“’Firefly in a Jar’ is a perfect metaphor for the past decade,” Jenny Bruce says of her most recent EP and her fourth independent release, out in early 2016. “It never works well to bottle up emotions, and all my life I’ve relied on songwriting as a safety valve. For the past twelve years, there was so much going on, big life stuff, and I couldn’t bring myself to write about any of it. Definitely not the best plan. It was time to open up the jar and hope there was still something flickering, living inside.” A born-and-raised
“’Firefly in a Jar’ is a perfect metaphor for the past decade,” Jenny Bruce says of her most recent EP and her fourth independent release, out in early 2016. “It never works well to bottle up emotions, and all my life I’ve relied on songwriting as a safety valve. For the past twelve years, there was so much going on, big life stuff, and I couldn’t bring myself to write about any of it. Definitely not the best plan. It was time to open up the jar and hope there was still something flickering, living inside.” A born-and-raised New Yorker, one of Bruce’s fondest childhood memories is of spending summers at her Grandmother’s suburban Pittsburgh home. “We would catch fireflies in the front yard and sometimes put them in a jar overnight. Typically, that didn’t end well for the firefly.”
With Bruce’s signature eloquence and insight,the songs on Firefly in a Jar tackle some of the inevitable challenges, both good and bad, of adulthood. Right after the birth of her first son, her mother was given a terminal diagnosis, and her husband’s once thriving career as a children’s book illustrator came screeching to a halt. She had to take a full-time job, and at one point several jobs, just to keep their family afloat. After the birth of her second son, Bruce’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and his care became a large part of her life. “I went into auto-pilot as grief, loss and stress threatened to pull me under. It felt like there wasn’t room for me in the picture.”
Bruce found herself going through the motions not for months, but rather for years, until she received a phone call at work, out of the blue, from an old music industry friend and supporter. “Charlie Jones zapped me back from the living-dead with that phone call. He told me that I had to be doing music. That I couldn’t just stop. That music is a part of who I am and that somehow I needed to find a way. Tears were streaming down my face as I hung up the phone knowing that he was right and that I needed to begin writing for myself again.”
“Backlit Bottles,” the first single released from Bruce’s Firefly in a Jar EP, essentially written from a barstool on the Upper West Side, marks that moment when Bruce decided to write her way out of her rut, one song at a time. The title track, Firefly in a Jar, “is very much about letting go and accepting the impermanence of all things,” says Bruce. “Complicated Hearts,” an ode to her husband of over 25 years (they met during Bruce’s junior year abroad in Paris), is a testament to the resilience of their relationship having weathered many storms. “I asked my 11-year-old what comes to mind when he thinks of love and he answered, ‘Two people falling down in a field of flowers.’ Hence, I wrote “Our love was never fields of flowers!”
The last song on the EP, “Giving up The Ghost” describes being at her mother’s bedside as she died. “I’m not a religious person, but I’ll come right out and say that I believe in ghosts. Beyond the many inexplicable things I’ve experienced in my life, I felt my mother’s presence several times in the year following her death and she appeared in my dreams each and every night. That fall, walking through the park by myself, a breeze rustled the leaves around me and I simply can’t explain how or why, but in that moment I felt my mother with me. It was an overpowering feeling that came and went. It was a gift.”
In addition to five original songs, Firefly in a Jar also includes an exquisitely, soulful rendition of the John Waite, 80’s hit song, “Change,” endowing the cover with new layers of emotional meaning and depth.
While her sonorous contralto at times evokes shades of Annie Lennox or a modern-day Carly Simon, Bruce has a distinctive sound making her instantly identifiable. With an economical, literate writing style that will appeal to fans of Sarah McLachlan and Shawn Colvin, Bruce sites Prince, The Police, Joni Mitchell and even disco as some of her early influences. As a vocalist, both live and in recording, Bruce’s work is often described as “cathartic” possessing the ability to pry open “emotional doorways.” Music Connection
calls Bruce’s work “intelligent” and “full of pathos and gentle ironies.”
After launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund her EP, Bruce recruited Emmy Award-Winning, veteran producer, songwriter and guitarist, Matt Anthony. Bruce had been working with Matt for years on TV and film pitches, including the most recently licensed song, “It’s Your Parade” written with Jennifer Marks and Noel Cohen. Bruce says, “I call him ‘Magic Matt’ since you walk into his studio with a lyric sheet and a song in your head and you walk out with a gorgeous recording. I knew he would feel this album and the simplicity I was looking for.”
Bruce admits that there was more to making this album than just liberating her own pent up emotions. “I really felt like I needed to make this album, not just for myself, but for anyone out there who has had to put a dream on hold. I am very much a believer in seeking out the silver linings, feeling gratitude. I also subscribe to the very old saying, ‘where there is a will there is a way.’ Sometimes you have to adjust your dreams a bit, but that doesn’t mean giving up.”
Few independent artists have managed to attain the level of exposure Bruce has achieved since the release of her first album in 1997. A 1999 Lilith Fair Talent Search finalist, she garnered attention from major music industry publications for her work, including Billboard Magazine. “Home” from her 2001 release, Soul On Fire was included as the only track from an “unsigned” artist on a popular Martha Stewart compilation CD, featuring Alison Krauss, Barenaked Ladies, Lucinda Williams and other well-known artists.
Her work has been recognized with numerous songwriting awards, including first place in the coveted Billboard Song Contest Great American Songwriting Contest as well as the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, the Just Plain Folks Song Contest, the Unisong Songwriting Contest, the USA Songwriting Contest and the Windrift Songwriting Contest.
Bruce’s recordings can be heard in multiple network TV shows, including: (BRAVO) Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, (ABC) All My Children, (CBS) Ghost Whisperer, (NBC) The Today Show, (WB) Dawson’s Creek, (WB) Glory Days, (NBC) Meet My Folks, (UPN) Jake 2.0, (FOX) King Of The Hill, (ABC) Six Degrees and (COMEDY CENTRAL) Children’s Hospital.
Bruce’s songs can also be heard in the soundtracks for the independent films, Sex & The Other Man, starring Stanley Tucci & Ron Eldard, and 30 Days, directed by Aaron Harnick, star of Judy Berlin. In addition, Bruce has shared the stage with Sophie B. Hawkins, The Nields, Toby Lightman, Avril Lavigne, Richard Julian, Vanessa Carlton, Gavin DeGraw, Livingston Taylor, Lucy Woodward and Joe Jackson. Bruce also has had the privilege of recording and performing with Emmy Award winning producer Kevin Bents (Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Jewel, John Fogerty), producer and drummer, Ethan Eubanks (David Mead, Juliana Hatfield, Crash Test Dummies), Bassist, Whynot Jansveld (Sara Bareilles, Gavin DeGraw, The Weepies), and guitarist, Ben Butler (Sting, Rod Stewart, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow) among others.
Of her many musical accomplishments, Bruce is most proud of co-founding an independent artist collective, “Urbanmuse” in 2000 with fellow singer/songwriter, Jo Davidson. The collective is comprised of Rachael Sage, Amy Fairchild, Amy Speace, Jennifer Marks, Sarah Lentz and Karen Jacobsen. As peers, these artists have developed a strong support network, meeting several times a month at Bruce or Davidson’s apartment to talk about everything from the joys and perils of the music industry to bonding over personal struggles. “I learned more from those women than from all the industry pros I’ve met over the years,” Bruce recollects. “I really missed having those women around me during this process!”
The EP, Firefly in a Jar, elicits that very sense of opening a jar and watching fireflies emerge and flicker in the twilight. Each firefly has its path and Bruce has released her songs into the proverbial twilight to discover their own glowing destiny.