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Monday, March 15, 2010

Jack and Jill Live

Great Music at Carleton Grange

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Jack Grassel was once the busiest man in Milwaukee music, playing more gigs most years than the calendar has days. For the past three years, the jazz guitarist and his wife, singer Jill Jensen, have focused their efforts on one local venue, the Carleton Grange Pub, where they hold forth during brunch each Sunday. Grassel and Jensen’s new CD, Live at Carleton Grange Pub, is not only a souvenir for fans of their Sunday performances but a snapshot of one of the city’s most dynamic jazz groups.

“The best gigs are the ones where people seek you out,” Jensen says, recalling how the Grange’s owner, Eric Ellsworth, contacted them based on the recommendation of friends. “We immediately knew we were in the right place by the way people responded to us.” Grassel adds: “We often see a couple on Sunday and a month later, we’ll see them bring 10 people in to celebrate a birthday or some other occasion.”

The generation spanning audience seems to keep growing along with the scope of their music. Although Grassel has long been one of the city’s most estimable musicians, recording dozens of albums since the ‘60s and penning guitar instruction books, Jensen says: “Jack has always played harmonies and bass lines simultaneously, but it’s gone to a whole new level. The Carleton Grange is a forgiving place. We’ve gotten much more adventurous. We liked this duo so much and wanted to capture it.”

Live at Carleton Grange is a collection of cover tunes, though not necessarily the ones people might most expect to hear. “I don’t think you can read people’s minds,” Grassel explains about the songs they chose, “so we please ourselves with the material we like, which we perform with meaning and feeling. We have 120 songs we can play and rotate the material.” The selections for the live CD encompass many decades and are united by the fluid marriage of Grassel’s playing and Jensen’s singing.

“The setting doesn’t lend itself to down-in-your-cups type of songs,” Jensen adds. “We don’t do the sad songs at Sunday brunch. I don’t necessarily pick songs because they are crowd pleasers. I like telling stories. I’m a frustrated actress and this is my opportunity to tell stories on stage.”

There will be two shows for the Milwaukee CD release party for Live at Carleton Grange Pub, 4:30 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 20 at the Carleton Grange, 3807 S. Packard Ave. Warren Wiegratz will accompany the duo on flute and magician David Seebach will open the show. The $15 cover includes complimentary appetizers and door prizes. Grassel and Jensen will also play a CD release party at the Yardarm in Racine on March 24.