If instruments have personalities, trumpet has to be the most audacious and in your face. Maybe that's why not many budding female musicians are handed one.
But that's not the way it was in Ingrid Jensen's family. Her mom played piano and loved traditional jazz, so growing up in the late-1970's, Jensen was given a trumpet. Her sister, Christine, was assigned a saxophone, and their older sister played trombone.
Three and a half decades later, Ingrid is regularly featured as a soloist with Christine's jazz orchestra.
"Once I heard Chet Baker and Miles' 'Kind of Blue,' I knew the softer side of trumpet," Jensen says. But that doesn't mean she's lacking on the brassy side. After honing her skills at Berklee College of Music in Boston, she moved to New York City to compete in the male-dominant trumpet fraternity.
But it took a little time to earn a reputation, so in the late-1980's she was more likely to be found playing in the subways than in a club or concert hall.
"You'd get up in the morning and go find a spot in Grand Central to set up," Jensen says. "You'd stay for four or five hours. It was a diverse quintet called the Jazz Rainbow Coalition. We got big crowds, all the nine-to-fivers passing by just tossing in coins and dollars."
There are, of course, jazz bands led by women, (notably her sister's and the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, both of which Ingrid has played in), but, at the top, there's still a barrier. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, founded in 1988, is still all male.
"You hear that it's a boys club," Jensen says, "well, it probably is. The guys hang out with each other; they recommend each other. I can tell you I'm not on the list of many, many great trumpet players. Even though they'll say I play great, they still won't recommend me to any of those bands because it still doesn't feel right in many ways.
"Laurie Frink played with Gerry Mulligan's band. But aside from her and me and a few others coming up it still pretty much comes down to the whole Rolodex concept."
But that hasn't affected her ability to make a living. "People remember me," Jensen says. "I show up and in some cases, I'm cutting people in jam sessions."
Jensen has no lack of confidence. Time spent in Europe in the early 1990's took care of that.
"Sorry, America — you're not too good at doing that for artists," says Jensen who hung out in Denmark with Ernie Wilkins and in Vienna with Art Farmer. She also met elder statesmen like Clark Terry, Al Gray, and Lionel Hampton.
"It was ridiculous," Jensen says, "It was beyond what any school could ever give me. It was the fulfillment of my dreams hanging out with these people and having them make sure that I sat in on their gigs. It wasn't 'Hey little cute trumpet player, hang out back stage and we'll flirt,' it was more like, 'Where's your horn, get on stage.'"
Not that there weren't unwanted advances. "I had to put a chip on my shoulder for a while and be super tough," Jensen says. "I wish I hadn't had to do that, but when I look back on those times, it was a total mechanism of protecting myself from the lecherous ones.
"The people who gave me a sense of self-worth were my idols. It doesn't get any better than when Clark Terry says, 'I love it when you play like you'; when you're not even 25 years old and when Art Farmer says, 'You play great!'"
Since then Jensen has been in demand for a variety of gigs. She's done a Billie Holiday tribute with Madeleine Peyroux and she played on Sarah McLachlan's last album. "Growing up with Joni Mitchell music, I love the pop side of this scene."
And her musical and personal relationship with her sister, Christine, who lives in Montreal, has only grown stronger. "We really support each other," Jensen says. "Both of us are moms of young kids, a funny thing to do in your 40's but we did it. So we have an even deeper understanding of how little time we have together.
"When we play together that's the time to take the relationship to its deepest place. We do a lot of things in the moment on stage that I can't necessarily access with other musicians because we don't have that history. We just look at each other and go, 'Let's just do that' and we'll orchestrate a line behind a piano solo or take off on some kind of riff. You never know what will happen."
Ingrid Jensen performs with the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra on Friday, June 26, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., at Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 111 North Chestnut Street. And again on Saturday, June 27, 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., at Xerox Auditorium, 100 South Clinton Avenue. All performances are $20, or you can use your Club Pass. ingridjensen.com