In Jen Chapin's World, Dad Harry's Causes Remain Strong

Oct 15, 2015

Jen Chapin remembers the dinner time talk while growing up on Long Island, she says. Father Harry presided, and the discussions often turned to the causes he held so dearly.

"The five of us kids heard it," the singer and songwriter says during a recent phone conversation. "Even though I was young, it seemed to stick with me."

In particular, she says, the thought of people going without food motivated her father. He started the charity World Hunger Year to fight back. 

Jen Chapin performs in Syracuse in 2013. (Photo by Tom Honan)
 "The issue of hunger worldwide and nationwide grabbed my dad because it was so opposite of what we had and experienced," Jen Chapin says. "It struck him as ridiculous because he felt we could feed the world three times times over. Food as a human right and facing industrialized racism, with farmers being toppled, were so important to him. It made the most sense to go small, focus local, and go beyond feeding to nourishment.

"We all have social consciousness and his sense of community," she says of the family. "But as far as looking at it now, it's me. It feels very real."

So, Chapin says, it's important that music lovers planning to attend her Syracuse-area show on Oct. 24 at the Steeple Coffee House in Fayetteville know that she wants them to bring non-perishable food and household items to contribute.

She'll use her platform as a musician to keep the dreams of helping the world she shared with her father alive, indeed. After all, his celebrity and fan base most likely had something to do with her career lasting 15 years now, too.

"I'm not a player (in the business)," she says humbly. "Who would that be now, Nicki Manaj? I'm just me. The generation before me, it was my dad and my  uncles. So because of my family, it was sure, you're one of them. That was impactful as far as acceptance. I'd say there was a small and passionate base, curious because of my dad, because they love him."

Harry's first hit was the long and winding song "Taxi" from 1972 album "Heads and Tails," and a song that followed went all the way to No. 1 in 1974, father-and-son heart-tugger "Cat's in the Cradle."

Jen was only 10 when her father died during a car accident on the Long Island Expressway in July 1981. But she was privvy to stories like the time her dad played the benefit concert to help save downtown Syracuse's Landmark Theatre from the wrecking ball in 1977.

"People often stop me to tell stories about what my Dad did for them," she says.

Her show next Saturday will feature her trio, with husband Stephan Crump on bass and Jaime Fox on electric guitar. Her style is described as a cross between folk and jazz.

Wrote critic Will Layman for Pop Matters of a 2013 show in Washington, D.C., club the Bohemian Caverns:

"The trio tonight is not quite a jazz group, as the leader will soon joke, even though the bass player is a premiere jazz player on this instrument. But he’s also the musical (and married) partner to this great singer, Jen Chapin, daughter of the famous Harry Chapin, though Jen is far from a folk artist. Rather, she occupies a territory that’s closer to soul and jazz, except that her songs have a firm rooting in both the stories and the social causes (and social observations) that make folk music important.

"After playing the opening tune from her latest album, 'Reckoning,' Jen says, 'We’re too folk for jazz and too jazz for folk.' But when you actually hear the group play, hear Jen sing, bending her notes, dig the airy and impressionistic and mysterious chords that underlie the verse to the next tune, 'Insatiable,' you realize that this is just jazz that tells stories in more direct words. The simplicity, perhaps, doesn’t seem very 'jazz' to jazz people. But they’re wrong."

She's in a good place, Chapin says after dropping off her 6-year-old at his school in Brooklyn, eight albums in and thinking about what comes next.

"The latest song I wrote is called 'Home.' That could be a theme (for her next album)," she says. "A lot of songs come out of life. A lot I've said already. I look at my songs, and I think, 'I like it, it still speaks to the politics.'

"Now I write about my kids. My mom is 80 years old, and she's a formidable person. I said, 'Let me write a swarthy blues song for my formidable mom,' " she says. "My bassist is my husband. I'll write a song in my solitary way and then show it. Sure it's about him and us. Nobody has to say it. But it's celebrating our 16 years together."

Jen Chapin (trio) live in ConcertSteeple Coffee House Concert Series310 E. Genesee St., Fayetteville, N.Y.Saturday, Oct. 24Showtime 7:30 p.m.  Doors 7 p.m.Tickets: $15, available at the door.  More information: 315-663-7415Free parking behind the building.