Born in Winnipeg during the worst blizzard in ten years (talk about luck!), Jennifer was raised with five siblings just outside of Fort Frances, Ontario. The Canadian Shield was her backyard. Given to daydreaming and wandering in nature, she fell in love with the northern bush: blooming bog and marsh marigolds in spring, towering white pines, blueberry picking down old logging roads and swimming in the deep sapphire blue of Rainy Lake. In winter, she skated with her siblings on a frozen pond, shovelled snow, hauled wood, played shinny and froze her ears on the way to school.
It is an unlikely place for a jazz musician to begin but music is in her bones: her great- great-grandfather played the fiddle at socials in the early 1900s; her grandparents played together in a small dance band in northern Manitoba during the ‘40s. While sitting with her grandmother Elsie at the piano, Jennifer learned to sing and play old time standards. She brought home countless records from the public library in Fort Frances, from Duke Ellington’s orchestra live in Stockholm to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at Massey Hall.
Teaching herself piano at age 8, Jennifer played several instruments and sang in musicals and choir. She played trombone in Mood Indigo, a Minnesotan big band, but she wanted to sing. A taped audition landed her an acceptance in UWO’s Bachelor of Music Performance program; by her final year she sang the principal mezzo role (The Secretary) in Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul.” She attended opera workshops in Toronto where she met and worked with Stephanie Bogle, Stuart Hamilton and Maureen Forrester. Her natural facility for languages was also finely developed during her years at Western.
After graduation, Jennifer appeared in music theatre and folk groups in London; she performed to positive reviews at McManus Theatre, Home County Folk Festival, Borealis’ showcase at Harbourfront Centre and Port Stanley’s Festival Theatre.
Lightning struck when she heard guitarist Larry Smith & The Jitterbugs, a jump-jive swing band comprised of a who’s who of London’s jazz musicians. Discovering the Jitterbugs was like discovering her musical family. Jennifer began sitting in regularly at Boomerz Night Club where she learned to sing with a band (no rehearsals) and swing dance. For a girl fascinated by Rita Hayworth and old Hollywood it was a dream come true.
At the same time, Maggie’s Supper and Jazz Club in London, owned by jazz promoter Ed Bloor, started to feature live jazz and Jennifer quickly became one of the favourite performers, going on to hold a regular gig with pianist John Noubarian.
The next decade of work proved a busy one. Jennifer and Larry Smith married and had a son, Henry, while continuing to work in London and Southwestern Ontario. Several appearances at the John Labatt Centre, Centennial Hall, various clubs, festivals and casinos comprised a large part of Red’s work, including a performance with Orchestra London on Pops Concert “From Gypsy To Jazz.” She also recorded for singer-songwriter Mike Gorman on his debut album which featured Canadian folk icons Willie P. Bennett and John P. Allen.
With the end of her marriage in 2007, it was time to redefine not just her life but her music. She felt jaded with the jazz world and far removed from her roots in northwestern Ontario. At Home County Folk Festival that summer, she heard Paul & Trevor Mills playing Stan Rogers’, “45 Years.” It was a revelation. The next day, she went to The Village Idiot record store in London to buy a copy of Fogarty’s Cove. She began listening to Rogers and other Canadian folk icons. That fall she attended the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals and was further inspired upon meeting Ariel Rogers and Paul Mills.
Aeolian Hall in London invited Red to perform with the House Band led by pianist Bryan Gloyd. She began to arrange jazz versions of Canadian folk: Rogers’ “Turnaround” became a delicate jazz waltz. Covers and reinventions of songs by Hank Snow, Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Fearing, Willie P Bennett, Penny Lang and Leslie Feist were received with enthusiasm by the audience and the musicians. Aeolian Hall continued to support Red in her performance and craft; it was here that she first worked with Mark Eisenman in 2010.
Red’s career in music journalism also began to take off, landing interviews with Canadian greats Colin Linden, Ron Sexsmith, Little Miss Higgins and more for London publications The Beat, Artscape, The Home County Festival Program and The Aeolian Hall. Especially dear were her visits to Jackie Washington shortly before he died.
In 2009, after 10 years in London, Red moved to St Marys, Ontario and began a new life with husband, Greg Margison. With another son, Graham, born in 2010, and a small teaching studio, life and music continued to evolve.
Following her Jazz Vocalist nomination at the 2012 Jack Richardson Music Awards in London, she recorded with Canadian jazz greats Mark Eisenman and Reg Schwager at Loach Engineering in Toronto; the session included her bossa arrangement of Willie P. Bennett’s, “The Lucky Ones” and a double-metre reinvention of Gordon Lightfoot’s, “Pussywillows, Cattails.” She also recorded Jobim tunes “Corcovado” and “Agua De Beber” in Portuguese and the classic Yves Montand hit, “Les Feuilles Mortes,” en français.
Currently, Red is writing original Canadian jazz material with plans to record her debut album, “Miss January.” She also continues to guest host “All That Jazz” with friend and broadcaster A.J. Lavoie on CHRW 94.9 FM.