Born To Sing

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

When Jenna Mammina was a baby, her mother would sing her to sleep with Nat King Cole songs.  “Those were my lullabies,” she says, “and I would wake up almost every night at midnight and coo… my first vocal performances!”  Humble beginnings, perhaps, for a vocalist who has since then played at some of the country’s top venues including the Fillmore, the Knitting Factory and the Monterey Jazz festival.  This Thursday, we have a chance to see her in the much more intimate setting of Henfling’s Firehouse Tavern in Ben Lomond.  There, she will be playing a duo show with her longstanding musical partner, guitarist Andre Bush. 

A listen to Mammina’s most recent CD, “Meant to Be,” reveals an artist not only of talent but also of great variety.  In addition to her soulful original compositions “The Same Things” and “A Love That Lasts,” Mammina gives her interpretations of work by artists from almost every part of the musical spectrum.  From U2’s “Running to Stand Still” to Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone”, her treatment of the songs sounds as natural as if she had written the material herself.

So where did Jenna Mammina get such a diverse range of influences?  She believes that it all stems from her childhood in St. Joseph, Michigan.  She recalls, “There was always music around; both my mom and dad as well as my brothers and sister are all musicians.”  Mammina’s mother used to listen to big band music while she did housework, and her father was good friends with the legendary jazz pianist Gene Harris.  Add to that the influence of Detroit’s Motown scene, and her brother’s rock and roll 45s, her self-described “graduation” to jazz as a teenager was perhaps inevitable.

Mammina’s musical adventure really took off in 1986, when she moved to the Bay Area.  She wasted no time in immersing herself in the huge jazz music scene, where she has worked with an impressive list of artists including Joshua Redman, Bobby McFerrin, Rosemary Clooney and members of rock band Phish.  She has also been involved with the womens’ music community, and has played several times at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. 

She has released two CDs to date, “Meant To Be” and her 1999 debut, “Under the Influence.”  Her first album was listed by many critics as one of the best jazz albums of 1999, and earned a four-star review in “Swing Journal,” which is Japan’s most prestigious jazz magazine.  She is just about to release a new CD entitled “Art of the Duo” with Andre Bush.

Jenna Mammina currently divides her time between San Francisco, New York and her home town of St. Joseph.  In addition to her live shows and recording, she teaches jazz workshops including “Scat for Cats,” a special vocal program for K – 12th grade students.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, June 5, 2003

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