Musician and Highland Park resident Jared Rabin, who grew up in nearby Deerfield, is one of those people with music in his DNA. After all, his grandfather was the first chair violinist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Rabin started playing music as a young boy and it has stuck with him his whole life.
A multi-instrumentalist with a master’s degree in jazz composition from DePaul University, he has been playing professionally for more than 15 years in a variety of musical groups, attending and leading jam sessions, songwriters’ circles, and performing in the city and surrounding region. He released his first solo album in 2015, and his new album, “Chasing The Light” (jaredrabin.com) was released on Friday. Rabin is playing a record release show at Madame Zuzu’s in Highland Park on October 21.
We interviewed him recently and here’s what he had to say:
You come from a musical family with a grandfather who was the first chair violinist at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Was violin the first instrument that you picked up to play?
Yes. I started playing violin at age 5. My parents and grandparents started me on Suzuki violin lessons. Violin was the first instrument that I studied and played throughout my whole childhood.
Did you also play in any school orchestras as well?
I played in my high school orchestra a little bit. I played in the Midwest Young Artist’s Orchestra outside of high school. I also played in junior high orchestra growing up, as well as my high school jazz band.
How many instruments do you play?
I play three instruments well, and I dabble in maybe three or four others sort of at an intermediate level.
What are the three that you play well?
I play guitar, violin, and mandolin pretty well. I also play some banjo. I can play a little piano and some bass guitar.
Is there one among those that you consider your favorite?
I’ve spent the most time with guitar, because of growing up listening to rock’n’roll. I studied jazz guitar in college, so that’s probably the one I’m best at. I like them all. They’re all good in their own way for different types of music, different styles, and it’s been great to be able to play all three as a professional musician because you have a lot of versatility.
I’m glad you mentioned versatility, because, as you mentioned, you play jazz, prog rock, and bluegrass, to mention a few of your genres. Bluegrass music might not be the first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks of the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, and yet you and Noam Pikelny (of Punch Brothers), natives of the region, are both bluegrass musicians. What do you think it is about bluegrass that is appealing to people from the northern suburbs of Chicago?
Well, I think it’s appealing to a lot of people everywhere. I think it’s grown massively in its appeal over the past two or three decades. I think where you find people spending time studying instruments, anywhere now in the country, there are people interested in bluegrass, Americana, folk music and stuff like that. Noam is like a virtuoso on banjo, one of the best ever. In Chicago, with the Old Town School (of Folk Music), and the bluegrass scene in general, is definitely healthy and alive here in the city and surrounding areas. You can find all sorts of acoustic and bluegrass bands, that kind of music going on everywhere.
Your new album, “Chasing The Light,” is on the bluegrass/folk end of the musical spectrum and features an interesting range of cover tunes from Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” to Stone Temple Pilots’ “Vasoline.” What draws you to a song for a cover version?
Both of those songs that I included on this record are from opposite ends of the spectrum of influences, but they’re songs that have meant something to me in my life. I grew up listening to both of those types of music and love both the records that they come of off. When there’s a song like that, that has always resonated, it’s always been fun for me to try to make my own arrangement of it. Paying homage to the original in a way, but also putting my own spin on it. That’s something I’ve always done with songs that I like.
The remaining songs on the album are Jared Rabin originals. What is involved in your songwriting process?
For these, in the studio, it was a process where I made demos of each song and then gradually replaced the demo track with the track that you actually hear now on the record. The demos morphed into the actual songs over time. I did a lot of the recording myself in my home studio. I had musicians from all over the country contribute parts and I put it all together here.
I’m glad you mentioned the other musicians. Who is the female vocalist singing with you on the song “We’ve Been There”?
That’s my good friend Ren Patrick from Houston. She was on “American Idol,” maybe twice, I think. She flies to Chicago every week to perform at weddings with a group that I play with also here in town. I play with her all the time. She recorded some parts for that song that turned out really great.
You recently played a show at Madame Zuzu’s in Highland Park, and your record release party for “Chasing The Light” is also being held there. What do you like best about that venue?
I played a brunch there a few weeks ago, and that was my first time there. I’ve known it was there for a while and I’d been aware of their old location, too. I think it’s a really cool space. I wanted to do something different for a record release show. I’ve been dragging my friends, fans, and family to my shows at clubs in Chicago for 15 years now. I was looking for something different to give people a memorable experience. Madame Zuzu’s being right here in town, and I live here in Highland Park, and I discovered that this was an awesome place. It seemed like a great fit to try and do something cool there.
Fellow Highland Park resident Billy Corgan is the proprietor at Madame Zuzu’s which made me wonder if there are any Smashing Pumpkins tunes in your repertoire.
Over the years there’s definitely been some Smashing Pumpkins covers in the repertoire. I don’t know if I would be so bold as to go there on the grounds of Madame Zuzu’s. He’s an all-time hero of Chicago music, and to me, personally. That’s another cool part about playing there.
As you mentioned, you live in Highland Park with your wife and two young children. Has either of your kids shown an interest in music?
Yes, they’ve both shown an interest. My older kid, my 5-year-old son, is reluctant to start taking lessons. I’ve said that I’m going to start him on guitar lessons. I know that once we pull the trigger and do it, he’ll love it. He clearly has a bit of aptitude for music and remembers a crazy number of songs and lyrics. It’s just a matter of time for him.