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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
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
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
"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,"
— Richard J. Skelly
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.
Trenton, 609-989-7777. Jensen hosts and opens the show every Tuesday
night this summer. No cover. Tuesday, July 9, 8:30 p.m.
Trenton, 609-989-7777. Singer-songwriter performs original acoustic
music. Saturday, July 27, 8:30 p.m.
New Hope, 215-862-5981. Singer-songwriter and her band perform original
acoustic music. Thursday, August 15, 9 p.m.
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