Santa Cruz native Jesse Scheinin aims to create expansive universe with jazz
Jesse Scheinin doesn’t just want you to dig his music. He wants to swallow you up—to envelop you in wild sights and sweeping sounds.
On the phone from his new home in Harlem, N.Y., the Santa Cruz-born saxophonist and composer explains that he wants his performances to be “an immersive experience,” in which the audience is “surrounded by sound, weird things are going [on] and people are dressed strangely.”
“I really like the Flaming Lips’ performance style,” Scheinin says.
In addition to Wayne Coyne and Co., Scheinin says he is influenced by performers like Andy Kaufman, authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and films like Being John Malkovich.
Listening to Scheinin’s music, which he records under the moniker Jesse and Forever, it makes sense that he would be interested in the aforementioned artists. His tunes are dense and cinematic, as well as flirtatious and quirky.
“Memories,” the lead track from his eponymous debut album, jumps right into the ethereal. A primal, boom-click beat and wailing, reverb-soaked choral refrain of “oohs” and “aahs” sets a spacey, reflective tone, before Scheinin chimes in. “They say the truth will set you free,” he muses. “I don’t agree.”
“Something in the life of mine/Must be a lie,” he continues, seeming to suggest that there is more to the world than can be sensed in an objective way—that there is some deeper meaning always swirling around in the air.
He attempts to convey that feeling on Jesse and Forever closer “Brazil”—a wordless track, reprising the soulful incantations of “Memories,” and allowing Scheinin to speak through his saxophone, which he calls his “inherent natural voice.”
Growing up, Scheinin attended Natural Bridges Elementary School and Pacific Collegiate School. He played clarinet as a child, before moving over to saxophone. He learned a great deal from his teachers at Pacific Collegiate, but Scheinin really cut his teeth at Kuumbwa Jazz. It was there that he took in some of his first jazz concerts, attended summer camp and became a member of the honor band.
Jazz appealed to the young Scheinin in large part because of the limitless and free-flowing world of improvisation. “All of a sudden I could play anything I wanted,” he recalls. “That was a whole ‘nother level of empowerment.”
In Scheinin’s mind, Kuumbwa is a local “institution,” and it seems the nonprofit has a similar respect for the young saxophonist. On its website, Scheinin is identified as “one of the most esteemed alumni of Kuumbwa Jazz’s education programs.”
His last show at the venue was in 2009—back before he graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. Scheinin says he is looking forward to returning with his quartet on Dec. 19.
“I’m pretty excited to come back and play there,” he says. “There aren’t too many venues—even in New York—that compare to Kuumbwa.”
Over the summer, Scheinin tried his hand as a thespian, performing in a one-act play in New York. He says the experience was somewhat transformative, and that it got him thinking a lot more about what he could bring to a performance beyond just music.
He is planning to stretch his newly found theatrical muscles at his upcoming Kuumbwa performance, as well as at the several other California stops he is making during his upcoming tour.
If he succeeds, he thinks the audience will walk away feeling they have seen something truly different. Scheinin says he is aiming “to create a show that you step into it, and it’s otherworldly and you’re in another universe.”
Jesse and Forever plays at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19 at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12/adv, $15/door. For more information, call 427-2227. Photo: Lauren Desberg