that space. As a child, I was provided with a luxury lifestyle that enabled me to listen, feel, smell and live, even though my mother wasn't very wealthy at all.

JK: I read somewhere that you used to play in the subways and I'm trying to imagine this: did you have like a big bruiser standing next to you so that no one would accost you? A young gal playing out there, I would think you'd be kind of vulnerable and a little intimidated.

IJ: Actually, I was the front girl who had to stop some of the homeless people from taking the money out of the bucket. I'd be playing the trumpet with one hand, and with the other I'd be smacking some guy's hand as he's pretending to put a dollar in while he's taking out a ten. And I played with a very wise old guy; he's a drummer that used to play with Monk. He got into a little bit of a situation—you know, got on drugs, like most people did back in the 50s—and was in rehab for awhile. His name was Eddie, he was about 65 and was super-wise. He'd be playing, and he'd yell out, "Ingrid! Ingrid, watch the bucket! Ingrid get up on the bucket!" So it's not exactly what you're trained at in college, but a pretty important lesson nonetheless!

Ingrid Jensen

We made a bunch of money: thirty-five, forty dollars sometimes, sometimes a hundred, it varied. I played with the same band for about a year. We played on the sidewalks, in Central Park; we'd set up at about 10 a.m. and play all day. The best part was that we were playing music for such long periods of time, sometimes six or seven hours! Play for an hour, take a break, play some more—you're getting tired having played for an hour, but then people show up and you just keep playing. Sometimes we would end up playing for an hour and a half or two hours straight. I really, really learned a lot about pacing. It was great. Playing over loud noises like honking cars, subway screeching, people yelling, every city noise you can imagine.

JK: You know, there's really a psychological component to it. You think you're tired, and then you find out that, "Well, there are ways that I can keep playing and not totally self-destruct." You find out you have a little more in reserve than you thought you had.

IJ: Absolutely. That's one of the things I love about the trumpet, is that it really challenges me to stay in shape. The more I work out and the better I take care of myself, the better I play.

JK: It's a real physical instrument.

IJ: Sit-ups, man! I saw a video of Dizzy doing sit-ups once. Actually they were more of a Chinese sit-up, he was so hip! I think that's what made me really get serious about it. Right around that time I started running and working out. Clark Terry—that guy is in amazing shape. One of the reasons he's still around is that he really took care of his body. I spent a lot of time hanging with him in his hotel rooms on the road; just hanging out, talking, playing and listening to stories. He'd have a jump rope and those water weights with him; you know, you put 'em in your suitcase and then fill 'em up with water when you get to where you are going. To see them him lugging that stuff around (laughs), that's a great impression for a young kid.

JK: I remember reading in Miles' book how he used to go see Clark when he was a kid; and to be able to have that kind of longevity to your career, you can't abuse yourself too much or you will just burn out.

IJ: I was backstage hanging out one time with Clark Terry and Slide Hampton, and Slide was saying, "There'd be no Miles if there were no C.T., there'd be no Miles." Miles knew a lot about fitness as well. I recently took boxing classes and got a whole new world of energy and power.

JK: Describe your preparations going into a recording project.

IJ: I plan ahead quite a bit, spending a lot of time figuring out whom I want to play with and then playing with them before we record. These days I'm more into getting a band together, rather than just calling a bunch of big names—although my first few records were like that because I was with a record company that was calling the shots. They were paying the bills so they said, "Let's try to get this person and this person and this person," based on names that I would give them, of course. I knew the players and played with them a bit, but they weren't necessarily people I could afford to take on the road. I recorded three records for a label, and then I started doing things on my own, which has been much more rewarding. I pay for all of the production, I do all (or most of) the writing, and I own everything. It's a very independent-based production approach and, and as a result, I get back most of the money I spend, over time, [into the microphone] especially if people don't just burn the CDs but actually buy them. (sigh)

JK: You also don't have to worry about the music just getting stored away in somebody's vault and never appearing again.

IJ: Mm-hmm. And it's a lot of work! To make a CD, take care of the artwork, hire the band, mix and master and every other detail involved, it's really a lot of work and I have learned a lot about the business because of it. I've also found a lot more freedom in my music because I'm able to do exactly want I want to do and experiment away. In fact, the title track of At Sea, was only about two bars of written music when I brought it to the band; the rest we just made up after discussing the concept for a few minutes and then just playing away.

JK: One of the things I really like about that recording is that it sounds like a unified work, rather than just a bunch of jazz tunes strung together. Everything fits, even the couple of standards you do are arranged so that they fit sonically with everything else that is going on.

IJ: Thank you! Yeah, it's more through-composed than your standard head-solo-solo-head jazz album. That seems to be the way we're thinking as players these days and my band gets kind of bored with the predictable as we are all listening to and playing so many different styles of music in our musical lives. We're into afro-Peruvian, we're listening to Bjork—when I say we, I mean the people I like to play with—we're listening to James Brown and Bach, the list goes on. It's not just one kind of jazz we listen to and love. We're very attached to a lot of different artists in the music. Joni Mitchell is one of my favorites and I find that her music is like that. It doesn't feel like it's in a box. It's more of a continued thought process and this allows for more space when we're improvising and more interaction, as well. I like the interaction.

JK: I don't have an iPod yet, I think primarily because the whole concept of taking one track out of here, and one track from this artist, and still another from over there, jumbling them all and randomizing them, is so foreign to the way I've always listened to jazz albums. For me, an album (or an LP from my day) was almost sacrosanct. You listen to them from beginning to end, and to take things out of context almost destroys a lot of what the original intent was.

IJ: It's a scary sign of the times. Some people have a thousand channels on their TV, they've got a million hours of these video (DVD) games, people sit on the planes with their phones gripped tightly in their hands and stare at them playing games and then answering a call, and kids can't be still anymore as a result. The multi-task situation is something that we should be really careful about. A scientist friend of a friend said that there is proof that multi-tasking makes us dumber, it actually kills brain cells! Stop, go outside, look at the stars, look at the sun—No, don't go look at the sun, it'll hurt your eyes! (laughs)—but look around and realize the simplicity within the complexity of our universe.


Seriously, how can you have a valid conversation if you're going, "Oh, nice eggs. Would you like some water? Isn't it cold outside? How much does it cost to buy a phone?"

JK: "Pardon me, I just got a text message!"

IJ: Yeah! I mean, there's no continuity to conversation anymore and and it's getting harder to connect and relate to people. I remember traveling in my early years and I would meet and "talk" with a new and interesting person on every flight! This is why I find that jazz, or any improvised music, is such a great and important language: without it having to be in a battery-powered box, it's just such a great way to communicate. You start the song, there's a tempo, there's a groove, there's harmony and form, there's a sense of feeling. Then there's the ambiance of the room, and you improvise off of that. Suddenly you have a group of people getting together and talking without words, and the more skill and technique they all have, or the more open their minds are, anything can happen.

I think often young players see me play and they think, "Oh, wow, she makes it look so easy." (laughs) Well, the reason it looks easy is because I've put in a lot of time: playing long tones, working on my sound, and listening to the music and playing with it. Not just flipping from one record to the next, but focusing on one player or one album at a time. I have a hard time using the "shuffle" on my iPod, although I'm getting better at it and enjoying how things can sound different when run in a new order. If it's something I am serious about studying, I don't "shuffle." I have to listen, I want to hear what the record is about, what this person conceived of when they went into the studio. There's a first song and a last song. Why, and what's all that in between? Without enjoying the focused continuity that the artist put into making the album, we are missing the complete listening experience. The same goes for listening to live music. If we can let go of all our cares and distractions and just fall into a deep listening space when we go to hear jazz, it won't matter if the person plays fast or high, or if there are good notes or bad notes, or if we understood everything that happened, because our listening and support will only make it a better musical event and everyone will get something from it.

—May 2007

Artist Info


Jazz Artists

Maria Schneider, the Vienna Art Orchestra, Dr.Billy Taylor and Frank Wess, Clark Terry
(see my bio for more)


▸Saturday Night Live with Corrine Bailey Rae
▸BET with the Ingrid Jensen Quartet
▸Bravo Network special on Ingrid Jensen


Yes, but selectively.


▸Web Site:
It may take me a minute but I won't erase an email until I have replied to it.



New York Bach


Three that I love:
▸NY Bach 7C
▸NY Bach 7CW
▸Black and Hill IJ 5



Gig Bag


Mutes and Equipment

▸Alisyn oil
▸old copper Harmon
▸TLM 170 Microphone
▸Line 6 delay and some Boss pedals


▸The most fulfilling was last month in Brazil. The people gave me so much love while I played and it made the music (and me) just fly! Recently playing in Mexico was also fantastic. The people were so sensitive and loving and would just start clapping in the middle of a tune or solo. It was great!

▸The most challenging gig I ever did was on a train through the Austrian alps! Everytime we would turn a corner the drums and the bass would go flying and all I could do was just hang on and laugh. The subway was crazy too, especially at Rush hour!

▸The most lucrative gig? Still waiting, will let you know when it rolls in. HA! I get paid very well to do what I do and am very grateful and very fortunate to travel all over the world with such incredible spirits.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING FOR STUDENTS (the short list! See my site for the long one)

▸Louis Armstrong—the Hot 5's and Sevens
▸Cannonball Adderly Quintet
▸Art Blakey—especially the Wayne Shorter years.
▸Miles—as much as possible! Starting with Kind of Blue is good, but I loved We Want Miles before I loved the other stuff. Check out Wayne, Herbie, Tony and Ron!
▸Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw
▸Duke Ellington and Count Basie
▸And the list goes on...Basically, anything that sounds good, has strong, singable melodies and makes you want to 'shake it and dance'.
▸Ballads are good too and the singers helped me to feel and hear things in a more relaxed way: Ella, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Clark Terry (trumpet too).


It depends where a student is at and what their needs are. Here's my book list, hope it inspires.

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