We applaud our Montana-made musicians for keeping our spirits up and running. Here we throw the spotlight on a variety of musicians and genres found around the state.
Jeni Fleming, Bozeman
Jeni Fleming blends the “rhythms of pop with the harmonic sophistication of jazz.”
The daughter of a Lutheran pastor and English teacher, Jeni first sang in the church choir. Piano lessons began by age six. She made her classical piano debut with the Billing Symphony, the first of a string of successes in the competitive classical piano world. “Having studied classical piano for most of my life, it is the thing I know something about, but singing is the thing I feel something about.”
In 1997, Jeni and (then soon to be) husband, Jake, recorded their first album together, It Is Well, and were featured on national TV. With the success of their first recordings, the Jeni Fleming Trio, including Jake Fleming on acoustic guitar and saxophone and Chad Langford on bass, was featured as the pilot episode of 11th and Grant with Eric Funk, which aired on Montana PBS in 2005. Five albums and three additional band members later, Jeni has refocused her touring efforts toward numerous jazz festivals and clubs across the continental U.S. and into Canada. Nowadays she’ll begin and end a tour in Bozeman, where most of her musicians live. Here “the energy is so different, the audience so responsive,” she says.
The new band, a sextet, was formed around 2007 and includes Jake Fleming who not only plays but also writes many pieces, Chris Cundy on piano & hammond B3, Sean Lehmann on bass, Adam Greenberg on drums, and Craig Hall on electric guitars. (They all have impressive bios.) Their first collaboration and Jeni’s most recent album, Come to Life (2010), is a collection of original songs, jazz standards, and re-arranged pop/rock tunes. Jeni says, “With the larger band the parts I used to imagine I was hearing are there.”
Jeni and her band members practically “live in” an excellent music studio, which she, Jake, and Chris Cundy designed for rehearsals, teaching, and recording. Rolling Stone magazine covers animate the walls. Jeni and Jake also co-founded Hand Me Down Some Silver, Inc., a 501(c)3, offering need-based scholarships for young musicians in southwest Montana. Since creating the studio Jake has produced and engineered a handful of projects in the studio including Hand Me Down Some Silver’s Footnotes Volumes III and IV, Jeni Fleming’s Come To Life, Kelly Roberti’s Slumber, new albums by Lang Termes, Jake Koelzer, www.Twang, and others.
For a schedule of events and other juicy tidbits, visit
Ben Bullington, Big Timber
“Ben Bullington’s work draws life-breath from the earth, rivers, sky and people of Montana,” says Rodney Crowell, the Nashville songwriting legend who plays guitar and performs a duet on Bullington’s CD, White Sulphur Springs.
White Sulphur Springs was inspired by the small town, where Bullington lived until recently and helped raise his three sons while working as a country doctor.
“Dreams don’t come easy on seven bucks an hour,
Maybe it’s a matter of what kind of dreams you have.
There’s trout streams, and the air is clean,
and money don’t mean everything,
in a place called White Sulphur Springs.”
Ben grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, and went to Vanderbilt University (“cause it was in Nashville”). After college Bullington worked in the oil fields of North Dakota, the Northern Rockies, and the Texas panhandle before reaching the end of that trail in the central Amazon of Brazil.
He moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, and enrolled in medical school. Music was on the back burner while he started a family and practiced medicine on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana, a small coastal Alaska town, in the mountains of West Virginia, and finally back to Montana.
When his youngest child was four, he started writing songs again in the quiet early morning hours. Those sessions provided most of the songs on Bullington’s first CD, Two Lane Highway, produced by Sean Devine of Livingston, Montana.
This album was followed by White Sulphur Springs. Ben’s most recent is Satisfaction Garage, produced in Nashville. Mariss McTucker of Lively Times says, “Bullington sings with the just-right dusty voice that comes with years of observation. Get a cozy table at the back of the room and let the singer spin out the visuals.” Ben has a quiet, appealing presence that makes you want to pay attention.
Livingston resident, former Sony music executive Joanne Gardner, inspired Bullington to expand his horizons and experiment with different musical forms. “When I met Ben, it was immediately apparent this man had a grasp of people and a deep understanding of the human condition, warts and all,” says Gardner. “I love the way Ben writes.”
See www.benbullington.com and for scheduling see http://www.reverbnation.com/benbullington
The Great Falls Orchestra, Choir and Ensembles
Gordon J. Johnson, Music Director and Conductor, has been with the orchestra for 30 years. It has 75 members plus an 80-voice choir. Members come from within a 200-mile radius of Great Falls. Aside from the orchestra, the pride and joy of the musical community are the Cascade Quartet, formed in 1980, and the Chinook Wind Quintet, performing since 1992. Not least is the Youth Orchestra, whose players excel in academics and music.