Jenny Maybee

The singer/pianist on finding compositional inspiration with Haiku
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“We’ve been really pleased at the reception the album has been getting,” pianist, vocalist and composer Jenny Maybee tells me regarding her new album Haiku, which she produced along with trumpeter Nick Phillips. “It’s a project we loved putting together and working on the music for.”

Maybee’s own brand of adventurous music merges jazz, classical and poetic textures into a unique sound of its own. “We approached this album asking ourselves, ‘What music is emerging, interesting and fun to play,’” she explains. “Nick and I spent a lot of time together developing the arrangements—even the standards we recorded were done in a totally different way. There’s a lot of listening and a lot of attention to silence, waiting to see what wants to come out and then responding to that creative inspiration with an attitude of curiosity.”

Originally from Bakersfield, California, Maybee started taking piano lessons at the age of four. “I got into playing jazz when I was in middle school, and I studied jazz and composition in college,” she says. “I put myself through Cal State Bakersfield working as a professional musician, and teaching, too. The university was great in that they brought in lots of players to work with their ensembles. I got to play with artists like John Clayton, Peter Erskine, and Louis Bellson. At that time I was listening to pianists like Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Cecil Taylor, Shirley Horn, as well as more experimental players like Matthew Shipp and the Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi. I also worked in different chamber/experimental music ensembles. I love writing structures for a group where we can have a lot of free improv, as well as taking a more traditional approach while still stretching things a bit.”

After graduating college, Maybee moved to Los Angeles and worked as an accompanist for a large high school choral program. She then moved to San Francisco and went to law school, eventually getting her law degree from UC Berkeley. “I still practice,” Maybee says. “I’ve been a licensed, practicing attorney for 10 years, mostly working in civil litigation, consulting on everything from partnerships to huge, international cases. I spent some time working at a firm in San Francisco, but now I’m out on my own. It gives me the flexibility to do legal work, as well as work on my own music.”

From the beginning, Maybee’s musical activities have centered around composition. “That’s always been the focus for me,” she says. “I got into jazz by writing my own music and improvising. Composition was the emphasis for my undergraduate degree. The first thing I did when I got up to the Bay Area was to put a trio together and write a bunch of original things. We did some shows, and I also started working with an improv group called Noertker’s Moxie that I performed and recorded with. So I’ve always just put together projects, finding people who are fun and interesting to play with to see what kinds of ideas sparked.”

Maybee’s new release Haiku is her first album as a leader and is notable for both the music on it and how that music was recorded. “I produced the album along with Nick Phillips. He and I had met at the West Coast Songwriter’s Conference. We got together and started working on music because we seemed to have a shared musical palate. While we were getting together and playing each other’s compositions, Nick was approached by Cookie Marenco who runs OTR studios and Blue Coast Records. She said ‘Hey, would you guys be interested in doing some recording?’ Cookie records in high-resolution in the Extended Sound Environment (E.S.E.) format. We had originally thought, ‘Let’s put together a demo and start doing some gigs,’ but when Cookie approached us we jumped at the chance to record with her. She came on board as Executive Producer. In the environment she records in, you can’t record drums because there’s no isolation. It was recorded totally live and unamplified, with just myself, Nick and bassist Paul Eastburn. The sound was warm and cozy, and everything you hear on the album was played live and unedited. It was also recorded in Quad DSD, so you hear every little nuance as if we’re right there in your ear playing!”