Jenn Jade’s Love Affair with Paris
Jenn Jade’s debut album titled Truth
Native New Yorker Jenn Jade Ledesna has found a lasting home at the storied Trois Mailletz club in the Latin Quarter of Paris – bringing an astounding combination of jazz, dance and theater to the underground venue.
When Jenn Jade Ledesna steps on the stage at the Trois Mailletz underground world-music venue in Paris, and then starts energetically singing and dancing, you immediately sense you’re getting more than your money’s worth. “As they teach you in school,” Jenn Jade says, “you have to be a triple threat: You have to sing, dance and act. You must do all three or you won’t eat. You can’t be a one-trick pony. But I’m a quadruple threat – because I also compose music.”
Indeed, this “quadruple threat” delivers an astounding performance that includes elements of a jazz concert, dance performance and Broadway show all in one. “Extraordinary” and “spellbinding” are the ways reviewers have described her.
Jenn Jade’s multiple talents and dramatic on-stage persona make her one of Trois Mailletz’ leading performers and she’s been entertaining audiences at the club in the heart of Paris for nearly a decade. After you see Jenn Jade on stage, you may not be surprised to learn that’s she’s from New York City, USA – the Bronx, to be specific. She has that Broadway/New York kind of feel that audiences instantly sense and embrace.
However, there’s a catch. Off stage, Jenn Jade the person is sharply different than Jenn Jade the performer. Jenn Jade’s demeanor when she’s not performing is down-to-earth and Bronx-like, contrasting with her flashy on-stage persona.
“Off work, I am the kind of girl who says, ‘Let’s go play some basketball. Let’s go to a diner’,” she says in all honesty. “I’m not one to glam myself up when not performing. I’m a very domestic person; I like being at home and reading. When I perform is when I go out.”
Jenn Jade then hands me her résumé as we are indeed eating in a one of the few diners in Paris, located in her tony St. Germain neighborhood. I look over Jenn Jade’s extensive résumé and I am instantly overwhelmed. Her résumé covers a vast range of accomplishments. “Where to begin?” I wonder. Later, I came up with this summary that just scratches the surface of her great body of work.
Jenn Jade, with a voice range of four octaves, has performed at the famous Carnegie Hall in New York City, singing in the late 2000s in collaboration with the renowned Bobby McFerrin in a show called Instant Opera!
She placed third in in an international voice competition at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, one of the most famous jazz festivals in the world, also in the late 2000s.
Jenn Jade recently released her debut album of original compositions titled Truth, including a steamy Latino ballad titled “Regresa – Live at the Kennedy Center,” recorded at the famed venue in Washington, D.C., USA.
Jenn Jade has appeared on The Nueva Estrella Awards (a Latin American Idol-like show) as a semifinalist (on CBS) and was featured on France 2’s Envoye Special Broadway documentary.
She has performed at the Salvador Dali Jazz Festival in Brazil and the famous Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse in New York City.
Jenn Jade sang at the world premiere tour of the contemporary dance show Chapel/Chapter with the electrifying Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company.
She lit up the stage of Norway's International Silda Jazz Festival with her group named Jenn Jade & RajAfro.
Some of Jenn Jade’s favorite acting roles (including off-Broadway shows) include Dorothy (The Wiz), Maria (West Side Story), Marta (Company) and Julie Jordan (Carousel).
Recently, Jenn Jade performed in a concert series called Jenn Jade en Chile at the Las Condes municipal theater in Santiago, Chile.
Classically trained, Jenn has studied with such masters as Wynton Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Jim Carson, Anna Ext, Richard Harper and Buster Williams (and she has often performed on stage with her teachers). Jenn Jade has also performed with the renowned Robert Glasper (American jazz pianist, record producer and Grammy Award winner) and Junior Mance (American jazz pianist and composer), as well as many other accomplished jazz, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban singers and musicians such as Candido Camero and Dave Valentin. Let your fingers do the walking through Google if you’re unfamiliar with any of these famed artists and masters.
And, oh yes, Jenn Jade also performs steady gigs at various bars and venues in the New York Tri-State Area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) as well as and national acts in the USA including occasional gigs in Miami.
About now, you might wonder when Jenn Jade has the time (and energy) to sing at Trois Mailletz in Paris. The club features a group of talented performers each night singing “world music” – songs from all over the globe, with Jenn Jade aptly covering the Latino portion of the program with a touch of Broadway.
“When I need a break,” Jenn Jade explains, “I come to Trois Mailletz in Paris. I don’t have to worry about anything – no contracts, no directing. It’s all set up for me, I’m a free agent. I can just come and sing and relax. Paris is my break.”
“Why wouldn’t you want a beautiful woman with her talent performing at your club?” says Jacques Boni, the owner/director of the storied Trois Mailletz club in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Indeed, Boni has allowed Jenn Jade to come and go at Trois Mailletz since 2007, always accommodating her hectic worldwide performance schedule.
Born and Raised in the Bronx
Jenn Jade was born and raised in the Bronx, New York City in a bilingual house, the youngest of five children. Her father was from the Dominican Republic and mother from Puerto Rico. Boni sometimes introduces her as being from Puerto Rico and New York as part of the show. Jenn Jade’s slight New York accent is evident during conversation but not on stage.
Jenn Jade says growing up in the Bronx was a pleasant experience. The Bronx in her day was a kinder, gentler place then than its previous rougher reputation.
“When I grew up, the Bronx was placid, green and sweet – it was friendly and nice,” she says. “I had a beautiful upbringing. It was like a Spanish Crosby show – if you can say that anymore. I was very loved by my parents.”
Dreamed of Being a Doctor
When I ask Jenn Jade if she always dreamed of being a performer, a tour-de-force in entertainment, she surprisingly says no. Jenn Jade initially wanted to be a doctor.
Then, Jenn Jade respectfully explains that her father died when she was age 11 – from interstitial lung disease (a disease similar to black lung). “I wanted to help others,” she says. “I didn’t want anyone else’s dad to die from this.”
So Jenn Jade studied biopsychology at the prestigious and highly selective Vassar College north of New York City with the intent to become a pulmonary specialist.
However, you could say her musical talent derailed her aspiration to become a doctor.
Before going to Vassar, Jenn Jade attended the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art in New York City – the setting of the two Fame Hollywood movies. Jenn Jade majored in voice and made an impression on two famous entertainers while there.
While playing basketball on a court behind the LaGuardia school (“I love playing basketball,” she says), she improbably met Wynton Marsalis, an internationally acclaimed musician, composer, bandleader and educator, as well as the current artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. After Jenn Jade told Marsalis that she wanted to be a doctor (and not necessary a singer although she was attending the Fame high school), Marsalis took an interest in her professionally and arranged to see her perform in a casual setting.
You have to picture it: a brash high schooler in Jenn Jade singing George Gershwin’s "Embraceable You" to a famous American jazz musician and bandleader in Marsalis, after a chance meeting on a neighborhood basketball court. According to Jenn Jade, Marsalis’ verdict after hearing her sing was: “I have news for you: you’re not going to be a doctor. When you decide to be a singer and take it seriously, let me know [which she did in due course].”
Fast forward to Jenn Jade’s Fame school pre-graduation ceremony, in which the legendary singer Tony Bennett attended and sang a series of songs, including "The Best is Yet to Come." As senior class president, Jenn Jade met Bennett after the show and told him: “I don’t know if I want to be singer or a doctor.” Bennett simply replied: “Why don’t you do both, baby?”
At first, Jenn Jade tried to do both, but the consequences were disastrous. Jenn Jade tried juggling her biology and chemistry studies at Vassar College while taking private vocal lessons and performing for the school’s a cappella group called Vassar Devils and the Vassar jazz band. She also took part in various performances, including the play Pippen (playing Fastrada) and opera workshops. “I wasn’t sleeping much,” she says of the time.
During this strenuous time, Jenn Jade woke up one morning, to her horror, and simply could not speak. “I lost my voice, the ability to phonate,” she says. “It was super scary and sad. I had to give up all my performances. It was like my identity was compromised.”
Fortunately, after seeing a voice specialist and giving her vocal cords ample rest and weekly therapy, Jenn Jade’s voice came back. Her vocal therapist cried after Jenn Jade sang a part of “My Funny Valentine” as her first song after the long respite of six weeks. “I did vocal therapy every week,” she says. “My vocal chords were just swollen, there was no permanent damage.”
After this life event, Jenn Jade took a leave of absence from Vassar after her first year and never returned. As fate would have it, she shifted her focus to performing only. Over the following years, she would go on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the New School University Jazz Conservatory in New York. Furthermore, she studied drama at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute and dance at the Martha Graham School, both also in New York. “It’s the bittersweet nature of life,” she says of the arduous road to becoming a performer. “Life can go in many directions.”
Landing in Paris and at Trois Mailletz
In 2004 in at the Carlye Hotel in New York, Jenn Jade attended a concert by Eartha Kitt, an American actress, singer and dancer. During the show, Kitt recounted how she had seen Edith Piaf perform in Paris when Piaf was not far removed from her days of singing in the streets for money. Piaf went on to be widely regarded as France's national diva, as well as being one of France's greatest international stars. “When I heard about Edith Piaf’s rags-to-riches story, the seed was planted … I wanted to go to Paris,” she says.
Around the same time, Jenn Jade was working as cocktail waitress at The Super Club on Broadway at an open mike night called Jim Caruso’s Cast Party. Jenn Jade was asked one night to sing during a show, and when she did, the maître d'hôtel (Lionel Casseroux) said she had a persona and mannerisms like Edith Piaf. That intensified her desire to go to Paris.
Again, as fate would have it, Jenn Jade soon got her chance to go to Paris later in the summer of 2007. She expected to work on a personal exposé project exploring “What is the root of French music?” Instead, she earned a spot in the Montreux Jazz Festival’s international voice competition held each year in Switzerland and set up shop in Paris (relatively close to the Montreux festival) for three months to prepare for the prestigious event. “I got a place to stay in Paris,” she says, “and put names of my competitors [in the voice competition] on the wall. I had always wanted to come go to Paris, and there I was!”
During her preparation for the Montreux Jazz Festival, in which she placed third as previously mentioned, a family friend took her to the Trois Mailletz club in the Latin Quarter. “My first impression was of shock,” Jenn Jade says of the club. At first she thought Trois Mailletz was just a piano bar, which it is on the top floor. And when she descended downstairs into the Trois Mailletz underground club, she saw two scantily dressed dancers performing to German music on stage, and she became even more confused.
Owner/director Boni met Jenn Jade at the entrance to the cave and allayed her fears. He had been running the historical club for some 25 years then, and the club’s top singer Pascal Toussaint also explained the history of the storied venue (which has no nudity) to her. Boni was tipped off that Jenn Jade was a singer. “My objective was just to practice in Paris [for the Montreux Jazz Festival],” she says. “But Jacques wanted me to sing at Trois Mailletz. So I came back the next day for an audition.”
Wearing a black halter dress and sporting curly hair, Jenn Jade indeed made her debut at Trois Mailletz the next day and hasn’t looked back. “I improvised that first night,” she says. “I made up multi-lingual lyrics, made it happen over the chord structure. I just fit in. I say this graciously, but it’s like my family. Everyone there is so loving, so cool.”
“I was there for Jenn Jade’s audition,” says Parisian pianist Jean-Marie Renucci. “It was a new spark for Trois Mailletz. She brought jazz back to the place.”
Jenn Jade continued to prepare for the Montreux Jazz Festival during those early days in Paris but also found time to perform at Trois Mailletz. After the Montreux festival, Jenn Jade stayed on with Trois Mailletz and performs there a few months each year whenever her schedule allows.
Of her Trois Mailletz experience, Jenn Jade says, “Jacques is a master at getting the best out of every artist there. Jacques is a very caring and loving man, but he plays devil’s advocate just to see how you will react. That environment teaches you how to put on your armor for the real world.”
She continues: “We singers are like athletes. When I say an athlete, I mean you must perform on a high level every night to captivate and entice people to stay and return.”
And when Jenn Jade is in the house, you will stay to see all of her many talents on display that evening – her quadruple threat of singing, dancing, acting and performing new original music.
Latest Updates on Jenn Jade
- Jenn Jade is currently working on her second album that she intends to call “Orphan”. It’s a unique title: her father died when she was young, and her mother Ana recently died in 2015. “I’m singing to survive and surviving to sing,” Jenn Jade says. “When I experience life changes, I summon up all of my energy and undergo a ‘sonic healing’. Music is the exorcism; it feels good to sing; it’s extremely therapeutic.”
- In late 2015, Jenn Jade cut a track for the rapper Pitbull. She sang the lyrics of Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You,” with interludes to allow Pitbull to insert his mix of music as he sees fit as the project progresses.
Jennifer Jade with Bobby McFerrin at Carnegie Hall, New York City
Jenn Jade Career Highlights
- Years at Trois Mailletz: 2007-Present
- Nationality: USA (parents from Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic)
- Occupation: Singer, songwriter, actress, dancer
- Music: Jazz, popular, Broadway musicals, Latino music and classical music
Career Highlights: Sang at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Performed at Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and Chapel/Chapter dance show with Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company. Appeared on TV on CBS’ The Nueva Estrella Awards (a Latin American Idol-like show) and France 2’s Envoye Special Broadway documentary. Dozens of acting roles including off-Broadway shows. Performances at numerous jazz festivals and solo concerts in some 40 countries worldwide.