Mtl Times in conversation with Grammy Award Winner Jennifer Gasoi
Jennifer Gasoi – She is genuine, driven and has the talent to match. Jennifer Gasoi is a singer, songwriter and producer living in Montreal, who has more than a few awards and accolades to her credit – including a 2014 Grammy award for Best Children’s Album. She is foremost an accomplished musician who studied classical piano for 12 years and later studied jazz voice, piano and composition. It is why she is not only popular with children, but with adults as well.
Jennifer’s musical journey began when she was all of four years old. She was shopping with her mother when they went into a local toy store where she spotted a small piano. It was the first time she even touched one, but with an innate and rare talent, her fingers hit the keys and immediately started playing her favourite songs by ear. Her mother was ‘floored’. By the next year they bought a real piano and that’s when Jennifer discovered she also loved to sing. It is clear she had a calling.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jennifer to discuss her music and accomplishments and to find out a little more about her. I arrived at her office, filled with a bright and natural light – matched only by the warm and contagious smile I was greeted with. We soon sat down and eased into a very open and frank discussion:
“You were born in Vancouver and first came to Montreal in the mid-90’s to pursue a degree in Arts at McGill University and received your degree in 1996, yet you decided to go back to Vancouver for five years only to return again in 2002. Why was that?”
JG: Well, I was done with my degree and felt I was missing something, I was ready to do something different. During my last year at McGill I took a vocal jazz choir class with Ranee Lee and I fell in love with jazz. I had a one line solo in ‘Body & Soul’ and something in me said ‘you have to pursue music as a career’… so I called my parents and said (laughing), ‘Guess what? I’m going to become a musician!’ And so I moved back and studied jazz in Vancouver (at Capilano University).
Music has been in Jennifer’s heart from the start. She has a great ear and is able to play anything she hears. At first she never really imagined pursuing music as a career because as she said, ‘I come from a very conservative family, where you get a job… you’re a teacher or a lawyer… you know.’
JG: I have a calling in my heart… I have to pursue it, so I decided to go back to learn jazz composition, writing, piano, vocals and I studied for two years. Afterwards, I just wanted to go perform, so I just went out and got every performance I possibly could.
Back in Montreal in 2002, she began to play regularly at the Upstairs Jazz Bar and still performs there every so often.
JG: The first time I ever went there, I talked to Joel (the owner) and I said ‘I’d like a gig here’ and he said ‘play something’, so I played one of my kid’s songs… and he said ‘Okay, you’re hired!’ When I gigged there, I would do jazz and all kinds of stuff, but I would always play a couple of my kid’s songs… and adults loved them.
“With all your jazz and classical training, why did you decide to get into music for children, how did that come about?”
JG: Well, like everything in life… life sometimes has other plans for us. I was expecting to become a ‘jazz/pop’ artist like a Nora Jones or Diana Krall, I was going for that. But as I was doing it I was also teaching children music and always had a connection with them – it was so natural. I was intuitively writing music for kids… and I started to realize they were my best songs! The other songs were good, but the kid’s songs were really special. Way back at the end of the 90’s, I made a tape of 5 songs and sent it to my little cousin in Montreal, she was six years old. Her mom called me and said, ‘Listen, she hasn’t stopped playing those songs for two weeks straight… have you considered making a kids album?’ And that’s when the seed was planted.
When Jennifer moved back to Montreal in 2002, she arrived with just a suitcase in hand and no instruments but started writing songs regardless, only later adding music to them – and they ended up being the songs on her critically acclaimed, first children’s album, ‘Songs for You’, released in 2004.
It was nominated for a 2005 Juno Award for ‘Children’s Album of the Year’ and Jennifer also received the ‘2004 Gold Parent’s Choice Award’ and was nominated for ‘Outstanding Children’s Album’ at the 2004 Western Canadian Music Awards. On July 3rd 2004, Jennifer’s song ‘Butterfly’ took the #1 spot on CBC’s ‘Definitely Not the Opera’ fan’s countdown.
JG: A lot of my inspiration is from Montreal, it has been my main muse. It’s really fed me creatively and has been an incredible catalyst for my evolution and elevation, as an artist.
Between 2004 and 2011 it was really about some soul searching for Jennifer, diving deep into who she was as an artist and gathering material for her next project. In 2013 she released her second children’s album ‘Throw a Penny in The Wishing Well’ – the critically acclaimed 2014 Grammy Award winner.
JG: ‘Throw a Penny in The Wishing Well’ was sort of an autobiography of my journey during those years to get to that point… learning about life, learning about all kinds of things. How to express yourself, how to live outside of the box, how to do your own thing, how to be okay with who you are… all of those messages, they all show up on that album. And I also started to really develop the strength and the idea of everything is possible, like you can do so much more than you think you can, your mind is such a limiting factor and I decided to open myself up completely to that.
She certainly did something right and was right on track because that album not only garnished her a coveted award, but many accolades as well. It also received a nomination for a Juno award, but it seems Canada missed the boat on that one. In 2016 she released ‘Blue and Red Make Purple: A Musical Journey with Jennifer Gasoi’ – a Book/CD with Illustrator Steve Adams and published with Roland Stringer of Secret Mountain Publisher, which received a ‘Parent Choice Gold Award’ and NAAPA award.
“Beside the Book/CD, what have you been up to since 2014?”
JG: Since I won the Grammy, I did a lot of press and there was a lot of excitement and offers and things. I was exhausted, so I took a little break and just kind of regrouped and started re-crafting – ‘What are the next steps? What do I want now?’, because I kind of achieved the ultimate goal of what I’d been going for. So now we get to today, which is really the fruits of all of that. I’m starting to branch out and I’m starting a YouTube series (soon to be launched), doing a lot of writing and working on a new project, but where my heart really is now, is how can I make a positive impact in the world? How can I create the biggest reach possible?
“Tell me a little more about the YouTube series. You recently put up a ‘sneak peek’ video and it looks like fun…”
JG: My YouTube series is very DIY (Do It Yourself)… sweet, honest – like talking to the kids, playing songs, offering a mindful moment, basically offering them some tools for living. I talk about love, generosity, kindness, compassion and glow… what does it mean to ‘glow’ within your heart – all of these kind of little, subtle messages in a a 2-3 minute video. I offer them a little gem… and then I sing a song!
“I have one more question about the Grammys… Cyndi Lauper called out your name and presented you with the award, how was that for you?”
JG: I love her… it was a really brief encounter but it was so sweet, she just hugged me and said ‘I’m so happy for you’… she got the vibe. I was the second one announced from 90 categories and I was the first one there to accept an award (live on stage) the whole thing was miraculous, every divine moment. It just culminated and was really exciting.
“Any last words?”
JG: I’m in a creation mode and for me, things tend to take time… I really feel there is so much content out there in the world and I want to deliver something special… from my heart that feels full of integrity, so be patient with me… come on the journey, visit me on my website and I’ll keep you posted!
And so, our conversation came to an end. We took a few pictures and Jennifer prepared a short musical video for our Montreal Times readers – so check it out!
As bright as her star already is, it’s just starting to shine – and will only get brighter.
To get a ‘sneak peek’ of Jennifer’s YouTube series go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMW0BxlZuck
For more information, visit her website at: www.jennifergasoi.com
CD’s are available for digital download on iTunes, you can also buy the full CD on cdbaby.com or purchase them at her shows.