Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Jennifer York: Musical View

Jennifer York

Many jazz musicians do an assortment of things to keep away the ol’ wolf, such as teach, write, etc. Still, probably few if any have a “day gig” like bassist Jennifer York, who leads an all-female, Los Angeles-based quartet. She’s a wisecracking, eagle-eyed helicopter traffic reporter for KTLA-TV’s top-rated Morning News program. On most weekday mornings, she can be seen whizzing around, doing two-minute blips from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., guiding viewers through Southern California’s snarling maze of freeways-and the state’s out-of-control fires.

Starting work around 5:15 a.m. is pretty tough for almost anyone, but for a musician who works Thursday through Saturday nights, with occasional gigs on Tuesdays and Sundays, it’s absolute murder. There are rehearsals one night per week and individual practices too. Despite the grueling schedule, which normally affords York three to four hours sleep on a good night, she’s quite used to it. “That’s what’s so sad about it, I guess,” she laughs from the helicopter hangar office, after finishing her shift. “I’ve been doing this kind of schedule since about ’88.

“I [first] started flying for KFWB [a Los Angeles AM news-radio station]. It’s been an interesting and bizarre trip.” York actually wanted to be a musician for as long as she can remember and initially studied piano, then switched to electric bass in sixth grade. Her parents though, thought she should pursue something a lot more secure in college. “They said, ‘You should never be a woman bass player, ’cause it’ll never happen for you.’ So I left all high school jazz music behind and I went to college for broadcasting at UCLA.”

Straight out of school, York was a blossoming talent and was quickly snatched up by ABC’s Good Morning America, based in New York City. She thrived on the big time show, but after four years hungered for music and her bass. “I left it all,” York remembers, “because I missed the bass so much. So I came back here and went to bass school for a year [1987]. That’s when the gigs started happening; I had a little pop band and was singing and playing. Then I got a record deal, and after that I went into jazz, starting the quartet eleven years ago.” York also learned to play acoustic bass, first studying with John Clayton in 1991.

Presently her group consists of saxophonist Carol Chaikin, drummer Suzanne Morrisette and keyboardist Alexandra Caselli. At six feet tall, York towers over the others, but she also has a captivating personality and is clearly the leader of the ensemble. Nonetheless, she often feels like she’s playing “catch-up” to her players, who focus mostly on mainstream, with some contemporary flavoring thrown in. She remarks, “Other members of my jazz quartet have been playing since they were in diapers. I lost those eight years when a lot of people are in college and jamming late into the night.

“So that’s the challenge for me. The early-morning reporting comes pretty natural-except for getting up at 3 or 4 a.m.-and I’ve won awards. And the upright bass is a challenge every time I pick it up.” Presently, she’s primarily focused on getting her group’s new CD recorded and growing as a musician. “I view my life as being like an Olympic athlete, especially the music. You have to put the time in and try to get better. Stagnation is like sin to me.”