Waltzing on Waves is the solo act of Twin Cities-based Performing/Recording Artist & Neurodiversity/Mental Health Advocate, Jen Bluhm. Jen carries a special appreciation for the bittersweet places, the preciously awkward paces, and the esoteric spaces that music can identify & elevate in the hearts & minds of humans. Generous, authentic, funny, sultry, & poignant, WoW cuts straight to the heart & dances you through heights & depths with her genre-bending musical stylings, effortless & iridescent vocals, her sincere & intelligent lyrics, & her rich, enchanting melodies.
Jen Bluhm, a classically trained vocalist, has learned to master her voice well, accessing techniques and devices from many different styles of music from Opera to American Roots. She is a prolific songwriter & composer, a recipient of the American Composers Forum's 2018 Minnesota Emerging Composer Award (MECA - supported by Jerome Foundation), an Award-nominated film composer, and a gifted multi-instrumentalist. In recent months, she has expanded her musical career through adding freelance commercial vocals and composing for film, television, advertisements, & web content to her skillset, as well as making her own music available for sync & licensing.
Waltzing on Waves’ live show blends the dynamics of the theatre with the discovery of a TedTalk; the relatability of a mother (who could’ve had a career in stand-up comedy), glued together with heartache and hope. Experiencing WoW live is like receiving an unexpected & deeply thoughtful gift. Her demonstration of vocal technique & power is only topped by moments of tenderness, restraint, & vulnerability. Whether it be at the piano, ukulele, or acoustic guitar; or the moments in between, Waltzing on Waves is truly a one-woman show, both dynamic & intimate, that you won't want to miss - regardless of the time signature.
Jen's connection with the Neurodiversity and Mental Health Movement began with the discovery and acceptance of her own neurodivergent mind, facilitated by the recognition and appreciation of the minds & ways of her neurodivergent children. She celebrates and embraces daily the beauty and depth that Neurominorities contribute to our world while acknowledging the limitations and adversity the disabled, the "disordered", and the "different" navigate every day.
As a neurodivergent artist, WoW is so very familiar and directly affected by the obstacles disabled artists and audiences face when it comes to fully participating in live music events. Jen is moving in the direction of offering consultation to venues and event coordinators who desire to be inclusive and accessible to the Neurodivergent Community at large. Even though all of her life is experienced through her neurological differences, Jen understands that people need a little encouragement to find the value of being "cross-neurotype competent". Because her art form and platform are one - most apparent in her live performances - Waltzing on Waves’ audiences always leave with little nuggets of understanding and new language that is flowing out of the Neurodiversity Movement. Mental Health advocacy is a very important topic within the Neurodivergent Community and is woven into the overall narrative of the stories she shares. She believes in the power of speaking her reality into a microphone without shame (even though it can be daunting at times) in order that those who are secretly struggling will perhaps move closer to radical acceptance of themselves and their reality.
In addition to the advocacy work that just seems to happen everywhere she goes, Jen is an occasional contributor to and collaborator with various blogs and YouTube Channels that focus on the Neurodiversity Movement and the Neurodivergent Experience. She has served as a consultant to the board and performs with The Hive: A Femme Collaborative - Minneapolis/St. Paul Femme artists and players supporting each other through live performance opportunities, skill expansion, community, & mentorship.
Diversity, in all of its forms, and inclusivity are often at the forefront of Jen's mind when she is working and collaborating with others, but she is also an introvert and an individualist who is finding her own path in both the music industry and the Neurodiversity Movement.
About The One You Fell For
Waltzing on Waves' debut album, The One You Fell For, takes music adventurers on a unique & nostalgic listening holiday. The collection is a uniquely compelling production with American Roots, Latin, & European influences, laced with dulcet harmonies & eclectic textures; featuring distinctive & dynamic Jazz vocals that soar from musical eras passed while remaining vibrant and relevant for today's listening audiences. The following is the album's story.
When WoW began this project, it was even more eclectic than what listeners will experience. Approximately one year into the recording process, having ended a 2-year Ukulele & Electric Guitar duo collaboration called The Salt Vine, Jen moved from a friend's small "start-up" studio to Helvig Productions, located in Excelsior, MN. Producer, recording engineer, and mixing engineer, Stephen Helvig, owns and operates the warm and inviting studio tucked into what was once an in-home squash ball court. Jen met Stephen through a group for musicians and composers that shared interest in writing and producing music for sync and licensing purposes. Initially, Jen approached Stephen in order to hire him as a mixing engineer for a few songs she had started in the other studio. After meeting him and talking through her experience regarding the album-making process over that year, he asked how she would like to proceed with the editing and mixing of the tracks. She replied, "If I was brave enough, I would take everything I have and bring it to your studio to finish my album here." She discovered that she was brave enough. She knew that she absolutely could not compromise on this album - even if it was her first.
The process of editing and mixing the few tracks that Jen brought in commenced in January of 2018. When they began changing the arrangements on those tracks and started recording entirely new tracks, it took no time to realize that the ones she brought with her would not have the same sound quality as the songs that were completely tracked at Helvig Productions. In many ways, it was at this point that the making of the album truly began. While starting over did not sound appealing or affordable, the feedback WoW has received in regard to sound quality and production of her album has been very reassuring.
Fast forward several months, and Jen has found herself in conflict with the track content of the album. Musically speaking, Jen has always been highly adaptive to whomever she is collaborating with and whatever instrumentation is available. This skill is a great one, but not when decisiveness, branding, and marketing are involved. In sync and licensing settings, her ability to compose across vastly different genres is quite useful, but the tracks she was working on didn't tell the same "kind" of story - lyrically or musically. Jen could not reconcile it and wouldn't settle for it. The One You Fell For does indeed carry weighty content, though the punches are perhaps pulled ever so slightly and the edges rounded a little. The straight-out gut punches of her IndieFolk ProTools sessions would have to sit in a folder on a hard drive for a little while.
The deciding factor in song choice came down to a question of how Jen wanted to introduce her artistry to the world. In her desire to distance herself further from the music she was playing and writing before Waltzing on Waves emerged, she pushed into the vintage sound of tracks like Content (I Am Content) and Just A Little Bit. This direction has already proven to be a fruitful one as Just A Little Bit, WoW's "workhorse" single, is doing a great deal of the heavy lifting on Spotify with over 170,000 streams since its release). The swing and progressions of Jazz, Blues, and Doo-Wop began to woo her, first through her ukulele, and then through other artists that were now available to her for collaboration. Still Missin' You, a collaboration with pianist/singer-songwriter Adam Michaelson, sealed the deal. This album's story was to come from the past, at least as far as Jen perceived the syntax and musical stylings of the "Pop" music of the Early to Mid-1900s. The nostalgic "feel" of the songs and arrangements, in conjunction with her vocal control and charmingly idiosyncratic songwriting approach, have proven to be very complimentary.
Jen and Stephen were on the same page and continued co-producing the tracks. There would be times when Stephen would ask, "what's next?" and Jen wouldn't have an answer. Sometimes it was a matter of not yet having met the player she needed. In those moments, they would pull out the IndieFolk tracks and work on them while Jen pondered and waited for the next track to make itself known to her. Incidentally, WoW's next album is almost half completed.
One song that broke open the world of arranging for Jen was Sweet Baby. She had wanted to record the Jazzy lullaby from the moment she understood the direction of the album, but couldn't bring herself to start it if she didn't believe she could do it justice. Then she met Joan Hutton at a Vocal Jazz Night performance at Jazz Central Studios where Joan was in the accompanying swing band. Jen found Joan's tone on tenor sax to be remarkably beautiful, and Jen wanted to invite Joan to play on the project. By this point in the making of the album, Jen had begun to learn how much more satisfying it is to work with people who excited to work with her. She decided to wait and see if a real collaborative connection could be made, and she sensed that Joan would reach out, so she gambled. A few days after the Vocal Jazz show, Joan contacted Jen. SCORE! Jen was so excited to have an artist like Joan in her corner. Jen sent over the demo for Sweet Baby asking Joan if she had any ideas. The next day Joan sent a recording of her playing a counter-melody that gave Jen life. Jen then took that melody, along with the existing piano & vocal lines, and arranged the song in a way that propelled her officially into "THIS IS WHAT'S NEXT"; unlocking a talent for arranging that she thought she had long lost over the years.
The rest of the tracks found their way onto the album in a similar fashion, as she began to write arrangements that allowed her to bring in players like Hornist, Sarah Schmalenberger, the director of the Swing Sisterhood Big Band, and Kelli Rae Tubbs, the most thoughtful and prepared percussionist Jen has ever met. In addition to asking the question of who? or what? does she have to work with, she began adding the questions - with whom does she want to work? and how big of a production could she pull off? (See track 9, "What If I Get Brave") The answer to those questions for Jen was and still is, that she wants to tell the story the way she "sees" and feels the music in her soul. Music needs resound as true to her, or she cannot get behind it with power.
Her songs are the "track that holds the train" to which track 9, "But For The Melody" refers. The songs come from places of bittersweet sorrow; but equally a place of hope that sorrow and suffering aren't wasted. The story is her story, and it is always wrapped around hope. Track 6, "Landlocked" speaks that clearly. Each track on this album was chosen from hundreds of songs that were, that are, and that could have been.
The winding road to releasing her debut album has been decades-long. The lessons learned and the accomplishment of finishing this album have been transformational for Jen. She may be a "late bloomer", but the garden is grander than she could have imagined. On December 7th 2019, she released the whole album to do its work.