Even though every time I sing in front of people I get nervous, I calm those nerves because I remember that it's not about me-it's about sharing knowledge about the critical issues of our times and that of the past and invoking a healing process--Jenn
Jenn is a mother, a history teacher, and a singer-songwriter/activist in the tradition of Joan Baez, U.Utah Phillips, Pete Seeger and Holly Near. Jenn purposefully writes songs to be a part of the renewed and growing Movement of those seeking to enhance and protect the fundamental rights of all living things. Jenn believes like other past and contemporary pacifist activists that all people around the world have a right to food, shelter, personal safety and security, which includes a right to health care, and family. Jenn is, like her musical influences and predecessors, a rabblerouser, an agitator-- using her music as a tool to educate and incite pacifist activism. Jenn has some funny songs too like "Cherry Pie" and "Low Maintenance Kind of Girl", but still they have a message.
Jenn's really been singing all her life starting as a child putting on shows for the neighbors in her garage in Woodland Hills, California. Jenn's mother, Patricia Rogar was a high school teacher holding a Master's degree in French. She was head of the foreign language department at St. Genevieve's Catholic school in Panorama City, CA. She was a longtime choir singer at St. Francis of Assisi in Sacramento and came from a great musical background. Jenn's grandfather, Magna Nygaard emigrated from Norway and played guitar, upright bass, and banjo in Swing bands from the 1940's to the 80's. Jenn's album is dedicated in part to him. Jenn's father, Michel Rogar, was a child refugee during World War II and had to flee into the hills with his family when his apartment building was bombed and completely destroyed by the Germans. He emigrated at 17 years old to the United States. He and his family followed his sister, Yvette, who married an American GI. Later he would own and operate a popular homestyle restaurant in the 1970's and 80's in Auburn, California. In 1976, Jenn's family left the smoggy and crowded San Fernando valley and moved to the Northern Calfornia town of Auburn in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. These formative years for Jenn were shaped by natural beauty of the foothills and nearby mountain ranges. Jenn spent many hours alone, or with friends, riding her horse in the golden, rolling hills and big motherly Oak trees.
Jenn grew up with a lot of animals: a pony, goat, chickens, dogs, cats, and cows. Jenn experienced the sacredness and beauty of nature every day riding just about everywhere- following the railroad 7 miles up to Colfax, up along Highway 49 (the old 49'er trail) to Lake of the Pines, and along many a back road with lakes and ponds. "I saw all kinds of animals out there like coyotes and deer. Once I came upon a ridge and was face to face with a old buck. He surprised me and I surprised him and then he turned on his back heels and ran." Sometimes Jenn and friends mischieviously opened gates and ran through pastures herding rancher's cattle. "This didn't make the ranchers too happy, I'm sure. We were turning their prized beef into beef jerky. Other times we gave chase to a deer." Jenn's love and care for animals and nature was instinctive as it is for many children. While visiting the Los Angeles zoo with her mother at the age of five, Jenn saw a hose in an elephant's pen and the water was just running out of it endlessly. Jenn asked her mother if someone was going to turn the water off because it was being wasted. Jenn protested the conditions of the animals in the zoos, sensing their sadness.
Music is the first language for Jenn and singing is the preferred form of communication for her to speak for the oppressed. As a young child, Jenn sang along for hours to records of Judy Garland, Karen Carpenter, Elton John, Julie Andrews. Jenn's musical journey formally began with learning how to play the flute in the 6th grade. In high school, Jenn spend four years playing flute in the marching, concert and pep bands. In the late 1980's Jenn began singing in Karaoke bars and auditioned with a few bands. "The bands I tried out with had electric guitar players who were only interested in playing loud and drowning out the singer." While attending teacher training school in Sacramento in around 1992-93 Jenn became friends with the folk goddess Diane Patterson. Diane was also in the teacher program, but would end up leaving to pursue music fulltime. She was performing one night at the Delta of Venus in Davis, California and said "Hey come hear me play folk music at the Delta of Venus tonight!" Jenn said "Ok, sure, but what's folk?" Diane said "you know, like "Puff the Magic Dragon." That was the beginning of Jenn's love affair with folk music. Beginning with Diane, Jenn's musical influences have just kept growing...Joan Baez, Odetta, Ferron, Janis Ian, Leadbelly, U.Utah Phillips, Bob Dylan, Kate Wolf, Eliza Gilykson, Catie Curtis, Dar Williams, Laura Love, Pete Seeger, Keb Mo, Chris Williamson, Ronnie Gilbert, Mercedes Sosa and Holly Near. In 1994-1995 Jenn bought a 1974 Guild guitar in a local pawn shop and it sat in the corner of her house for a year. "I just kept walking by it every day and I felt so guilty. I just wasn't willing to go through and feel the pain on the fingers, but I felt so guilty." So, in 1996, Jenn taught herself a few chords and intended to sing cover tunes and "be her own band", but discovered quickly that with just three chords she could write her own songs. Then the songs just came pouring out. "Writing songs became my own personal therapy. I was releasing pent up emotions built up over the years on issues from my parents divorce to the beauty of my children to my failed love affairs. Everyone needs a way to express emotions, whether it's making pottery or painting or poetry. It's definitely the cheapest way to heal yourself and you contribute to the healing of others at the same time." The first song she wrote was "Peace Will Come." The second song was "Sow a Seed", powerful yet easy to play. Jenn tries to write songs that are easy for others to play so that they will be played by others just learning the guitar. Jenn continued to write songs and soon thereafter went to a local open mic at the old Capitol Garage in Sacramento. "That Guild was a big heavy thing and it was like trying to play a baseball bat, but it had this weathered and rich baritone sound. The guitar is a very intimate instrument. You hold and cradle it like a child and you can feel the vibrations of the strings close to your heart." Jenn wrote about twenty songs on that guitar. In 1998 the guitar was stolen out of her van. (bad Karma for whoever stole it and if you're reading this then you need to return the guitar) From 1997 to 1999 Jenn played at all the open mics and coffee houses and other special events in and around Sacramento. Jenn was known then as Jennifer Tosney. One song "Tree of Life" was recorded on a compilation CD produced by Edh Stanley called "Tomato Vortex". This is a great CD which features other Sacramento musicians. Jenn was starting to get her name out there, but in 1999, Jenn dramatically switched gears deciding it was time to fulfill an old dream- to become a lawyer. Jenn had this longtime desire since childhood to go to law school and become lawyer. So from 2000 to 2004, Jenn put the guitar away and spent four long years studying the law at Lincoln Law school in Sacramento. Jenn earned her Juris Doctorate, but at the end of law school she really couldn't see herself as a lawyer and giving up the music or her teaching career and realized that musical activism was to be the course of positive action she would take to help others.
Jenn returned to the music in 2004 and expanded her repertoire with traditional folk music. "I remember hearing this grand matriarch, Myrna Lynn, singing one night at the Fox and Goose Pub in Sacramento (a popular pub that once was willing to take a chance on new unknown performers and thus opened its doors to many beginning or non-commercial folk acts, but now excludes those acts and only hires more commercial acts that are guaranteed to make money for the pub-this is the trend in many clubs in and around Sacramento. Luna's Cafe still gives unknowns a chance to perform). She was playing "Freight Train", a classic song originally written and performed by Elizabeth Cotton. She got me hooked on the old traditionals." After that, Jenn learned other great traditionals like "In the Pines" by Leadbelly, "Somebody Got Lost in a Storm" and "The Water is Wide" and incorporated them into her show. "The only way these great songs can stay alive is by having people singing them." Jenn would later record "Wayfaring Stranger" and it is on her 2008 debut album, Place Called Humanity which is available on CD Baby and at local record stores, the Beat and R5 Records or at her shows. All profits go to human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch www.humanrightswatch.org, Amnesty International www.amnesty.org, the Courage to Resist campaign www.couragetoresist.org and the American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org as well as others. "I refuse to make money off my music. It is not about making money for me. I am fortunate to have a day job. It's about giving back to others as a way of saying thank you to the Great Spirit for the gifts I have been given.
Jenn's music is described as "healing" and with "great warmth and authenticity." Her voice has been compared to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell . Her music is in the folk genre, but is primarily political folk in the tradition of the legendary Holly Near --using her music as a tool for social change. It is Jenn's dream that her music will be sung by her "fellow workers" as Utah would call others, the folksingers of today and tomorrow, activists, politicians, schoolchildren and the ordinary folks all across America and around the world. She hopes these songs will help bring forth the kind of positive change that is happening every moment of every day all over the world. "We are, I believe, moving ever so slowly but surely in this old world toward a global and wholistic peacefulness toward people's individual rights and needs. We are evolving and the good hearts are overpowering the ignorant. All it takes, as Pete Seeger says, using the metaphor of a seed planted, are small postive acts every day by ordinary people because you never know how your good deed will affect someone today or in the future. Utah Phillips reminded us before his passing from this earth in 2008 that "there are too many good people doing too many good things to allow me the luxury of being a pessimist." And in the words, of the Dine people (Navajo), "Beauty is the Way." "Everyone has beauty within them to share and it is their duty to find that beauty and, if they are able, to spend their lives sharing that beauty. It is then that you have, by default, world peace because folks are in touch with their sense of humanity." Jenn hopes to follow in the footsteps of her elder teachers and have her songs published in the great music songbook, Rise Up Singing, so that future generations can, through song, be reminded of their ever present duty to commit daily acts of peace towards all life on this planet. Jenn reminds us "You are Democracy." Jenn's intent is to share her music and present her vulnerableness and help others feel less alienated and more connected and hopeful. Be prepared to sing because she is always trying to get the audience to sing with her in the tradition of all the great folk singers. "It's not about me being up on the stage singing at people. Folk music is a sharing experience and the room you are singing should become like your living room."
Jenn understands that feeling of connectedness. Jenn was recently surprised at a 2008 benefit concert for Sacramento's Francis House, featuring Maria Muldaur and Holly Near and Linda Tillery and her choir. While watching the concert, Jenn looked up at the big screen above the stage and behind the performers. Images of peaceful people engaged in acts of peace around the world from John Lennon to Mother Theresa to the Dalai Lama to not so famous folks all over the world were flashing while the performer sang. And then Jenn saw herself flashed up there for a few seconds playing her guitar at a past local peace rally. She was part of the event and part of the Movement and reminds us that so are you.
--All it takes is that first conscious step, that first Protest, that first outspoken word for peace and justice and you are part of the Movement. People are so afraid to step out of the procession of life that has been dictated to us by our teachers, parents, the media, politicians and our co-workers. We are waiting for others to lead us, but we have to lead. We assume that we are wrong, but in reality others are waiting for us to lead them out of their materialistic drudgery. We're all part of the Movement-artists, singers, conscious hip-hop artists, writers, poets, journalists, photographers, tree sitters, witnesses to war and violence, midwives, organic farmers, civil rights activists, conscience objectors, prison inmates-anyone who is committed to being a part of positive change in the world. YOU can be part of the change, today. As Gandhi said, You must be the change you wish to see in the world.-- Jenn
And that is the message she hopes to impart to you every time she sings. You can be part of this Place Called Humanity.