Interview with R&B, Pop Singer, Songwriter JENNA Nation
Today on What On What’s Good, I’m here with R&B POP singing sensation JENNA Nation. After hearing “Givin’ U Up”, I thought I would reach out for a quick conversation. In our #cinqque5tion interview, we discuss her musical background, influences, training, singing for the Prime Minister of Canada, and more. Other songs by JENNA Nation include Slow Down, Break Your Heart, Infinite Love, Can’t Get Over You, You Don’t Know, Forever Feat. Fame Holiday, Drunk And Dreamin’, Killer Love, Deep In Love, I Love It and It’s You.
1. Can you tell us a little about how you were introduced to music?
Music has always been an important part of my life. Ever since I can remember I have been singing and enjoyed listening to music of all kinds. I am fortunate that I also come from a very musical family. My mom and I used to sing together when I was very young. Music was often playing in the house or car. As a child, I would often put on shows for family and friends. Singing, dancing, playing the piano, or performing in some capacity.
My grandmother is a classical pianist so she would often play for my sister and I as children. Often Disney songs so that we could sing along. My grandfather being in the music industry and dabbling on various instruments exposed us to a lot of different styles of music. I started piano lessons at the age of 4. Learning to read music and understand basic theory and then shortly after that began singing lessons.
2. Could you describe the training you received?
I have had the privilege to study under some incredible teachers who have really inspired me, challenged me, and helped to mold me into the artist that I am today. Over the years, I took lessons in voice, piano, saxophone, and music theory. In addition, I attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston from where I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance. I had the opportunity to study various different styles from classical/opera, jazz, pop, musical theatre, and world music. Over the years, I entered many competitions and the preparation and practice routines for those were very rigorous. I have many fond memories of my training.
3. Any fun memories?
Some of my favourite moments were often when I had breakthroughs in my own learning and vocal abilities. Before starting voice lessons I had a natural belt tone but no head tone voice (falsetto). My vocal coach at the time helped me to make that sound and be able to sing in that register and eventually with the same power as my belt tone. I also worked with a very talented jazz pianist who received his Masters’ from the New England Conservatory and he accompanied me for a lot of my first gigs and competitions.
He was really the first person who introduced me to jazz on a deeper level. I remember him giving me homework studying and listening to the jazz greats and then having me try to imitate and transcribe what they did such as the phrasing and inflections of people like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Blossom Dearie, and Peggy Lee as just a few examples. After having begun to develop these skills, he had me take the song and make it my own by adding my interpretations as well as improvise solos over the chords.
4. Did you have any challenges?
I remember improvising being very difficult even daunting at first but over the years it became easier and I learned that soloing is more like having a conversation then trying to fit everything you know into a solo. I also really enjoyed my Berklee experience. It was amazing to be immersed in music all of the time surrounded by people from all over the world who loved music just as much as me. I learned so much not only from my professors but also from my peers. I had the chance to really experiment with not only my sound but various styles and my songwriting.
5. You started with classical music/opera/jazz and transitioned to R&B/Pop. Would you say that the preparation is the same or different? Please describe.
I really have explored and studied various genres over the years. It has definitely had an impact on my own voice and style. I take a little piece of everything that I have learned and have incorporated that knowledge into my own music and artistry. There are definitely differences between the various genres in terms of the training or approach (i.e. vocal and stylistic choices).
Overall, I would say it is always important to warm up the voice before singing and to continue to practice. That is the same for all genres. It is also important to take care of your vocal cords and vocal health is the same across all genres. My classical training really taught me how to use my instrument (i.e. power, breath control, where to get the sound), take care of my voice, and expand my range. Jazz training taught me how to play with vocal tone and vibrato, phrasing, rhythm, improvise, and make a song my own.
Musical theatre showed me how to dive into the story of a song and understand the character. It also helped me learn to capture an audience and take them on a journey. R&B/Pop has incorporated a mix of some of the things listed above but also allowed me to explore my writing and sound as an artist.
5. You performed for the Prime Minister of Canada. Can you walk us through what it was like that day?
I began performing professionally at the age of nine. I had been doing a lot of singing competitions from a young age and people in the audience would sometimes approach me about other performance opportunities. My first gigs were mostly with the Government, often singing the national anthem at meetings and important events. At 10, I was asked to perform the national anthem (a cappella) for the Parks Canada “True To Our Nature” Historic Ceremony in front of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien as well as many Senators, Members of Parliament and invited dignitaries.
The purpose of the ceremony was to announce the creation of 10 new national parks across Canada. It was the first time I felt any nerves because I recognized the importance of this event and with a room full of very important people. I had my pitch pipe backstage and I kept blowing into it making sure I had the right starting note. I took a deep breath and went onto the stage. Once I started singing I saw a lot of smiling faces proud to be hearing their national anthem being sung (in English and French) from a young person.
After the ceremony, I had the chance to meet the Prime Minister and take a picture with him. I didn’t really know what to say to him as I was still somewhat nervous but he was very appreciative of my being there and thanked me for singing. It was definitely an exciting and memorable day in my career.
6. Just for fun. Which artists influenced your career?
I listen to and have been exposed to a lot of different music. I have always had a love for jazz and many of the jazz greats have influenced my music such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Blossom Dearie, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, and Judy Garland. Aside from Disney movies, Judy Garland was actually one of the first people that really inspired me to sing.
My parents introduced me to a lot of old school soul and Motown music and that has greatly influenced me such as Stevie Wonder (one of my all-time favourites), Earth Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, and Diana Ross. I also fell in love with 90’s R&B and I still listen to that often to this day such as Brandy, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Monica, TLC, Blackstreet, and Mint Condition. Michael Jackson is another one of my favourite artists as well and I really connect with him because I value his attention to detail not only in his delivery of the song but also in his performance, as well as his innovation and perfectionism.
I have also been greatly influenced by Neo-Soul artists such as Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Joss Stone, Bilal, and D’Angelo. That music is just such feel-good music and it can be very poetic. And lastly, I am inspired by current artists such as Alicia Keys, H.E.R., Bruno Mars, Chris Brown, Ella Mai, and Kehlani.
7. Could you name a song that inspires you?
When I saw the original “Wizard of Oz” with Judy Garland and she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” I was captivated by her voice, and performance. She has always been a big inspiration to me because no matter what she went through in her life she gave everything to her audience and left it on the stage. Her performances were always so sincere and heartfelt and I really look up to her for that because it is something that I try to do every time I sing and perform.
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is probably one of my favourite songs just because I think it is such a beautiful song, and it was one of the first records other than a Disney song that I really loved to sing as a child. The meaning of the song is also very uplifting as it is all about hope and hearing or singing the song always makes me feel good.