Jeff Pearlman

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Jennifer Hanson

#187
The pride of Flin Flon didn't write "Leave the Pieces." But she's a superb singer with an appreciation of Tupac, a warning about musicians (Don't sleep with them!) and an ability to insert "Pepe Le peu" into national anthems. POSTED December 30, 2014

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This is sort of weird to admit, but a couple of months ago I found myself obsessed by Leave the Pieces, the seven-year-old country song performed by The Wreckers.

I originally heard the tune on Pandora, and it stuck. I bought it on iTunes and played it and played it and played it. Hells, I played it so often that I reached out to both members of The Wreckers—Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp—to be Quazed.

Sadly, neither responded.

Then I took it to the next level. “Leave the Pieces” was written by Jennifer Hanson, a singer/songwriter with her own website. I contacted her, and immediately heard back.

Good news: Yes, she’d love to be Quazed.

Bad news: She wasn’t that Jennifer Hanson.

Why, this Jennifer Hanson didn’t even know “Leave the Pieces.”  But then, in the strange way life often works, this Jennifer Hanson turned out to be (I’m guessing) better than that Jennifer Hanson. She’s a singer and a songwriter. She’s Canadian. She has an amazing voice, she appreciates Tupac, she’s a jazz singer who doesn’t love Miles Davis, she croons in 1,001 languages, Simon Le Bon didn’t impress her, she danced (badly) for Pete Townsend.

One can visit Jennifer’s website here.

Jennifer Hanson (not to be confused with Jennifer Hanson), welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jennifer, I’ve done more than 185 of these Q&As, and this is a first. I e-mailed you because I thought you were the songwriter Jennifer Hanson who wrote “Leave the Pieces.” Instead, you’re the songwriter who didn’t write “Leave the Pieces.” Which makes me want to start with these two questions: 1. How often is this mistake made? 2. What do you think of the song “Leave the Pieces”? 3. Have you ever met your name sister, Jennifer Hanson?

JENNIFER HANSON: This mistake is made every few days, I sell approximately 20 CDs/downloads a month, then get e-mails telling me they made a mistake but like my music. Truth is, I’ve never heard the song, “Leave the Pieces.” Should I?

As for the other Jennifer, I have never met her, but I’ve tried to get her people to sort out all the websites where we are mistaken for one another. I am mentioned on Wikipedia, however, on her page where it says not to be confused with the Canadian jazz singer of the same name!

 

J.P.: You’re a jazz singer. I’m gonna be totally honest—I’ve never loved jazz, in the way I’ve never loved wine. People will say, “Just try this glass of so-and-so! It’s from 1943 and the flavor just …” And it never works. People will say, “Just listen to Miles Davis on this track …” And it never works. Jennifer, what am I missing? And what do you love about jazz?

J.H.: I’m not really into Miles Davis either, I keep wondering, where’s the singing? I’m not actually a jazz singer, it’s just part of my job. I also pretend to like wine. I think what I like is great singers singing great songs. Frank Sinatra singing “Fly Me to the Moon,” Julie London singing “Cry Me a River,” Chet Baker singing “Embraceable You,” and Johnny Hartman singing “Lush Life.” Most people consider those songs jazz in the same way they consider me a jazz singer. It’s really just the popular music of that time … the top 40, if you will. Jazz instrumental music is a fairly small audience that I do occasionally like, but I’m a lover of music with lyrics.

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J.P.: This, from your bio: “Jennifer is one of the few singers in the Southeast who sings extensively in French and also in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. She also knows the anthems of at least 10 countries, just in case.” Um … I’ve gotta ask. How, and why?

J.H.: Well, to answer in order: 1. I make more money, because most people won’t take the time it takes to learn a few songs in other languages; 2. I come from Flin Flon, Manitoba, where hockey is what holds the community together. We’ve had many different countries play hockey there, and my sister and I sang the anthems which included whatever country happened to be playing; 3. Getting out of one’s comfort zone and putting yourself out there is what singers do. Learning the songs from other countries is definitely out of the comfort zone and a way to broaden horizons, even if it’s for the two people in the audience who might speak Portuguese and know who Antonio Carlos Jobim is.

J.P.: What’s your journey? Like, womb to now, how did you know you’d become a singer? Where’s the love of music from? How did it develop? When did you say, ‘This is what I’ll do with my life?’

J.H.: I come from a huge family that did two things—read books and play music. We still sing whenever we get together. My older sister Susan was the first one in our family to become a professional singer, and I wanted to be just like her. I never had an “Ah ha!” moment, I have always just been a singer. I don’t think we always make a choice, it happens by osmosis. I was immersed in music from birth and I hate getting up early. A no-brainer was to live the music life.

J.P.: Your debut CD came out in 1999, and you won a Prairie Music Award (Canada) for best jazz recording. I’m a writer, and I’ve always felt writing awards are kinda bullshit. I mean, who’s to say one story is better than another. I feel that way about music, too. Agree? Disagree? And where is your Prairie as we speak?

J.H.: It would be even more embarrassing since I think I wrote half of three songs on the album. It was for jazz recording, and it was a very small category, and I really think the other guys should have won. I hate awards of any kind because music, like writing, is personal, and different kinds appeal to different people. And Britney Spears has won how many Grammy Awards? [Answer: Just one] Is that really a club I need to be a part of? My prairie is Manitoba which is a beautiful, haunting, cold and culturally totally awesome place.

J.P.: When I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was have sex with a singer. There’s just something soooo appealing about that particular talent. However, I don’t have that particular talent. So I wonder—do you get it? And, as a singer, do you look at other singers and feel that tug? That pull? That ping in the heart?

J.H.: Having dated other singers, I can say that there’s no pixie dust that rubs off on you like you think. We have huge egos and criminally low self esteem, so you’re taking the chance that the experience will be all about them. I like to think I’m more well adjusted than that, but I haven’t always been. Singers (and any proficient musicians) make music very sexual, and yes, singers feel that, which is why we’re able to translate it to the audience. It makes us feel exactly the way you think it would. I met David Bowie one time and I have to say, he had some serious mojo magic around him—a tangible aura. I also met Simon Le Bon, who was clearly famous and looked great, but didn’t have it so much.

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J.P.: You’ve sang the national anthem at many NHL games. What are the vocal complexities of anthem singing? Is it an easy gig? Scary? And have you ever messed one up?

J.H.: The American anthem is the hardest, it has a huge range which is why it’s almost never sung live in the really big games. It’s too easy to fuck it up. It’s terrifying being in front of 20,000 people with no band to hide behind. Some singers can handle it, others cannot. I sang for the Winnipeg Jets from 1989-96, and I enjoyed it because I truly loved the team. I also was young enough to take the stress. The hockey club also treated me very well and I was there when we lost the team, so I was totally invested. Those things make the difference between a passionate anthem, and someone singing as many notes as they can get into one phrase just to show off.

J.P.: You’ve clearly had a great career. But you’re not a household name, a la Katy Perry or Lady Gaga. Did you ever crave fame? Do you crave fame? Does it at all bother you how so many musical lightweights become superstars, and so many true talents linger in the shadows a bit?

J.H.: I’ve had a great career because I’ve always made a living playing music. I thought I wanted fame, because it’s what you’re supposed to want. I went though a period in my late 30s when I kind of mourned that I wouldn’t have a bigger career, and then I got over it. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, because one thing shouldn’t define us, even if we’re really good at it.  Also, when I met my husband and had kids, I didn’t want to be the kind of mother who kept going on tour. I took my kids a few times then realized I couldn’t do both. So I made the choice to be with my family and bloom where I was planted.

Does it bother me when lightweights make it? It used to, when jealousy played into my low self esteem. I don’t watch music reality TV or award shows because it doesn’t mean anything to me, and the really good singers on American Idol haven’t had the opportunity to spend thousands of hours learning good stage presence. So their shows are very planned and staged so that there’s no worry of dead space or a joke that failed or any real intimacy with the crowd. If you’ve ever watched the Banksy documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop you can understand how most artists feel about art and shit that’s marketed to the masses tarted up as art.

J.P.: I love hip-hop. Love, love, love it. You sing jazz and standards from the 1930s and 40s, among other things. I wonder, do you get rap? Can you appreciate a Tupac song? A Jay-Z tune? Do you even consider it music?

J.H.: What I like about rap is that it’s roots are really and truly organic, people will make music in whatever way they can. In the case of rap and hip hop, I think it came out of the absolute lack of arts in the schools and communities, so people just used what they had—their rhythm, their muscle memory of generations of music, their turntables, which became instruments. How frickin’ cool is that?

I heard the Eminem song with Rhianna, and he sounded like a pissed off white guy, so I don’t really get that. But Tupac, he was speaking for a generation, I appreciate him as an artist. I don’t listen to a lot of rap-right now—it just seems like it’s a contest of who can be the baddest motherfucker  and be the hippest (Is that even a word anymore?) representation of their generation. Now my kids are talking about trap, which I keep calling tarp just to piss them off. But I do get it.

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J.P.: I would love to hear the stories of your greatest on-stage moment and your lowest. Please …

J.H.: My greatest stage moment has not been the tours of Europe with the pop groups or the big audiences, but two moments. My second favorite is when I sang with my church choir at a contest called, “How Sweet the Sound”—which was a national contest. We did not win, and we were probably the only white choir and I bitched for weeks about it because I was worried that we would have our butts handed to us on a plate. From the moment we started the song, “Oh Happy Day,” the crowd went nuts and I was the soloist and the judges were famous gospel singers and I pulled out my best gospel chops, and it was so much fun. Everyone was  really accepting and joyful. And I was reminded once again that it’s just about the music. It’s always got to be about the music.

My favorite moment was a party I played at with my family rock band, The Hanson Sisters, about six years ago. We were playing in our hometown and it was a party for a hockey tournament and there were a bunch of ex-NHL players there from our hometown—Bobby Clarke, Gerry Hart, Jordy Douglas, etc. And there were probably 1,000 people there, and we could just feel the love and the joy that the audience had for this great weekend, and the fact that we love our community, and hockey, and the energy coming from the audience just about blew us off stage. It was a tangible energy that hopefully every musician gets to experience in his/her career.

The worst one is not really singing. I tried out for the musical Tommy. Pete Townsend was there and liked my voice so I was told he wanted to hear me one more time. I showed up to really give it my all and then they told me I had to dance for him.

Think Elaine in Seinfeld. Dancing for Pete Townsend.

He made excuses for me to the choreographer because he liked my singing. It was excruciating to have to dance for one of the most famous rock stars in the world. I got the part but was told I had to move the next week so they could teach me how to dance. I didn’t take it. I hate dancing.

I have dozens of embarrassing moments by the way—this one still haunts me. I was singing the anthem in Atlanta for the Thrashers because the Canadiens were in town and I thought I would sing the Canadian anthem in both French and English. I started in French and then just forgot the words, so I inserted the words, “Pepe Le peu,” into the phrase and then went into the English part. I actually hoped the ice would open and I could just disappear into Valhalla or wherever it is that mortified singers go … at least the non-French speaking people didn’t know.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JENNIFER HANSON:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Debbie Gibson, Jonas Salk, Nick Jonas, Davey Lopes, mango salad, Venice Beach, Ikea, Richard Dawson, Toronto, the knuckleball, your left foot, Diet Sprite: You’re weird. But here I go … My left foot (my hi hat foot—I play drums), Toronto (the band not the city), Mango salad, Venice Beach, IKEA, Jonas Salk, the knuckleball, Richard Dawson (only for The Running Man), Davey Lopes (baseball?), Debbie Gibson, Nick Jonas, Diet Sprite

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes, I recall thinking (it was a small plane with an open cockpit), “Why is the pilot flipping madly through the manual? This can’t be good. Please Jesus, don’t let this really smelly man sitting beside me crush me to death.”

• One question you would ask Doug Flutie were he here right now?: Can we be in a band together?

• The inside of your car smells like …: Something piney from Yankee candle or some crap like that with a soupçon of old coffee.

• You’re offered $200,000 to take all of Snoop Dogg’s songs and adapt them to jazz. You in?: Absolutely, could I do what I like with the other $180,000? Would I have to swear?  Isn’t he called snoop lion or something now?

• In exactly 26 words, please offer your take on the band Hanson: I have no idea what they do now but I think we may be related. They are blond and Scandinavian. I am sometimes blond and Scandinavian.

• Why do you believe prayer does/doesn’t work?: Of course prayer works. Not for winning games, but for joy and everyday peace.

• I’m Jewish. The other day I accidentally ate some bacon bits. Now I feel awful. What should I do to atone?: What would Jesus do? (He was Jewish)

• I know some people who think Mike Trout is better than Rickey Henderson in his prime. I consider that ludicrous. Your thoughts?: Rickey Henderson was more handsome and charming. Those are my only requirements for professional baseball players.

• Five greatest female vocalists of your lifetime?: Mahalia Jackson. Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Julie London, my sister Susan.

  • Shannon McKenney

    What a great interview! I actually learned a few new things about you Jennifer! All the best in 2015!!!

  • Sanford Sklansky

    good interview,but I think she is wrong about Henderson

  • Mark Janda

    Another good one, Jeff. You had me at Flin Flon. I saw it on a map once and always thought being a FlinFlonian (or whatever they call it) would be kinda fun for a week or so.

  • otto2

    The Quaz in general is awesome. I am surprised a large media group hasn’t picked this up. After awhile I can predict what a lot of writers and commentators are going to say before they say it while almost every Quaz has something interesting/funny/unique in it.
    Kudos to Jeff for finding these people.

  • rich

    Flin Flon Manitoba’s greatest export is Hockey Hall of Famer and the greatest leader of men Bobby Clarke. His story would make a great Quaz.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life