Angelic, passionate, soulful. Jodi Walker lights up a stage whether performing solo, in a duet with husband Dave Walker, alongside the breathtaking voices of Jenny Bienemann and/or Naomi Ashley, or in the talented company of The Significant Others. This round-the-clock mom and professional speech pathologist graces the stage of the Friendly Music Community every month, sharing her gifts and introducing the audience to top-notch musicians. Jodi was kind enough to participate in an online interview, so fans like me could learn a little about herself and her art.
* How did you get started in music?
I sang in choruses as a youngster; in high school I was in a vocal jazz group with three other girls. We arranged our own harmonies, and I learned so much about harmony by using my ear. After college I sang at open mics here and there; at 26 I met my husband and began performing in Atlanta with his accompaniment on guitar. We then moved to New York where he attended music school, and during those ten years we performed in NYC and on Long Island with jazz ensembles and a large party cover band. We moved to Oak Park in 2009; within the next few years I began writing and playing mandolin.
* Who were your influences?
I grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkel, classic rock groups such as The Who, progressive rock groups like Yes and I was especially drawn to powerful women musicians such as Stevie Nicks and Bonnie Raitt. In high school I got really interested in jazz and listened to a ton of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. After college I was obsessed with Nina Simone and Nancy Wilson. Most of my current influences are local songwriters including Jenny Bienemann, Naomi Ashley, Cheryl Tomblin, Ron Lazzeretti and the late great James McCandless.
* What's your favorite part of performing?
Collaborating with other musicians, listening to my songs fleshed out by the insanely talented people I play with, and singing back up harmonies
* What's something surprising about you?
I am very socially awkward in new situations and I consider myself to be introverted. I love people but I also love love love my alone time.
* Do you have a special Friendly memory/performance?
There are so many; it's hard to choose. The Friendly Folk Festivals and What the Folk shows stand out for sure. In particular, I feel very honored to have been present for the Lopardo family's set several years back at the Friendly Folk Festival. Glorious harmonies and power vocals soaring through the space until you thought the roof might blow off.
* What should potential Friendly visitors know about the Night of 1000 Stars show?
We are so fortunate to have this night every month! Rob basically said, "Come on in and do whatever," and we took that very seriously. Every month we feature two performers - usually a solo singer-songwriter and a small ensemble. We feature local artists from the Oak Park/Berwyn area primarily but have also had folks in from the Westside and Northside, from Door County, WI where we also perform, and occasionally from as far as New York. And as to genre, you never know what you might find: we've had folk, free jazz, hip-hop, roots rock; basically if we see an act we love we ask them to come play. The night always finishes up with our band The Significant Others which features the original songs of Robin Bienemann, Jenny Bienemann and me with an occasional Dave Walker or Cheryl Tomblin original thrown in for good measure. It's a ton of fun and we also raise money via the tip jar each month to support Kidz Express, which is an after school program in Austin. Last year we were able to buy a number of guitars and sheet music for our volunteer music lesson program.
* I love the song "Listen" from Broken Bubble. Can you tell me how that song came about? Did the lyrics or music come first?
I'm so glad you asked about that song! I have been involved for about 20 years in a process called Community Building developed by the late Dr. M. Scott Peck in the late 1980's. For the past 7 years I have built community with a fabulous poet named Joe DeMars out of Minneapolis. Joe brought a poem called "Listen" to one of our workshops several years ago and I fell in love with it. I took the poem and wrote some music around it to create the song. And I'm not the only one! There is another version of that song out there being performed in churches in Minneapolis.
A Fan's Two Cents: Jodi mentioned that her style of music is a hybrid of jazz, folk, and soul. When listening to her songs, that description is right on. Pieces like "Alone Together" and "Don't Explain" offer the soothing, seductive vibe of jazz, while "Grumpy" (from the album Petulance) presents upbeat, playful folk. And then there's "Listen," a song that I choose for open road night drives, cranked high so that my own sorry voice is drowned out by Jodi's melodious sound (my apologies to my most recent passenger and Michigan friend Kiki, who loved this tune more when she heard it without my harmony). Dim the lights and take a "listen" for yourselves.