BY KATIE MATTESON
The release of Jack Grassel and Jill Jensen’s new CD comes just in time to bring inspiration and relief to the “season of short days and long shadows.”
“Snow People” is a collection of 13 winter-themed songs reflecting the various moods of winter from a Racine couple who have been making beautiful music together for 20 years.
There’s a full range of emotions included in songs like “Winter Night,” “The Christmas Blues,” “Santa’s Back in Town/Christmas Rappin,’” “Freezing” and more.
Even classics like “Sleigh Ride” and “California Dreamin’” have a different rhythmic flavor, thanks to Grassel’s fresh arrangements of the familiar songs.
The ethereal song, “Snow Sprite” was inspired by a poem written by the couple’s good friend, Leslie Sobota, who died of ALS in February 2018. Jensen spontaneously sang the words and recorded the music a cappella. Grassel then composed the accompaniment.
Grassel explained that while the couple’s music incorporates a mixture of jazz, pop, rock, blues, rap, swing and a dash of avant-garde, they’ve developed their own unique style.
“We create our own versions of the songs we cover – we’re not just parroting other people’s work,” Grassel said. “We also enjoy writing our own material.”
Their work has been recognized by several nominations for Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) awards, along with dozens of other regional awards.
But it was a personal connection that initially brought the couple together.
“We dated for six months before he heard me sing,” Jensen said. “I’d been singing all my life and had success of my own singing solos with choirs, bands, local theatre and regional commercials, but compared to his amazing career, I felt very intimidated.”
They both remember the first time they made music together.
“While Jack was teaching at The National Guitar Workshop in Connecticut, he accompanied me at a recital,” Jensen recalled. “And that was it.”
“When we were finished playing, I looked at her in thrilled amazement and said, ‘we can do this!’” Grassel said.
The chemistry created by Grassel’s instrumentals and Jensen’s vocals is recognized by their fans.
“The telepathic interplay of two people in love is palpable,” one reviewer said. “It comes through in their recordings.”
Grassel said that he’s been performing music professionally since his debut as “Little Jackie Grassel” at age 4 on his accordion.
During his long career since then, he’s established himself as an accomplished musician with the mastery of six instruments, 21 CDs, 12 books on guitar techniques, plus the invention of a triple-necked instrument combining mandolin, guitar and bass.
“I’ve played around 12,000 gigs in my life, 11,000 of them without Jill,” Grassel said. “Playing the last 1,000 with someone I love adds an extra dimension to the music.”
The couple’s performance schedule provides for travel to vacation destinations, jazz festivals, concerts and fine venues, but they increasingly enjoy making music in their home studio and spending time on the bike trail near their home.
A photo capturing their spontaneous building of snow people on the bike trail a few years ago provided perfect cover art for the couple’s new CD – their fifth together.
Inside the case, the disc and disc tray will feature an image of the oil painting depicting a winter woodland scene by Racine artist Jerrold Belland, which hangs in the couple’s living room.
The CD will be available in November from Schmitt Music, 1409 Washington Ave. and can also be ordered online at jackandjilljazz.com or jackgrassel.com, where there’s also a schedule of upcoming performances.
To hear the couple perform locally, stop in at the Yardarm Bar and Grill, 920 Erie St. on Wednesday, Dec. 19 from 6:30 – 10:30 p.m. or reserve a spot for one of the Jack and Jill Home Concerts, scheduled for Friday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 2 at 1 and 6 p.m. by calling (262) 552-4012 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.