Behind The Curtain: Jenie Thai
By Erin McCallum.
For this month’s investigation, the spotlight gets pointed directly on a Canadian artist who has been consistently on the scene since her debut recording “Lady Flower "(2011): Jenie Thai. For those who know her music, it is a widely accepted opinion that Thai possesses what is known as “The Trifecta” – she is a singer, a songwriter, and pianist who utilizes her skill in a way that appeals to the majority of listeners. There is no question that Thai is one of the most well-rounded pianists on the Blues & Roots scene today; her songs can capture both tenderness and toughness, depending on Thai’s intention. Beyond what one can hear on an album, or experience at a live performance, there is merit in having a conversation with Thai, to learn more….
Knowing that Thai has a versatile command over the keys, it makes sense to mention that she studied piano via private lessons for 15 years, and subsequently studied piano (Classical) post-secondarily at university for two years before majoring in Jazz & Contemporary (it is also worth mentioning that Thai was accepted into the Paul McCartney School of Music in Liverpool as well), where she found her inspiration. It is this foundation that, perhaps, provided Thai an open opportunity to decide for herself which direction she would focus on as a performing artist. By the time Jenie Thai embarked on her musical career, she already had a command of technique, multiple genres, and improvisation skills on the piano. When asked what Thai thinks makes a good artist, however, she offers an answer that is rooted in a different delivery than educational:
“In a quick sentiment, I would say that honesty makes a good artist, to me. The artists I admire most seem to be earnest. There’s something in the way that those artists present themselves that makes you feel like it’s genuine. Even if you take, for example, an artist like Tom Waits who is clearly a “character” as an artist – who is almost certainly not the same as how he presents on stage outside of that environment - the character he is playing as an artist comes across as honest to me. That honesty, to me, is what makes a good artist.”
Another revelation of Thai’s that shows where her versatility comes from is in her musical influences on the keys; she cites players ranging from Oscar Peterson to Aretha Franklin – and the names in between the aforementioned - span genres of funk, jazz, contemporary, and more. Offering hints as to why her list of inspiring artists is a mosaic of styles, Thai says:
“I grew up listening to and playing classical piano, and that’s what I studied for years. In my studies, I listened to jazz and contemporary one day a week – music with improvisation! That is where I first got inspired with 9th's or 13th's (chords), and a lot of musical ideas started opening up for me. Although I don’t sound like, let’s say, Oscar Peterson, I admire him as a player and find his work inspiring.”
Knowing that Jenie Thai’s education and performance experience is diverse enough to offer words of wisdom to almost anyone aspiring to take a path in music toward where she is now, I asked her what advice she might offer to someone looking to follow in her footsteps. Thai offers:
“Write as much as possible, because you learn so much from writing. You learn so much more by putting elements you know together in new ways through that writing process than you will ever learn by just playing a C scale. I would also tell an aspiring artist to get out and play as much as possible. I have learned so much on the stage that I could have never learned by simply practising. Being out there and playing with other musicians also improves you as a player – it is extremely valuable with respect to learning new things – and learning how to apply those new things in real time.”
As an investigative journalist, it quickly became clear to me that the underlying story worth telling in the form of “Behind The Curtain” is that Jenie Thai stands out as an artists because she has continued to apply all of her knowledge within her work. Although she is currently most recognized within the Roots music scene, she is an ever-evolving artist. She is here by choice, rather than limitation.
As the conversation with Jenie Thai drew to a close, she confirmed that notion with these final thoughts:
“I want people to know that although I have a lot of different songs that can be classified as certain genres, I don’t subscribe to any genre in particular as a writer. Music is a never-ending process for me, and I am always amazed at how, after playing and studying for so long, that it can still surprise me like it’s brand new. It is hard for me to find the words to articulate the healing, touching power of music – it’s love, with a capital “L”. To me, the beauty of music is that it manages to touch the intangible.”
So, there it is: the look behind the curtain. Perhaps in Jenie Thai’s description of music, she, in truth, paints a picture of herself for people who listen to her music.
As this edition of “Behind the Curtain” draws to a close, I trust that readers of all varieties have gained something more about the artist of mention. This article can be found each month as a regular contribution via The Sound Café with the intention of providing a deeper insight into the Canadian Blues artists who are at the core of the Blues music Collective.
Touring blues musician, Erin McCallum's formal post-secondary education was in media studies (news, radio), graduating from Humber College in Ontario, she went on to be mentored by Canadian News Hall of Fame inductee, Robert Holiday, and she is a regularly published writer in music and investigative journalism, having focused on music for the last six years.
Erin has an exclusive monthly column in The Sound Cafe featuring musicians from across Canada who perform predominantly in the Blues & Roots genres.
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