Music is the vehicle that’s been driving Jenna McSwain’s whole life. It picked her up before she
could even talk and drove her at the age of four to get out from behind the pew of her Charleston
church and share her songs with the congregation. It drove her to lead her three sisters to perform
spirituals throughout the South Carolina lowcountry and to study hard. By the time she was
attending high school at the Charleston County School of the Arts, she was playing piano and
singing professionally in esteemed Charleston music venues. And the music kept driving – a
trusty, yet relentless old carriage with a strong engine and faulty brakes. Jenna was certain that if
she took the wheel, through music, she would find her path to a meaningful life.
She drove hard to educate herself, earning a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of
South Carolina and a Masters from the University of Northern Colorado. She had been smitten
with jazz music since she met Ahmad Jamal at the age of eight, and she made it her focus, while
also studying classical piano, voice, and Portuguese, the language of her Azorean ancestors and
of the Brazilian music she loved. In addition to providing instruction with great educators, her
schooling offered opportunities in performance, classroom teaching and administrative duties.
She graduated filled with song, fired up about teaching, and with a network of colleagues in the
national jazz community.
With a newfound “license,” Jenna took her music back down south, where she taught on the jazz
faculty at the University of South Carolina, acquired a large studio of piano and voice students,
and composed, arranged, and performed locally. One year later, the music brought her to New
Orleans to soak up the big, beautiful beat that fuels the second lines and keeps everyone dancing.
In New Orleans, she crafted her debut album, Wax & Wane: Songs Without Seasons. With her
writing, Jenna pays tribute to her southern roots with songs like “The Okra Strut,” named after
the festival in Irmo, South Carolina, and “I’ve Got Peace Like a River,” a spiritual song she grew
up singing. With her original lyrics, she uses the seasons as symbols of loss and gain, suffering
and rejuvenation. Her compositions deal with the inevitable changes that occur with the passing
of time, the personal growth that accompanies those changes, and the realization that amidst all
these transient things, love is perennial. The album is produced by Jenna, along with Scott Myers
(leader of Chegadão, Os Batutas and Organica, and student of guitarist/producers Steve
Masakowski and Brian Seeger) and features some of New Orleans’ great young musicians:
Myers on guitar and percussion, Nick Solnick on drum set and percussion, Gary Washington on
bass and cello, Russell Ramirez on trombone, Bryce Eastwood on tenor saxophone, and Steve
Lands on trumpet. The album is eclectic, organic, and undoubtedly jazz, moving smoothly from
sambas to hard-driving swing tunes with heartfelt ballads interspersed.
Throughout her journey so far, Jenna has opened concerts for Patti Austin, The New York
Voices and Ramsey Lewis and performed with Houston Person, Marian McPartland, Paul
McKee, and Wendell Brunious, to name a few. She continues to teach private lessons, both in
New Orleans and nationally via Skype and has served on the music faculty of Northwest College