STORY BY NICOLE KINCIUS AND SARAH LEBLANC
Last Wednesday, jazz vocalist and composer Keri Johnsrud performed her set in the Basement at the Des Moines Social Club.
Johnsrud, a native of Conrad, Iowa, writes songs based on her environment. Simple experiences like conversations with friends or seeing a show on TV trigger melodic lines rather than lyrical ones for Johnsrud, meaning the notes of the song are inspired before the words.
“I get inspiration from anywhere, everywhere around me,” Johnsrud said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Other influences on Johnsrud’s music include personal idols like Shirley Horn, Billy Joel and her own musical family members.
“I’ve always had a love of all kinds of music, but jazz was something that I pretty much grew up with,” Johnsrud said.
After graduating from the University of Iowa, she decided to try a career in music in Chicago. This proved to be a motivating move. The encouragement she received from fellow musicians in the Windy City helped her to pursue this career. However, following her dream did not come without its challenges.
“It’s really easy to get overwhelmed in this industry,” Johnsrud said.
For aspiring musicians, Johnsrud advises that artists stick with their passions and avoid making comparisons to other people.
“The most important thing is to be true to who you are and do what you do, and you’ll find an audience for it,” Johnsrud said.
In her home state, the audience gathered in the Basement where the room was lit with hanging lights and allowed for an intimate setting.
Matt “Red” Rebelskey, the Social Club’s technical director, attended the show and noted the versatility of the location. From jazz singers to hip hop performances to plays, the Basement’s mellow atmosphere and bare-bulb lighting allows the area to accommodate a variety of different purposes that may attract wider demographics.
Mickey Davis, the program manager at the Des Moines Social Club, noted the lack of younger attendees.
“Many of the events we host are all ages, and we would love to see more students attend,” Davis said.
Davis advises Drake students to look around campus for flyers, visit the Social Club’s website and check social media for information on upcoming events.
Despite the limited demographic in attendance, for Davis, Wednesday’s event was a success.
“It was great!” Davis said. “I think we’ll bring her back in the spring and try to get a larger turnout, which is a pattern we try to follow with many artists. It can sometimes be hard playing a town where you don’t currently reside, but multiple trips can really build up a fan base, as after every show people tend to tell others about their experience.”
Johnsrud has big ideas for the future, including taking her gig overseas. Compared to these plans and a bustling, jazzy city like Chicago, Des Moines seems more like a fly on the wall. However, Davis brings up a good point: our city is a growing one, with plenty of opportunity to bring in what’s popular elsewhere.
“It’s a good place to live for that stuff if you’re ambitious about finding it and even creating it,” Davis said.
Johnsrud hopes to return to Des Moines in the spring for another performance that will help the talented vocalist establish her sound.