If adventure can flow through the veins like music through the fingers on a keyboard, Jenie Thai, born in Chiang Mai, was birthed with the call of the wild.
The young Edmontonian hasn’t even released a full-length album yet, but her song, Lady Flower, off her 2011 EP of the same name, won an honourable mention in The International Songwriter’s Competition, plucked from a field of 16,000.
Considered by the New York Times critics to be the top songwriting competition in the world, it’s judged by celebrities like Tegan and Sara, bluesman James Cotton (who played with Muddy Waters), Spanish sing-songwriter and Latin Grammy Award winner Alejandro Sanz and gravel-voiced Tom Waits.
“I’m a huge, huge, huge Tom Waits fan. So I just entered to see if I could get him to hear my music,” she sad. “I even called to see if he would be the one judging it, but they said they couldn’t release that information.”
Spunky, but not one bit punky, this classically trained pianist took her Royal Conservatory training, for which she received the highest marks in the country the year she completed, and went straight into Grant MacEwan University to study jazz and contemporary music. She landed a spot in The Paul McCartney School of Music after graduation, but the blues beast growing within just couldn’t be tamed.
“I wanted to play music as a full-time musician, not study music,” she explained; she never made it to The Beatles academy.
Instead, she managed a “lickety splickly,” Tom Waits-style adventure out onto the open road with the release of that first EP at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
After hearing about the organization Home Routes, which organizes “house” concerts in people’s homes across North America for musicians, she set up her own couch tour —Home Routes was booked through 2014—using the aptly named CouchSurfing, a website for general travellers.
As such, Jenie Thai played a gig in a Kelowna living room last year, but her trip to the Minstrel Café on Monday, July 9 will be the first time she showcases her bluesy, jazzy, funk music in an actual Central Okanagan venue.
And she couldn’t be happier about it.
Speaking to the Capital News via cell en route from Banff, one could hear the off-beat staccato excitement that peppers her lyrics ringing through the phone line.
Asked to describe her show, she answered with the frank delivery of someone who, frankly, knows how to deliver.
“High energy,” she said. And one listen to her songs proves the point.
Three months into her mother’s pregnancy with her—her first pregnancy—Jenie’s father decided the couple should travel through India. Her mother became so sick she weighed less at six months pregnant than when Jenie was conceived. This is how Jenie, who does not disclose her real name, came into the world in Thailand, an area her parents figured safe enough for her to be born.
It doesn’t sound like there was any random Italian detours along the way, but one can hear the “allegro, allegro, allegro” pounding in this young woman’s soul as she kicks her way through the long piano runs of her first songs: Monkey, Sedusa, It’s Only You (That I Want) and Stop.
Who knows where the wild things go when unleashed to the power of creativity, but for now Jenie Thai comes to Kelowna’s front door.
Jenie Thai plays the Minstrel Café this Monday, June 9 at 8 p.m. There is a $5 cover charge.
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