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September 25, 2002

J'Anna Jacoby: "Rod likes to keep reinventing himself."

Rod's first female band member talks about her career in music.

posted by Ian Roberts

A lot of people have busy weeks. On an early June evening from a hotel room in Germany, J'Anna Jacoby reflected on one of hers.

Jacoby, who spent much of her youth in Redding, CA and now plays music with rocker Rod Stewart, had just completed a six-day stretch where she bounced between five European countries and played four concerts.
One of the shows was Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee at Buckingham Palace, an event which included Paul McCartney, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Phil Collins, among others.
"It's just been surreal," said Jacoby, who attended Shasta High and Chico State University. "The last three years have been kind of like that ever since I started working for Rod. But it's great to play with these other musicians who are at the top of their game."
In August, Jacoby will have completed her third tour with Stewart. After that, life will be up in the air for the 38-year-old.
Facing the unknown is a situation with which Jacoby has become familiar. These days, it's a lot less frightening than it once was. She can even joke about it.
"Who knows if any of us will ever work again," she says, laughing.

Jacoby might relax for a while in Europe or return to Los Angeles, where she's lived the past 15 years. There may even be time to visit her mother Adrienne, who recently retired from her job as a music teacher at Parsons Junior High in Redding.
Musical possibilities include studio work, performing with her former rock band The Black Watch, or a possible tour with the group Ziroq, a Latin-influenced side project with Rod Stewart bassist Carmine Rojas.
Or, if Stewart decides to tour again, Jacoby will mostly likely return. Her role with the pop/rock icon seems cemented.

After beating out several other players in an audition 3 years ago, Jacoby became the first female in Stewart's group. She quickly transcended the gender novelty and became respected for her music. Now, four women are in Stewart's 10-person ensemble.
Jacoby plays fiddle, mandolin, rhythm guitar, percussion and sings backup vocals. She also arranges music and coordinates the string sections that are hired to perform in different cities throughout the world.
"Rod likes to keep reinventing himself," Jacoby said. "He's willing to jump around and try new things. The set list is always changing.
"He's very paternal with me. He really respects my musicianship and trusts my opinions. He's really drawn me out and stretched my capabilities. He's always saying, 'Can you do this?' 'Can we try that?' He's always encouraging me to try more things."

It's a comfort level that didn't exist when she performed her first show with Stewart back in 1999. Nervous before a packed arena in Nashville, Jacoby faced her biggest test on a well-known mandolin solo in Stewart's famous tune "Maggie May."
She nailed the lick, pretty much.
"It was my first show with Rod and I wanted everything to be just perfect, not miss a note," she remembers. "But there's actually a lot of looseness to it. It's rock 'n' roll after all. You have to be ready to go different directions in a hurry."

Prior to joining Stewart's band, Jacoby toured with Michael Crawford and "Phantom of the Opera," played in John Tesh's orchestra, and did freelance work in L.A., including a job in the orchestra at the 1992 MTV Music Awards, where she shared the stage with Elton John and Guns 'n' Roses.
Yet there was a long stretch in her 20s, while working a 9-to-5 corporate job at Disney, when she doubted she'd ever earn a living as a professional musician. When she received a phone call offering a spot on the Crawford tour, she knew she couldn't refuse.
"I was so full of fear in my 20s," she said. "It was a dark period — you listen to all these negative voices saying you can't do this or that. I was afraid of trying to be a musician.
"Then I received a phone call and they said, 'You've been highly recommended (to join Michael Crawford). Can you go this summer?' My heart leaped out of my chest. I thought, 'This is what I've been so excited about doing.' Fate was thrown in my lap."

Now, Jacoby relishes the life. She loves touring and staying in hotels. It's a gift she received from her childhood.
In the early '70s, J'Anna (pronounced "Jana") and her brother, Jayson, traveled from town to town with their parents, Adrienne and Bill, who were nightclub performers, primarily for Holiday Inn hotels.
At age 10, her family settled permanently in Redding and she became completely immersed in the world of traditional, old-time fiddling. She started playing violin at age 15 months and by 12, she'd won a national championship in her division at the prestigious fiddle festival in Weiser, Idaho.
Two years later, she became the first woman to win the Grand Masters Fiddling Championship in Nashville. She remains the second youngest person to ever win the title (the youngest being world-renowned fiddler Mark O'Connor by a couple of months).
"You win a contest and it just perpetuates," she said. "We moved to Redding and it's just a hotbed for fiddling. There are all these young kids in the scene and there have been a lot of great teachers over the last 20 years."

Age 14 continued to be significant for Jacoby. After winning the Grand Masters, she appeared on "Good Morning America," had articles written about her in People and US magazines, and performed with Tony Bennett for two weeks in Reno.
At Shasta High School, she played in the pit orchestra for the school's annual musical as a sophomore, then landed the lead role in "The King and I" the next year.

Jacoby completed her senior year at Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy and then studied violin and viola as an 18-year-old exchange student at the Vienna (Austria) Music Conservatory.
She returned to Northern California and graduated in music at Chico State. She then moved to Los Angeles and studied with a number of mentors, including Glenn Dicterow, the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic.
"One of the things I really admire about her is she's not afraid to take risks," said Jacoby's mother, Adrienne. "She doesn't settle for playing it safe.
"Now, one of the reasons I love going to watch her shows is I love to see her having such a good time. What more could a mom want than that?"

© 2019 SMILER Magazine

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