John Jennings

19 Oct

As i was sitting in my friend Norma’s apartment in Brooklyn yesterday, packing my bags to fly back to Austin after an incredible week with friends in New York, I scrolled Facebook as I habitually do to see what’s happening. I saw a photo of John Jennings that Mary Chapin Carpenter had posted along with a poem and I knew immediately that meant he had lost his 18 month battle with cancer.

John Jennings

I kept packing, we had a car to the airport, and our driver talked non-stop for 40 minutes about his life in New York after immigrating from Italy 47 years ago. It was a great ride. I said goodbye to Jamie, my partner in crime for the week, and made it through security without much delay. I finally found a grey corner with a window near gate B10 at LaGuardia and it was then the tears started coming. The gravity of the impact JJ had on my life is something I can’t totally unpack without a lot of reminiscing, but his influence has been so obvious. He was one of my very first musical mentors.

When I was an 11 year old kid starting guitar lessons, all I knew was that I wanted to play Mary Chapin Carpenter songs. It was 1994, and Stones in the Road had just come out. I played that album to death, and I learned every single song on it. As I saw her perform on TV more and more, you could not help but notice John’s guitar work. It was a bedrock of her sound and they clearly had an amazing partnership. Read the liner notes on her albums and you see he’s responsible for producing a lot of her iconic catalog, not to mention all the other artists he’s worked with over the years…not to mention his own amazing solo catalog. I met him for the first time when I was 16 at a show in Santa Fe, and I brought the Martin Backpacker guitar I had bought with my allowance money because he played one on MCC’s PBS special and made it look so dang cool (see the video up there). He signed it and was his gracious self. Every time I saw him after that, popping up in random cities for shows or at Folk Alliance in Memphis, he always made time to chat. He was that kind of guy.

I cried off and on all the way from New York to Chicago to Austin. Airports are great places to ponder arrivals and departures, and the people waiting on them. I’m not the judge of fairness (though I often wish I could be for a day), but it seems like JJ’s departure came too soon. I’m grateful for the legacy he left and I’m going to carry on what I can in my own way.

In 1997 when I was 15, I wrote him a fan girl email and asked him about playing guitar. Here’s part of what he wrote back:

“you’re about the age i was when i began playing, and it took me about 10 or 15 years to get to the point where i could play fairly quickly and have it make any sense at all. i just turned 44, and have spent the last ten years trying to slow down my playing. it seems to me that, whatever you do, you should be deliberate about it. that’s the key to really good playing. there have been many wonderful players that were not all that fast, but made wonderful music.”

That sums up his mastery and his kindness in a nutshell.

“Whatever you do, you should be deliberate about it.”

Thank you for everything, JJ.

JJ and Jpo

1 Response to John Jennings


Breege O'Reilly

October 19th, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Omigosh Jana. That’s just beautiful. I know your email used to be jjfan@whatever and I knew by talking with you in Atlanta that you held John in the highest regard. What lovely words to have and hold on to and such advice! Whatever you do, you should be deliberate about it! I love that. I’m going to quote that time and time again to the children. In a world where the word “mindfulness” is the new buzz word – JJ was ahead of his time for sure. Thanks for that Jana x

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