People with Passion: Jake Kenowitz, horn player

People with Passion

Jake Kenowitz, horn player and Great Divide founding member

Interview December 3, 2010

Great Divide at the Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Fest (photo by Xaq Mayfield)

After a summer full of touring the Midwest and East Coast, Great Divide played the first night of the Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Fest, performing a half hour set at the Double Door on Friday, December 3, 2010. The evening came with a last-minute lineup change when saxophone player Eric Schindler dropped out for personal reasons. This left the band with only one horn player, trombonist David Ben-Porat, who joined the band on a temporary basis during the summer as a replacement for founding member Jake Kenowitz, who left the band to work and play in New York City.

As it turned out, Kenowitz was available on short notice, and joined his replacement Ben-Porat on stage to complete the Great Divide lineup.

The first pairing of Kenowitz and Ben-Porat became a small-world connection when the two horn players learned that they attended the same Connecticut high school six years apart. This revelation came at Wicker Park’s tacos and booze joint Big Star, where the band enjoyed a pre-show round.

Once on stage, the pair became an easy duo. Kenowitz fell back into his communication banter usually shared with Schindler, and the music veteran Ben-Porat – who was on his way to a Southside gig later in the evening – easily vibed with his new horn partner.

The performance itself was a hit; Great Divide entertained the Double Door crowd with a mix of original compositions and cover creations, a well-earned cherry on their 2010 pie. When the show ended, Kenowitz and Ben-Porat shook hands and shared a horn player moment, their first, and perhaps only, pairing a complete success.

I caught up with Kenowitz after the show to discuss his time away from Great Divide, his new life in New York, and his plans for the future.

Jake Kenowitz, playing with Great Divide in July 2010 (photo by Sami Mendell)

I was with Great Divide for half the summer. It was a great experience. But I kind of ran out of money. And I realized I wanted to improve myself before I committed to a band. I miss playing with them every day. They’re my best friends, and they sound great. I never thought I would be playing in a rock band, because I’m a horn player. I want to reach my potential. I always wondered, “What if I’m not that good?” I wanted to sit down and work on my shit. I felt like New York was the place to do it.

I like Chicago. And maybe eventually I’ll move there. But I was really digging New York, and I wanted to try and get into the jazz scene.

What have you been doing in New York?

I’ve been playing with a couple groups here and there, a couple brass bands. I’ve gone on a lot of jam sessions. Played with Birdland Big Band one night. Doing that, and also working in the city at CBS where I got a page position. I started working at one of the TV shows booking audiences, which is great. Steady income’s nice. But I wanted to play. So next Friday I’m going to Singapore to play on a cruise ship for like five months.

I always knew I wanted to do a cruise ship. Stuck on a boat for five months might seem like a little much, but I always wanted to experience it, to travel, and just play for a living. So I’m gonna do that, play overseas. It might not be the best music, but it will be a great experience, and I’ll definitely practice a lot. Getting better is my goal.

I noticed that there were points on stage where you were directing David a little bit. It looked like you got right back into the swing of being on stage –

(Laughs.) That was our first time playing together. It was tough, but a lot of fun. I like Dave – we’re actually from the same hometown, which is pretty crazy. But, yeah – I didn’t have to show him that much. Just a few things to make sure we were tighter.

Horn players Kenowitz and Eric Schindler (photo by Sami Mendell)

We did the best we could without Eric. Eric’s such a big voice, and he has his harmonies, so I had to try to play his harmonies. It was a little all over the place, but I thought it ended up well. Dave’s a great player. I thought we matched up.

So what is it that you love playing with Great Divide? Obviously you’re playing with different bands in New York, you’re playing this gig in Singapore –

I love the atmosphere. It’s just amazing, you know? When we play together, and we’re all looking at each other, just jumping up and down, having a good time. And the venues we play at are great. Sometimes I’ll play a jazz club, and people are just sitting down, relaxing.

I love playing with Great Divide. All my good friends, we all started it together, it’s just a lot of fun. That’s all I got to say. It’s just too much fun. (Laughs.)

Catch Great Divide at Wicker Park’s Subterranean (2011 W. North Ave.) this Saturday night! For more info on the band, check them out at GreatDivideBand.com, or follow them on Twitter @GreatDivideLive.

For details on the 2011 Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Fest, follow @chibluegrass.

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