Anne Mette Iversen & Josh Ginsburg

In Brooklyn, two rising bass stars raise a family

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Josh Ginsburg
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Anne Mette Iversen
By Courtney Winston

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Five-year-old Milo Ginsburg was confused. He was on a play date at a Brooklyn house much like his own, with a mom and a dad and kids. But something was missing—a couple of somethings.

“Where are the basses?” he asked.

It’s not a question one expects, even from the unpredictable mouths of children. But it made sense to Milo: He and his younger brother Siljam are the sons of Josh Ginsburg, 35, and Anne Mette Iversen, 39, both jazz bassists. In the couple’s cozy Red Hook townhouse, the bulky instruments are unmissable and indispensable, an essential part of the household.

And how does such a household work? “Well, the basses behave!” Iversen grins over coffee and cookies at their kitchen table, the boys watching cartoons nearby. “Really, it’s a lot of juggling and trying to be organized with your time.”

“It’s pretty normal,” adds Ginsburg. “Our schedule is maybe not as orderly as some other parents’, but in some ways that’s good because it’s flexible.”

Flexibility is crucial to the couple’s busy professional lives. In addition to her own quartet and other projects, Iversen (along with bassist Alexis Cuadrado) is a co-founder of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground (BJU), the artists’ collective that now boasts a radio show and an annual festival, among other initiatives. She and Cuadrado also run the collective’s label, BJU Records, whose large roster keeps her even busier. “A lot of our friends fit the profile that the collective already represents, so why not open it up to them?” she says. “Since 2009, probably the majority of the people who’ve had records out on the label are non-members of BJU.”

This includes her husband. Ginsburg is not active in the collective; his career is primarily that of a sideman, working in George Colligan’s piano trio and the Metta Quintet as well as frequent freelancing. In January, however, BJU released Ginsburg’s first album as a leader. Zembla Variations, featuring Colligan, saxophonist Eli Degibri and drummer Rudy Royston, is a simmering postbop set that builds on the hard swing and edgy harmonies of the Young Lions movement. Ginsburg will also perform at this year’s BJU Festival.

While the bassists don’t gig together, they owe their coupling to their shared instrument. They had briefly met while Ginsburg was on tour in Denmark, then crossed paths again in 1998 when Iversen moved to New York to study. “Josh had actually bought a bass in Denmark, and I didn’t have a bass when I was coming here,” she recalls. “We agreed that I could use his bass, which he had left in Denmark, if I brought it over. It happened that I did not like the bass, so I came over a few weeks later and gave it back to him!”

Traveling in the same circles made it easy to spend time together. Iversen and Ginsburg were married in 2005; Milo was born a year later, Siljam following in 2009. The children have inspired some of their parents’ music: Iversen’s 2011 quartet album is called Milo Songs, with each composition developed from a melody her son dreamed up.

More often, though, the family and the music are just facts of each other’s lives, with all the benefits and challenges that come with those facts. There are babysitters on standby when both mom and dad have gigs. As for practicing, “You have to be flexible,” says Iversen. “Sometimes you get 10 minutes, sometimes you get an hour where they just take care of themselves and are playing, or hang around. But you gotta stop when they sleep. And we have to rotate—we don’t practice at the same time.”

“But they get to do pretty special things,” says Ginsburg. “We played a duet at kindergarten, which was pretty fun. And they go on tour. They’ve been carted all around Scandinavia with their own entourage of musicians!”

Certainly, family obligations haven’t dampened any ambitions. At press time, Iversen had just finished mixing a double album, Poetry of Earth, for March release. The recording features musical settings of Danish and English poetry, sung by Maria Neckam and Christine Skou and performed by Dan Tepfer on piano and John Ellis on reeds. They will tour Denmark in the fall. Ginsburg is also hoping to put together a tour for the Zembla Variations band later this year.

In the meantime, it’s too early to tell whether the kids will take up jazz. But Iversen comes from a family of amateur musicians, and “my father tells me he was an amazing cellist when he was young, but no one’s ever heard him,” says Ginsburg, laughing. “My grandmother was supposedly—and I actually believe this—a great singer and pianist. So there is some history.” Perhaps the music’s next generation is currently incubating in Red Hook.

Originally published in April 2012

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