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Chicago Singer-Songwriter Pulls From Jazz And Classical Background

Jared Rabin
Jared Rabin performs at Nightshop in downtown Bloomington on Thursday, Nov. 29.

Jared Rabin's family has deep roots in music. Both his parents and grandmother were musicians, and his violinist grandfather Samuel Magad recently retired as first chair of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

“He was in the orchestra for roughly 50 years," said Rabin via Skype from his Chicago area home. “They started me playing violin when I was 5 years old learning classical violin, which is something I did while growing up.”

But like many kids, lessons weren’t a high priority.

“They had to tie me down to practice violin when I was a kid,” Rabin chuckled. “But then I gravitated toward the guitar and playing rock and jazz, which they didn’t necessarily push me toward, but they were like, ‘It’s OK as long as you keep doing this too.”

By his own admission, he had some game, and eventually took that love of guitar and music to DePaul University, where he earned a master’s degree in jazz composition. As the now Americana multi-instrumentalist prepares for a performance at Nightshop in downtown Bloomington on Thursday, Nov. 29, as part of the songwriter series, he was asked how his studies at DePaul helped him become a better songwriter in his current endeavor.

“After doing composition at school and being in a band that was instrumental and compositionally focused and more complex music, I had to basically ignore all that. This (Americana) is the kind of music most organically comes out. It’s not like writing for a big band or progressive rock band and thinking ‘how can we come up with some cool double guitar harmonized shredding,’” said Rabin.

He’s been a prolific writer recently, releasing the “Wondering About The Weather” EP in May, and two other singles since.

“I definitely have time every day where I’m working on one aspect of songwriting or another,” said Rabin. “Usually I have a bunch of material ready, then record demos at home and track it somewhere else and revising it throughout (the process).”

On the new EP’s opening track “Back To You,” Rabin hints at late night loneliness many musicians encounter after out of town gigs.

3 a.m. behind the wheel driving Lightning strikes somewhere across the border line Avoiding roadway county cops Can’t afford no roadside stops Running in this race against time 00000179-3270-d250-a579-f27d1e440000- from "Back To You" off “Wondering About The Weather”

“I guess I’m talking about getting back to my wife Sarah. She’s part of the inspiration of the song,” said Rabin. “And we now have a kid who is a year and a half, so if I’m writing it about this moment it could be about him too. But really it’s a song that could be about anybody.”

Despite Rabin’s insistence that he had to forget his jazz training, you can hear that background in the rich sounds on “Wondering About The Weather.” The title track evokes the jazzy pop of mid-1980s The Style Council. The song is a subtle attempt to address the current political climate.

This is the sound of waiting around And wondering about the weather Is it ever going go snow again I don’t know when I don’t know how The world turned upside down

"It’s sort of a stream of consciousness I guess,” said Rabin. “That’s what I was going for, I’m not sure if it worked."

You can never know you can never really know There is some junk down the rabbit hole But once you buy a ticket No amount of drinking can help you forget - Title track to “Wondering About The Weather.”

“At the time I was obsessed with politics,” said Rabin. “The rabbit hole reference, subtly or not, was me just being woke, waking up to what is going on. I didn’t want it to be anything overt.”

It’s an impressive sophomore release and a step up from his previous album that received accolades and a spot on some Americana music charts. Rabin said his songwriting keeps maturing.

“I have lots of recordings from the past 12 years that I can’t even stand to put on because I hate them,” he laughed. “The last two or three releases I’ve done I can least say I don’t hate them. So I think that’s a sign.”

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Jon Norton is the audio director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.