San Francisco Chronicle
Harp that shimmers in a whole new way
Ella Jenkins, the Half Moon Bay harpist and songwriter whose blues-tinged bass lines and drones depart from the celestial plucks and swirls typically associated with her ancient instrument, became a singer by necessity.
“There were things I wanted to hear, sounds crashing around in my head. For that music to come out, I had to start singing it,” says Jenkins, whose understated, intimate vocals are set off by the rhythmic snap and resonance of her harp strokes.
She’s a graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in Glasgow, Scotland, where she studied Scottish harp and Gaelic song, freely incorporated other styles into her playing and began writing songs. She plans to sing some of the “blues-, folk- and pop-influenced” numbers off her debut album, “Who Asked You Back,” during a show Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Mirada Art Gallery in Half Moon Bay and Feb. 10 at Sands Studios on Bryant Street in San Francisco.
Jenkins, who studied classical harp as a child in Southern California (she lived in Malibu till she was 16, then the Tejon Pass mountain town of Frazier Park in Kern County), appreciated the beauty of the instrument in its dreamy and heavenly modes. But she wanted to go a different route, “looking at the instrument from a songwriting perspective,” she says, “approaching it more like a guitar than how it’s traditionally used.”
Jenkins, 29, has good musical genes. Daughter of the very musical Chronicle sports columnist Bruce Jenkins and his former wife, Dawn, she is the granddaughter of three noted musicians: Bruce’s father, the celebrated arranger and composer Gordon Jenkins; Bruce’s mother, the fine singer Beverly Mahr; and Dawn’s father, the versatile reed player and bandleader Bill Ulyate.
“I never got to know any of my grandparental musical influences,” says Jenkins, but she grew up listening to their records.
Jenkins plays a one-of-a-kind foldable harp. She designed the aluminum-framed instrument with her boyfriend, metalsmith Zachary Schultz, who fabricated it.
“It was designed to fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane,” the harpist explains. Rather than the usual 30 strings, hers has 29. She tends not use the upper octave anyway, “so we ditched the high A string,” Jenkins says.
She was initially concerned about the tone quality of an instrument with an aluminum box. The wood-framed harp has a warmer, richer sound, but she’s come to love the cooler sound of this one, which is “bright and clear, with a kind of bell-like ring. It’s a much larger sound than you’d expect. The resonance is lovely.”
For more information, go to https://ellaharp.com.
Veteran Bay Area artist Rupert Garcia is scheduled to be on hand at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco’s Dogpatch district Saturday, Feb. 3, to talk about the paintings and prints in the current show there, “Rupert Garcia: Rolling Thunder.” It’s a 50-year survey of his work, focusing on the war imagery informed by his experiences in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.
Garcia plans to converse with University of San Francisco professor and former Philadelphia Museum of Art curator John Zarobell, and sign copies of the exhibition catalog.
For more information, go to http://renabranstengallery.com.
Fans of ’80s rock should have a field day when San Francisco’s Journey and the English band Def Leppard team up for a mega 2018 North American tour that starts in Hartford, Conn., in May and winds its way to San Francisco’s AT&T Park on Sept. 21. The aging rockers last toured together 12 years ago.
Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 3. For more details, go to www.ticketmaster. com.
Jewish and Iraqi music
For something a little more off the beaten path, consider the World Strings shows in the street-side space at SFJazz Center this weekend.
On Friday, Feb. 2, the Joe Henderson Lab belongs to Book of J, the duo with guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood and singer Jewlia Eisenberg that mixes Yiddish songs, Piedmont blues, African American hymns and Leonard Cohen covers. They’re celebrating the release of their new record, “Book of J.”
The following night, the Iraqi oud virtuoso Rahim AlHaj serves up music from his latest release, “Letters from Iraq: A Musical Meditation.”
For more information, go to www.sfjazz.org.