Getting Happy with Jenny Lin

When I first heard that Jenny Lin was releasing an album of show tunes, my response wasn't far from the kind of slapstick double-take you might see in, say, an old movie musical.

 Because Jenny is the kind of pianist that other pianists admire for her gravitas, a certain steeliness of mind and fingers that has explored many of the thornier corners of the repertoire.
Jenny plays Messiaen, Cage, Boulez, Pärt, Ligeti, Stockhausen...
Jenny has recorded (superlatively) the complete Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues.

So, show tunes?

You see, I know my show tunes. I was raised on the stuff. The stringent TV-deprivation of my childhood was waived for the annual viewings of Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. When I was a baby, MGM released That's Entertainment, a 50th anniversary compilation of the greatest moments out of its movie musical vault. I cannot tell you how many times, during the first 15 years of my life, my sisters and I watched those videos. Not to mention that a significant number of my childhood afternoons took place at double-feature matinees of old '40s musicals at the beautiful art deco Castro Theater in San Francisco, complete with a live organ show at intermission. In the extremely sheltered environment of my family's alternative reality, Gene Kelley and Judy Garland were superstars in the 1980s. Madonna who?

I also know what I love about show tunes. The gorgeous improbability that surrounds their very existence, the device of exploding a trivial conversation into a virtuoso song-and-dance number. The magic of lyrics and melodies that can express any silly thought at all with an elegance and eloquence that makes your heart soar. The genius of rhyming "bromofizz" with "trouble is" (Guys and Dolls).

I couldn't imagine that Jenny Lin would share my slightly unhealthy fascination with the American musical theater. But clearly there was something about these songs that had compelled her to venture, with her usual musical intensity and commitment, away from her usual musical haunts and down to Tin Pan Alley.

Jenny and I have been ships in the night in recent months. Her new album, Get Happy, has just come out on the Steinway & Sons label, and my new project, Exiles' Cafe, is next in the label's pipeline. So she has been warming the bench for me, in the Sono Luminus studio where we both recorded our projects (giant shout-out to Sono Luminus for their GRAMMY nominations!), and on a promotional circuit of CD release events around the country. But we hadn't met in person until a couple of weeks ago, at a holiday party thrown by Arkiv Music and Listen Magazine. It was a lovely evening, a chance for the Steinway family of pianists to get together and drink too many Manhattans, a sweet launch to the holiday party season.

And I found out that Jenny is not only brainy and sort of intimidatingly profound. She's also very funny, in a dry-witted way, and that she does in fact have her own very compelling reasons for making this record. And the record is, happily, really good!