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Riding a wave of new exposure, Jill Jack making birthday stop at The Ark
04 January, 2011
Ann Arbor.com - Kevin Ransom
Singer-songwriter Jill Jack has been well-known on the Detroit / Ann Arbor music scene for more than a dozen years, and has definitely made an impression: She’s won 27 Detroit Music Awards in a litany of categories — Outstanding Vocalist, Outstanding Recording, Outstanding Acoustic / Folk Songwriter, etc., etc. But lately, she’s getting more exposure than ever. She recently “performed” to her biggest audience ever, and she’s about to become a regular presence in a TV commercial. In November, she sang the national anthem at a Detroit Pistons game at the Palace of Auburn Hills — which, with it’s seating capacity of about 20,000, is considerably larger than the clubs that Jack typically plays. “And they won!,” says Jill Jack. “That was an awesome experience, seeing people’s faces when you’re singing that song. It was very moving.” She says she hopes to sing the anthem at a few more Pistons games this season, and is working on doing the same at some Detroit Tigers games this year as well. And on January 11, BelieveInDetroit.org is launching a public-service campaign that includes TV and radio ads that features Jack singing the campaign’s theme song, “I’m a Believer” (not the old Monkees song, but a new song, written and produced by Jack, about believing in Detroit). The campaign will also include billboards. “It’s to raise awareness about “how everyone can pitch in and change the negative attitude many people have about Detroit,” says Jack, who comes to The Ark on Saturday with a full band. The show is being billed as the “Jill Jack Birthday Bash,” but Jack says that this is “not a milestone birthday.” She’s performed at the Ark on her birthday (January 8) for the last few years, “so I guess it’s becoming a tradition,” she says. “I think it’s a good time to have a show — people are ready to come back out again after the holidays, and we get a good turnout,” says Jack, who grew up in Huntington Woods but has lived in Ferndale for many years. Although this gig is a birthday celebration, Jack is coy about revealing her age. “I used to tell writers my age, though, so if you really want to know, you can go online and find some old stories, and figure it out,” she jokes. Jack’s most recent album, the acclaimed “Songwriter Sessions,” was released late last year, after being recorded live in April ’09 at the Hartland Music Hall, in Hartland. None of the songs had ever been released before in studio form, but she’d written them over a period of 15 years. “They just didn’t seem to ‘fit’ on my previous albums,” she says. And the emphasis of the performance / recording was on songwriting itself. Before each song, she told the audience what had inspired the song, in storytelling fashion. “People always ask where the songs came from, so I thought that would be an interesting thing to do,” says Jack, whose music is an organic, heartfelt, lively mix of folk, roots-rock and country styles. As for recording it live: “I just prefer the energy of a live performance, compared to recording in a studio,” says Jack. When it comes to songwriting, Jack never blocks out a two- or three-hour period to just sit down with a guitar and write songs. “I’ve never really had a three-hour block open," she says with a laugh: “I was a single parent for a while, and for several of the years I’ve been performing music, I’ve also had a day job (she’s presently a part-time administrative assistant at an accounting firm). “So the songs have always just come to me spontaneously. For a while, if a lyric or melody came to me, I would sing it into my cell phone, but usually now if something comes into my mind, I will write it down on a napkin, or a back of an envelope, or if I have one, a sheet of paper. And I just remember the melody until I can get home and record it. It’s pretty unstructured.” Jack presently has a lot of balls in the air. In addition to her work on the Believe In Detroit campaign and her live shows, she’s recently written about five songs that she says “will work together” for her next album, which she guesses will come out in late 2011. “I think for some of the other songs, I want to co-write with some other people, because I’ve been in that collaborative mood lately.” Plus, she is executive producer of a planned movie based on her song, “Rosie,” from her first album, “Watch Over Me” (’97). That song was about an older woman, “who I sort of pictured as having been a nurse’s aide during the war (WWII), and who later opened a bar, and was petite, but she was a real pistol, who could still kick your butt.” But the script is shaping up to be more about how women came to join the work force in great numbers during the war. Additionally, local photographer Dee Carpenter has created a series of cards and prints of her own photographs that also feature lyrics to some of Jack’s songs. “I’m always thinking of new ways of expanding what I do,” says Jack. “I guess I could continue just focusing on writing songs and performing and releasing records, but I often just feel like I want to change myself. I don’t want to get lazy. “I think it’s good for all of us to get out of our comfort zones, and challenge ourselves.”

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