Jenny Scheinman was voted the #1 Rising Star Violinist in the 2003-2005 DownBeat Critics' Polls and performs and records extensively with Bill Frisell as well as Norah Jones, Vinicius Cantuaria, Madeleine Peyroux, Nels Cline, Marc Ribot, Scott Amendola and Myra Melford. She has three previous recordings of original music as a leader: Live at Yoshi's (Avant, 2000), The Rabbi's Lover (Tzadik, 2001) and Shalagaster (Tzadik, 2004).
Jenny Scheinman describes her childhood home as the westernmost house in the continental United States, at the ocean-end of a small river valley in northern California, home to a rowdy mix of old ranchers and transplanted east coast back-to-the-landers like her parents. She took piano and violin lessons in the nearest town, two hours away, focusing on piano until her late teens.
During the summer the family lived outside, at a "luxurious" campsite in an alder forest near the river complete with sofas, running water from a small creek, a huge wicker swing, and a big campfire circle. The family traveled together: to the fiddle festivals where she won her first competitions; to New York City every year to visit relatives; and to Europe, where Scheinman first learned the ins and outs of busking.
She was one of six students at the small high school her parents and others started. She eventually transferred, first to Oberlin Conservatory, then to UC Berkeley, via Santa Cruz, a "forgiving and fiddle-loving culture willing to trade coffee and baskets of organic vegetables for the pleasure of my ambitious screeching."
She graduated Berkeley with honors in English Literature in 1995, then dove headfirst into music — she is happy to be able to say she has always been able to support herself with her fiddle. Her most lucrative Bay Area gig was with the Hot Club of San Francisco, an acoustic quintet modeled after Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli's Hot Club of France of the 1930s. The lowest-paying gigs were usually the most conceptually challenging, with John Schott and Ben Goldberg, the Rova Saxophone Quartet, violinist/singer Carla Kihlstedt and the avant-rock band Charming Hostess, icons of the radical nerd-punk subculture of the East Bay.
In 1996 she recorded a beautiful little self-titler with the collective Giant Trio. Her own bands always included Scott Amendola on drums, Adam Levy or Dave MacNab on guitar, and Jon Evans, Lee Alexander or Todd Sickafoose on bass. With them she recorded The Django Project and, later, Live at Yoshi's, the first recording to focus exclusively on her original music.
During her years in the Bay Area, she'd struck up a relationship with producer Lee Townsend. "Lee helped me tremendously, hired me for numerous recording projects, including Vinicius Cantuaria, with whom I still play. The path eventually led to Bill Frisell who has so generously invited me into a number of his projects: a week at the Village Vanguard with Kenny Wollesen and Tony Scherr; a trio with Ron Miles in collaboration with cartoonist Bill Woodring; a night of Gershwin's music with Petra Haden and Ron Miles; the 858 Project with my string idols Eyvind Kang and Hank Roberts; a tour with griot guitarist Djelimadi Tounkara; a few nights with Elvis Costello; and Canadian folk festivals with Danny Barnes, Greg Leisz, Matt Chamberlain and Victor Krauss." She played with Frisell on The Intercontinentals (Nonesuch, nominated for a 2003 Grammy) and Unspeakable (Nonesuch), Frisell's collaboration with Hal Wilner, which won the 2004 Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. Now Frisell helps out on her own 2005 release, 12 Songs.
She moved to New York in 1999. For the first year she "went out every night, often to several shows, practiced continually, and became an expert on living the life for under $800 a month. Slowly I began to get work: I played in the Big Apple Circus band for a season, taught music at a tap-dancing school out on Coney Island Avenue, played Balkan music with Jim Black and Chris Speed, in a duo with pianist Myra Melford, gave private lessons, busked in the subways."
In addition to showcasing her various bands several times a year at venues such as the Jazz Standard, Joe's Pub and Tonic, she now holds down two regular New York City gigs; Tuesdays at Barbes and Wednesdays at the Living Room. "I am going on 3 years at Barbes and I'm still in love. The owner is totally open and lets me experiment with all sorts of combinations of players and types of music. I've played my original music there, whole sets of folk music from various parts of the planet, impossible duos." She took up residency at the Living Room in the spring of 2005 to explore yet another side of music - singing. "It’s revealing things about music that you just can't learn without actually stepping up to the microphone and singing the words." Her star-studded band on these gigs is often Norah Jones (on whose multi-Grammy award winning Come Away With Me she was featured) and the Handsome Band (Adam Levy, Lee Alexander, Andy Borger) but has also included Bill Frisell, Tony Scherr, Doug Wamble, Greg Cohen and Ben Perowsky. "I moved to New York to learn and to listen and never thought I'd actually have the honor of playing with all these people. Now I have so many projects in mind; two gigs a week feels like barely enough."