She’s got the stage presence, the voice, the ability to interpret songs passionately … there’s a lot of soul in what she does” — Billboard Magazine
Jill Jack’s magical connection to her audience is the result of her generous artistry. By combining her gifts as a conceptual visionary with a warm gathering of musical influences, Jill touches that secret heart of ours with her melodies and lyrics. In her hometown of Detroit, Jill needs no further explanation. She’s been lauded in equal measure to her talents: Since 1997 she’s won 30 Detroit Music Awards (see full list) in every conceivable category that applies to a singer-songwriter. Much of this provincial success is due to her charming stage presence and emotive songwriting. It’s simply called connecting, and it’s the bounty of a true songwriter open to all of life: her own defeats, victories, hopes dashed, dreams fulfilled, her muse, her loneliness, her misplaced love and her romantic successes.
Jill has built her audience with her whimsical, genuine live performances. Genuine is the defining term here. Propelled by her musical exemplars Joni Mitchell and Emmy Lou Harris, there are few performers with less conflict between who they are on stage and off than Jill. She extends the tradition of the confessional (i.e. achingly open, unafraid of intimacy) singer-songwriter, and is proud of that style and its continuation.
You get all of Jill Jack in a performance — her blend of folk and rock traditions, her open humor, her fine band. Jill harbors little of her process from her audience — each performance is about opening a window and shining a light into her songwriting, leading inevitably to the intense relationship with her fans. Her career is founded on folk’s best idea — that there’s a shared knowing between artist and audience, a conversation that flows both ways during a show. Plus she’s a strong woman who’s won over the toughest town in a man’s world — she’s a bandleader, the principal songwriter in a large group bearing her own name, an employer and automatic arbiter of musician’s issues.
“She’s sharp, she’s witty, and she’s got soul. Most important, I think based on her songwriting and style, she’s got staying power” — WDVR-FM in New Jersey
Jill began her professional career singing backup with well known Detroit country and rock names The Forbes Brothers and Stewart Francke. By the late 90s she was writing constantly, fronting her own band and beginning to open for what would become a long list of prominent touring acts — most recently Bob Seger, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin, Dan Fogelberg, Marshall Crenshaw, Chris Issak, Jethro Tull, and Loretta Lynn, who gave Jill priceless backstage encouragement and advice. As well she developed her reputation as headliner at venues & festivals — Ann Arbor Folk Festival, WYCD Downtown Hoedown, Blissfest Music Festival, The Bluebird Café, The Living Room in NYC, and consistent sell-out shows at The Ark. Regional touring has branched to successful tours of England and the American Southeast.
Her first full length release, Watch Over Me, gave her many audience favorites she plays to this day — the vulnerable title track and “Rosie,” her character study of a now-old woman who comforts weary truckers with her stories of a simpler time. It’s a song about connection, and how we keep things alive through the years. Her style then moved from pliant acoustic folk to slightly tougher country rock with Too Close To The Sun and the raw basics of Live From Billy’s Basement, culminating in Love Hotel, thought by many to be Jill’s most accomplished collection. Love Hotel was a breakthrough in her songwriting and recording capabilities, built on poetic metaphors and Jill’s clear, fetching voice. Jill Jack Live and Unplugged let the uninitiated in on just why so many love to catch her act. It was followed by her lovely commentary on the dangerous intricacies of adults in love, Moon and The Morning After.
“Her voice can soar like opera and smoke like the blues … one of the strongest voices in Detroit, or in the country for that matter.” — The Detroit Free Press
All of this writing, recording and live performance set the stage for the daring All of this writing, recording and live performance set the stage for the daring Songwriter Sessions (2009), a recording of two live performances in southern Michigan that utterly removed any wall between songwriter and world. Songwriter Sessions delivered on the promise that her previous records and performances suggested. Directed by award-winning Nashville producer Colin Linden — Jill, her band, and an extended group of musicians recorded all new material over two nights at the Hartland Music Hall in Hartland, Michigan, in front of fresh audiences both nights. Her fearless approach is documented on both CD and DVD — we see that she has the guts to forgo all spoken introduction to her songs and let them live or die on their own merits.
Writing, rehearsing and recording all unheard material with a large band is an enormous task and immense leap of faith, and Jill and her enhanced 9 piece band made it sound like a well worn set, full of swampy rhythms, bluegrass harmonies, brilliant guitar and pedal steel work and smart arrangements.
Songwriter Sessions revealed an artist in full. Where in the past her singing was a tug of war between Emmy Lou Harris and Dusty Springfield, she’s now firmly in control of her own tone and style. Her songwriting has grown to include classic country (think Harlan Howard’s simplicity), traditional singer-songwriter stylings (Shawn Colvin, acoustic Bob Seger, Bob Dylan), and even the sophisticated chord changes of Broadway giants Richard Rodgers or Cole Porter. “So many people would ask me how I came to write a certain song,” Jill says, “or tell me that they remembered the story behind the writing of a song. that I thought it would be a good idea to just show that process. People are extremely curious about the songwriting process, and I thought having an audience share the experience a little through me telling the story behind each song, and then to perform it in pretty much its virginal state — like I said, it was a huge undertaking, but I thought, if I pulled it off, it’d be really good!”
Songwriter Sessions hit #6 on the Americana charts in Europe, and the Top 100 in the US.
Her success in music has led to recent opportunities both acting in and scoring for independent films. A natural extension of her inclusive music, Jill contributes mightily to her community, playing benefits and lending her name and time to organizations such as Gilda’s Club, Bras For A Cause, the Girl Scouts of America, and Enchanted Makeovers (serving on its board of directors). In late 2010 Jill was asked to write and record a theme song for a Detroit campaign called I’m A Believer as well as lending vocal parts to a new rendition of the Carole King classic “You’ve Got A Friend” that benefitted the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.
2011 will see the release of a new studio CD, tentatively titled Sunflower Girl, as well as more touring, film work and charitable activities. Her performing and songwriting comments on and includes both the obvious parts of life and all those things we can’t easily discuss. In this sense, Jill Jack is reaching for one of music’s more elevated purposes — she’s touching those things within her reach, and then extending beyond what even she can see. Sky’s the limit.