The Jack and Jill Story
by Scott Yanow,
author of ten jazz books including The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Record 1917-76 and Jazz On Film
Singer Jill Jensen and guitarist Jack Grassel are a musical love story. Before they met, Jill was a talented jazz singer who also acted in plays, commercials and videos. Jack was a highly rated guitarist who recorded many CDs, written ten guitar instruction books and worked on a countless number of gigs. They teamed up in 1999 when Jill was added to Jack's regular band.
Their first professional gig was at the same club where they met. Already the magic between them was apparent and they were soon married. Jill recalls, “One night the bassist couldn't make it for a trio gig. People said we sounded better without him, so it's been a duo ever since. It's great because 'the whole band' shows up on time and fits in one car!”
Since 2005, Jill Jensen and Jack Grassel have performed extensively as a duo, delighting audiences with exciting renditions of jazz. “Jack refined his abilities to play melody, harmony and bass lines together, so we're able to get a very big sound for two people,” says Jill. Jack adds, “I've played around 12,000 gigs in my life, 11,000 of them without Jill. Playing the last 1,000 gigs with someone I love adds an extra dimension to the music."
Now with the release of the CD Jack And Jill Jazz, their artistry is fully on display.
Jack and Jill are always interested in traveling (they tour in Mexico each January), and in playing jazz festivals, concerts and fine venues. However they're quick to add that they both love being home in Wisconsin. “We live on a bike trail near beautiful Lake Michigan where we enjoy the drama of the seasons, and family".
Jack, who grew up in Milwaukee, was a performer from practically the beginning of his life. At the age of three he started on accordion, performing on radio and television as part of The Bar O Ranch shows and being featured in concerts when he was four. He also worked as a pianist and bassist but doesn't feel he found his own voice until he switched to guitar. Jack was a professional guitarist by 1970, playing constantly in the studios, for shows and at jazz clubs. He had as many as 20 gigs a week, day and night, seven nights a week. Along the way he studied with George Van Eps for three years (“he showed me how to play octaves in a way that was faster than Wes Montgomery”), Tal Farlow for four years (“I learned most of the techniques that he pioneered including harmonics and polytonality”) and with Jimmy Wyble (“he showed me his contrapuntal technique in which he had two melody lines going simultaneously”). Of his gigs with name artists, Jack is most proud of his duets with Luciano Pavarotti before 10,000 people.
As an educator Grassel has written ten books on guitar techniques. “When I began writing books in 1970, there was little in print to help a guitarist play at the level of a saxophonist or pianist. There aren't guitarists on the historically important jazz recordings. What I've tried to do is take the guitar past its limitations. Every one of my books is designed to push the abilities of guitarists past where they had been.”
Jill was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin. Early on she explored her parent's recordings of jazz, big bands and swing. “In my baby book, my mother wrote that my first sentences were 'Where's the music?' and 'See my pretty dress.' Jack says I'm just taller now. Starting at age one, I sang to my records all day long on my very own player. If guests came over, I'd have to sing for them.” Prior to meeting Jack, Jill had a wide-ranging career that included singing with bands, acting in shows put on by local community theaters, doing narration for city projects, working on videos, TV and radio commercials, and having the musical lead in a cultural exchange play presented in Tbilisi, Georgia (formerly of U.S.S.R.).
Jack remembers how he met Jill, “I didn't know her, but I'd stay up late just to see her in TV commercials. Many years later, she came to one my gigs. I talked with her a little bit but didn't see her again for another ten years until she appeared, same place, at another gig of mine. That time I talked more to her. We started dating and got close. And then I found out that she sang!” They admit wanting to keep the music apart from their relationship. “Jack is such a phenomenal musician that I was afraid to have him hear me and I think he was afraid to hear me sing,” says Jill. “It was six months after we were together before I sang for him. While teaching at The National Guitar workshop in Connecticut, he accompanied me at a recital and that was it.” “When we were finished playing together that first time,” remembers Jack, “I looked at her in thrilled amazement and said 'WE CAN DO THIS!.” “I had goose bumps!” adds Jill. “We both knew it was a profound, life-altering moment for us.”
The growing musical legacy of Jack Grassel and Jill Jensen can best be summed up by a comment made to them recently from a fan: “I've always heard love songs, but the two of you are a love song.”