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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the July 3, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

In Trenton: A Second Musical Generation

Although she’s the daughter of jazz drummer Cedric

Jensen and comes from a musical family, Rebecca Jensen didn’t discover

folk music until her college years. Before that, she explains at a

recent interview at the Conduit club in Trenton, she was busy listening

to classic R&B and ’60s soul — Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding,

Marvin Gaye. In short, "a lot of stuff that was in my dad’s record

collection."

If nothing else, the 28-year-old singer, songwriter, and guitarist

has had good influences. And lately, she has developed a palpable

stage presence, a strong singing voice, and a burgeoning repertoire

of original songs. Jensen just released "Byupe" her second

album, on her own label. Interviewed for U.S. 1 at her CD release

party, Jensen will appear at Cafe Ole on Friday, July 5, with more

shows during July and August at Trenton’s Urban Word and John and

Peter’s in New Hope.

Jensen, who majored in anthropology at John Hopkins University, began

studying piano as an eight-year-old and stayed with it for nine years.

"I never followed folk music until I decided I wanted to play

acoustic guitar," she explains, "and I didn’t play the guitar

until I was in college. One of my housemates was in a band, and one

day I asked him if I could borrow his guitar."

"I never really was a fan of acoustic guitar music prior to deciding

I wanted to do it," she says, "so I started playing guitar

out of necessity, as a means of expressing what I wanted to express.

An acoustic guitar happened to be lying around, so I picked it up

and made that my instrument of choice."

That was in the mid-’90s. Jensen recalls that Shawn Colvin and Ani

DiFranco were just emerging on the scene at the time, getting radio

airplay. And 1995 was also the year Jewel put out her first record.

Jensen released her first self-produced album, "When Magnets Collide,"

in 1998, and has been hosting the Open Mike nights at the Urban Word

Cafe, next door to Conduit, since that club opened in 1999. Jensen

has also organized several successful women singer-songwriter concerts

she calls "Daisy Chain" at John and Peter’s in New Hope, and

other area venues.

Growing up in a musical family in Trenton means Jensen credits her

father, drummer Cedric, with being a part of the 1970s jazz revival

in Trenton-area clubs. The elder Jensen played drums then and now

with Richie Cole, Bob Smith, and Wilbo Wright.

"My dad was a big part of the development of the Trenton jazz

scene in the 1970s. He’s originally from Trenton, then he went away

to school at Berklee College of Music, spent some time traveling,

and came back," she explains.

Her parents, she says, "were encouraging of anything that I took

an interest in, and there was a period in my life where I wasn’t all

that interested in music. I was interested in singing when I was real

young, then that passed and I got into other things for a while, and

then I came back around to being interested in music again."

Jensen says she’s been writing her own material for the last seven

years. She recorded "Byupe" at Indre Studios in Philadelphia.

Vocally, on stage with a band, it’s clear that Jensen’s

influences include good people, classic R&B and soul influences. But

more recently, in her lyric writing, Jensen says she has taken in

interest in ’60s sweetheart Joni Mitchell.

"Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, those were my early influences,"

she says, "but once I started exploring around to find out what

my own sound was, I `discovered’ Joni Mitchell. It sounds kind of

stupid to say that I `discovered’ her, but once I did, it was a revelation."

"She didn’t necessarily motivate me to do anything different from

what I was doing," she says, "but she created a sound that

I really identified with. It was really rewarding to me to be inspired

by her. When I really started to get into the breadth of her career

and what she was doing and how she was exploring sound and music and

her whole persona and everything, it just inspired me across time

and space, in a way. I heard Joni and I said, `I understand and relate

to what she’s doing.’ And I just have a huge respect for what she’s

accomplished."

In her own songwriting, Jensen says songs come about in myriad ways.

"It goes every possible way. I often carry around a book and just

write lyrics when I feel inspired," she says, "sometimes I

just keep them there and later sit down with a guitar and work things

out.

"Other times, I’ll just be playing something and words just come

out. I went through periods where I was writing a whole lot, really

prolific. Now I think there’s more intent to my writing, I really

prepare to write. I let things develop and stew and I take it from

there," she says.

Jensen describes her strange album title, "Byupe" (pronounced

Bi-yu-PAY) as "a modernization of a word she made up as a three-year-old."

She translates it as the spontaneous expression of joy and creativity,

lack of inhibition, and the freedom to speak one’s mind.

So, is Jensen spontaneously creative on stage, with her band, or as

a solo performer?

"I don’t play with a band very often, so tonight it’s all very

prepared. And most of the time, when it’s just me, I’m playing my

prepared songs the way they’re written."

Whether she’s performing solo or with a band, Jensen seems to be pulling

the right strings to get people to listen to her music and knows where

she wants to be heading in the future.

Jensen says it’s not the performing, but the songwriting process that

allows her to most creative.

"When I’m writing the song, I really have to allow myself to soar,"

she says.

— Richard J. Skelly

Rebecca Jensen, Cafe Ole, 126 South Warren, Trenton,

609-396-2233. Trenton "First Friday" open house performance

features the acoustic musician and Trenton native with songs from

her new album, "Byupe." Free. Friday, July 5, 6 to 9 p.m.

Open Mic Night, The Urban Word, 449 South Broad,

Trenton, 609-989-7777. Jensen hosts and opens the show every Tuesday

night this summer. No cover. Tuesday, July 9, 8:30 p.m.

Rebecca Jensen, The Urban Word, 449 South Broad,

Trenton, 609-989-7777. Singer-songwriter performs original acoustic

music. Saturday, July 27, 8:30 p.m.

Rebecca Jensen, John & Peter’s, 96 South Main Street,

New Hope, 215-862-5981. Singer-songwriter and her band perform original

acoustic music. Thursday, August 15, 9 p.m.


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