On the one hand, it might seem surprising for a longtime world-traveling jazz clarinetist and saxophonist to suddenly pick up a guitar and start writing folk songs.
On the other hand, for Janelle Haskell it also makes perfect sense.
On many an afternoon, as Janelle walked along Broadway from the Manhattan School of Music after jazz classes up to her apartment in Harlem, it wouldn't be the soulful sounds of John Coltrane playing in her headphones, but rather the soft strumming, sweet melodies, and soul-stirring stories of Joni Mitchell.
I am on a lonely road and I am traveling, looking for the key to set me free.
Almost as though called by the words from one of Joni's songs, after 10 years in the big and often lonely city, Janelle returned to her hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She went there looking for many things: peace and quiet, wide open sky, and also something she couldn't quite put her finger on.
But years later when the pandemic hit and all of Michigan was put on lockdown, Janelle found just what she'd been looking for in the most unlikely of places: a dusty old guitar that had been hanging on her wall for years.
"It was the most unexpected thing," Janelle recalls. "One day I was sitting at my desk working and I looked over at this guitar on the wall. With what seemed like all the time in the world now suddenly at my fingertips, I walked over, picked it up, and started playing any chords I could remember. A few months later I wrote my first song, Michigan, about coming home."
In January 2024, Janelle Haskell released her debut singer-songwriter album titled This Is Me. The album is a collection of 10 songs about many things but that all come down to one: love. It is songs about sisterly love, romantic love gone by, self-love, and love for the things in our lives that matter to us most - all performed by a woman falling more in love with a new instrument in the guitar each day.
After a decade in NYC touring the world as a jazz saxophonist and clarinetist with bandleaders such as Wynton Marsalis and Doc Severinsen, Janelle Haskell decided to make a complete switch to something she's always loved deeply: folk music. Gathering influence from the jazz-inspired harmonies of Joni Mitchell, the finger-picking workings of James Taylor, and other artists who've bridged that delicate gap between folk and jazz, Janelle's songs draw heavily upon her personal experiences in love and life, particularly navigating a path from the life of a busy city girl to one back at home in the Midwest with all the open space and sky she'd longed for during all those years away.
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