When the Detroit News named her one of the top twenty high school graduates in the arts in all of Michigan a decade ago, the young saxophone player Janelle Reichman gave her career plans simply as “musician.” By then she was enrolled at the music conservatory at the University of Cincinnati, but the groundwork for her future was set in Ann Arbor, by Mike Grace at Community High and private mentoring by multi-instrumentalist Vincent York.
At the time her goals might have seemed somewhat unrealistic. But Reichman moved on to New York, where she obtained a master’s degree three years ago at the Manhattan School of Music. This was an inspired choice. With a solid musical education and much performance experience, she was able to study with saxophonists Steve Wilson, Bob Mintzer, and Dick Oatts. All three are well-trained perfectionists who have deep harmonic knowledge and have invested years in developing individual instrumental voices.
In jazz, first-rate musical training all too often produces bland competence. Not in Reichman’s case, however: by force of talent and personality, she took full advantage of the knowledge and experience of her stellar teachers, building on the inspired early training she received from her Ann Arbor tutors. As a result, only a few years after landing in New York, Reichman has become a busy player, leading her own groups and very much in demand as a sidewoman.
In New York, Reichman regularly plays with two orchestras, the well-established all-woman DIVA, as well as with a big band led by Noriko Ueda, DIVA’s bass player. She is also a regular member of the modern jazz combo Fiveplay and of the Redhook Ramblers, which looks back in time, re-creating New Orleans music. In addition to playing in others’ combos, Reichman has just released her first recording as a leader, Middleground.
The title aptly describes her concept–tthis is complex but melodious modern jazz. A few years ago she came home to play at the Firefly Club and impressed many listeners. She has a rich, deep-toned voice on the tenor saxophone, which she plays with an easy virtuosity. Equally at home with the clarinet, she is never flashy, using her impressive technique to weave lines that are harmonically and rhythmically complex but always melodic. Some time ago an avant-garde saxophonist told me that he admired the older swing-era musicians because they seemed to play as if they were having a conversation or telling stories. For all its modern complexity, Reichman’s solos are just like that–they follow a line, sometimes trekking back, sometimes taking side roads, but ultimately getting there by creating unique architectural structures.
Janelle Reichman has chosen to come home to the Kerrytown Concert House for her CD release concert on August 26 with a stellar group: Paul Finkbeiner, trumpet, Tad Weed, piano, Paul Keller, bass, and Pete Siers, drums.