Jenny Harder – Interview

Written by on May 14, 2024

Jenny Harder – Interview – by Liam Sweeny.

Jenny Harder is a trumpet player and actor of theater, commercial, television, film, and Vaudeville. Bands she currently plays with are The German-American Club of Albany (next show is Father’s Day brunch, June 16 at 2pm), the Insolent Willies (next show is Saturday, May 25th at Wolf Hollow Brewing, 6pm), and the Gloversville Wind Ensemble (next shows are June 15 and July 20 at 3pm) We caught up with her and wandered the streets of Troy. And we talked.

RRX: This is Liam Sweeny, I am here interviewing Jenny Harder.

JH: Hi!

RRX: We’re here streaming in Bangladesh. Or River Street.

JH: Little Bangladesh

RRX: We have listeners in Bangladesh, so maybe we are.

JH: Are you sure that’s not just, like, a bot?

RRX: Probably a bot.

JH: Hey, what’s up? So it’s a beautiful day in downtown Troy, I’m getting the grand tour. The Troy Music Hall is right there through the buildings.

RRX: So tell us a little bit about yourself. Give us your resume in an elevator pitch.

Oh my God, how many floors in the building is this elevator? I kind of feel like I’m on life number four, possibly number five. Most people can say okay, this is my childhood all the way up until high school. I did that in Michigan, and I got out of there when I was seventeen and moved to New York City. I went to NYU, studied theater. Which was funny, because it was the thing I knew the least about. It was the thing I was the worst at.

Back in high school, I pursued a bunch of interests, and I’m still pursuing those interests. So in some ways, all of the iterations of my lives are the same one.

RRX: Can you tell us what you mean by interests? Can you describe a couple of them?

So I play trumpet. So mostly what I find; and these days I see a lot more women playing trumpet, but you usually find, especially in symphony orchestras and things like that, you find older men. And I wasn’t setting out to play trumpet, I wanted to be a drummer, but my brother already played the drums. So at age nine, when you’re forced to play something, especially in the Midwest where you do marching band and everybody is expected to play, they said ‘no, no, no… pic something else.’ So the only thing I could get a note out on is trumpet.

And that’s how I ended up playing that, because I find it to be incredibly hard. I find it to be a very, very difficult instrument. I never had an easy time with it. It strains me. I’m an asthmatic and I have bad blood flow and I have this very bad nervous habit of biting the inside of my mouth. So add braces to that. Age ten, and I’m like ‘why did I even stick with it?’

I’m an Aries through and through; I’m very stubborn. I like to see things through. I put the instrument down for maybe ten years, from around age eighteen to twenty-eight. Didn’t play it at all. I focused on acting and producing and stage management. I lived in Ireland for a couple of years, studying abroad there and I produced some stuff over there.

I guess I got back into music through indie rock, because a lot of actors that I was working with at The Brick Theater in Brooklyn, they wanted to be in a band. And I was like ‘you know, I can dust this off.’ Indie rock is just beautiful on notes anyway, right? And I listened to indie rock predominantly around that age. In my twenties, I was really into indie rock, and that’s how I got back into it, as a gateway drug.

And I went through a divorce, and my life kind of exploded and I started hanging around people in the circus, so a lot of clown-type people. And they were all in acting, but they were all in circus. That’s how I got back into music, like at the Coney Island sideshow. And I started doing Vaudeville and I joined a clown band. And cabaret came after that, cabaret and playing at Burlesque shows.

RRX: So you have done an incredible amount of stuff. I’m in awe. And you are now moving to Albany, you’re moving to the Capital District. You’ve lived somewhere near here, but you haven’t lived in the Capital District. Was it like a shock for you to come here, considering what you’ve done and what there may be or may not be to do here?

JH: Every city has its own personality, you know? What comes to mind is DC. Don’t think I could thrive in DC; they just seem to close down at ten o’clock at night. I don’t know if Albany does yet or not. I just really, really miss living in a city though, I’m not somebody who enjoys driving everywhere. I hate sitting on my ass for an hour commute and work a day job that could be from home. But I like the social aspect of it, so I chose a job that’s based in Albany to get to see people again. I was working completely from home for three years straight. I loved my home, but I really missed people.

Now that I can do that without a commute, I’m super happy. I honestly found it so easy to find musicians, really good musicians to play with in Fulton county. I was living in Johnstown, just randomly, kind of pointed at a map, found a place on Craigslist sight unseen and said ‘yeah, I’ll live there,’ and I was able to find really good musicians, that played out all the time. I was actually making more money with local bands, playing different events, from private parties to street fairs – without having to tour, I was making about the same amount of money per month as I was with a touring band.

RRX: You’ve mentioned the symphony and playing trumpet in it. And you’ve played so many things with your trumpet that you wouldn’t expect the trumpet to be in. Have you ever played in the symphony?

JH: Yes I have. And it’s boring because there’s not many things besides fanfare, so you rest and rest, and you have to come in with the highest note you can play, and you can’t fuck it up.

RRX: So it’s boring otherwise.

JH: It is, but the anxiety’s through the roof.

RRX: Pressure cooker stuff.

JH: It’s true!

RRX: So now, let’s talk about acting.

JH: Funny that you say that, because when I was growing up, I was in Flint Youth Symphony, but I was also in Flint Youth Theater. I would go in, and Flint, Michigan was, to me, a real Mecca. And not many people knew that.

With symphonies, I actually traveled internationally, besides Canada, but I traveled internationally for the first time with a symphony. Went over to England, Exeter, and London. I finally replaced my old trumpet that I had since I was sixteen. And I replaced that two years ago. So that took me all over.

RRX: So back to acting. I’ve seen your film reel. So it isn’t just theater for you. You’re acting in television and film.

JH: Yeah.

RRX: So what would you say is the difference between your theater work and your TV and film work?

JH: Well, you get paid a lot more [with TV and film] for a shorter amount of time. I had a commercial agent, and I wish I had been more serious about the commercial auditions, which is basically just chill the fuck out, you know? And I think that just that point in my life I wasn’t chill. Like your friend [Jimmy Barrett] just clocked me and said, ‘you know, I think you’re a performer.’ You have direct eye contact, and you have energy, and you know, he was probably kind by not saying ‘you’re loud and you’re animated.’ But you have to tone those things down. You have to sit the theater kid down for a while when you do TV.

The biggest commercial I was in was a Superbowl commercial. And honestly, that one, I knew from the moment, I had to have that one because I don’t really like football all that much, but my one team is Michigan State Spartans, and I went in there, I had the full face paint and I just did the 300.

RRX: Did you get a copy of it, or was it just ephemeral?

JH: It was ephemeral because I didn’t have any way to record it. But they actually cast me as a Browns fan. Of all things, I was bundled up, I had a puffy jacket on and denim on denim on denim, and it was me going to a bar and pounding the bar and just screaming. Yeah, it was fun.

RRX: Vaudeville. You love Vaudeville, let’s talk about it.

JH: What I can say about Vaudeville is that it’s literally just a potpourri. A bit of everything. You got your little tap dance, you’ve got music and singing and impressions… people think of it as stuck in the 20s and 30s, as it should be, because that’s when it was relevant. That’s when it was the entertainment of the masses. Before the talkies and the movies took over. That’s why it’s stuck there, but there’s no reason why you can’t do it again.

I was asked to be in the Marx Fest this year. It’s in a week-and-a-half. I originally said yes, but then I said no because I am moving, And they said ‘you can’t just do it in the style of-, you have to do a song or a skit or something that the Marx brothers did.’ I just didn’t have enough time to put one together and get a Harpo wig and everything.

It’s a delight. When I was living in Johnstown, I really became enamored of the Glove Theatre, an old Vaudeville house, and became a movie theater, then went into disrepair. And they’re bringing it back. They got four million dollars in grants. Two million of which Kathy Hochul was standing there with an oversized check.

RRX: I love those oversized checks. They’re awesome.

JH: Very Vaudeville.

RRX: But can you actually go to the bank with a big ass check and cash it?

JH: You’ll have to ask them sometime.

JH: In terms of Vaudeville where most people see it; I haven’t lived in the city proper for many years, so I don’t know what happened with the Burlesque revival, if we’re doing Burlesque as much as they were doing in the 2000s. I know that was just all over the place, and then fire dancing and aerial lists kind of took over from that.

RRX: I’ve seen fire dancing.

JH: Okay, so they’re still doing it. Usually, you have a Vaudevillian hosting. You know, you’ve got somebody who’s really a jack of all trades, and super charismatic, and able – this is what I’m kind of proud of – people who can do Vaudeville can usually do everything else. We can go into a different theater every single night, not know the layout, not know where the dressing room is, but also not need it. We’re operating the curtain, we’re doing front of house. It’s just kind of, in the best possible way, a war zone. A lot of producers who are charismatic can be Vaudevillians. They just have to do it.



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