- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Musician Kristin Hersh has some eye-opening numbers to show for her lengthy career. She was just 14 when she started her first band, Throwing Muses (which also featured Tanya Donelly before she worked with The Breeders and Belly). Counting this post-punk outfit, her noisier 50 Foot Wave trio and her solo career, she has 21 records under her belt. At 40, she’s lost count of how many shows she’s done — but it likely numbers in the thousands. Somehow, she has found time to raise and home-school four children with her husband, Billy O’Connell.

“I’m probably running down a little bit,” the artist admits.

Nevertheless, she delivered what she calls her most “complicated” record in January, a solo effort titled “Learn to Sing Like a Star.” “I couldn’t make these songs sound good using my favorite [low-frills] production treatment,” she explains, so she called on U.K.-based duo the McCarricks to glaze her new tracks with a lush, orchestral sheen — something of a Hersh first.

Though a visa snag forced them to miss the first few days of Miss Hersh’s current tour, the twosome is also a part of her latest batch of live shows; they join the vocalist-guitarist, her bassist and her drummer onstage as her string section.

“It’s more people than I’ve ever played with,” says Miss Hersh. “Five people is a lot of sound. I just walk around during the set and listen.”

While her music may have a fresh finish, some things have never changed for the artist.

“I’m terribly shy,” she says — so shy that “my Throwing Muses band mates and I used to take out our contact lenses before we played, so we’d be lost in a swirl of sound and couldn’t see anybody.” The performer has since deserted that particular technique, but even after years of gigging, the discomfort of being photographed, being interviewed and being dissected by others continues to linger.

“I think any real musician is going to feel that way,” she says, “because we involve ourselves with sound and introspection. I so don’t relate to the outside. I had a friend lose 100 pounds and I didn’t even notice, because he was ‘in’ his eyes for me. His face was the same.”

Keeping her focus inward, however, may be the reason Miss Hersh still has the energy to keep three projects afloat and her Web site (www.throwingmusic.com) stocked with free new tunes; she doesn’t just tune out the audiences and media outlets that make her nervous, but also the critics who might dictate the type of music she makes.

She “takes the dollar out of it,” lets the music tell her what to do, and hopes the fans keep on following her musical fancies.

So far, so good.

Miss Hersh and crew blow through Arlington’s Iota Club and Cafe (www.iotaclubandcafe.com) tonight. Dolorean opens the show, which starts at 9.

Sound the trumpet

Jazz trumpeter Sean Jones is not yet 29, and yet he worries about the state of the arts in this country.

“Society as a whole is suffering,” he says. “Anything that represents any artistic integrity is suffering.” To turn things around, he thinks it’s necessary for “the people who know” to step up and support pursuits that hold deeper meaning than what’s currently dominating popular culture — deeper, that is, than the catalog of “cursing, exploitation of women and all” that he hears blasted on the airwaves these days.

Mr. Jones is doing his part to advance artistic endeavors he believes in — and then some. When he’s not inspiring a new generation of jazz performers and fans as assistant professor of jazz studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, he’s playing 200 gigs and churning out one album of largely original material (most recently, 2006’s gospel-infused “Roots”) a year. Many of his tours are with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, for whom he plays lead trumpet.

The musician says he’s never been afraid to swim against pop culture currents, even as a youngster. He discovered Miles Davis in fifth grade, a time when his classmates were bopping to Bobby Brown and dancing to Duran Duran.

“I noticed they were only listening to it because someone else was,” he says. “There was no passion to [it].” As someone who grew up singing in church, Mr. Jones formed the conviction early on that melodies were “supposed to say something to your soul and that music [on the radio] just didn’t do that for me. Jazz spoke to me in that way,” he says.

Since his childhood days studying trumpet, the artist has engaged countless others in this musical conversation — from audiences at baseball games (he plays a mean national anthem) to performers with whom he’s shared stages , such as Patti LaBelle.

At the end of the day, the musician has faith that his efforts aren’t in vain. “Nothing that’s good or that has any real quality will ever die,” he says. “It’ll change, but it won’t die.” Mr. Jones performs his work at Blues Alley (www.bluesalley.com) on Tuesday and Wednesday, at 8 and 10 p.m.

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