ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Anna Jalkéus
There is a superheroine in Denton, and she lives in the mind of composer, harpist, and singer Anna Jalkéus. Her name is Estrogenia, and Jalkéus wrote a 3-part harp concerto during the spring of 2017 depicting her origin story and eventual fight with archenemy the Big Orange Monster.
Estrogenia’s strength and abilities are fictional, of course; but when one takes a look at Jalkéus’ own skills and achievements, they might wonder if the real superhuman living in Denton is none other than Estrogenia’s creator herself.
Jalkéus is a member of many groups in Denton, including but not limited to Emilio Mesa’s project Constructed Reality, the whimsical chamber improv group Ptyx Trio, and of course the Anna Jalkéus Group - the last of which won a Downbeat Award for Outstanding Performance in 2017. Born in Stockholm, Sweden, she completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Performance from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and arrived in Denton in 2014 as an exchange student.
She quickly decided to pursue a Graduate Artist Certificate at UNT, studying jazz voice and harp, which she completed in May 2017. Now, Jalkéus holds a position at UNT as an adjunct professor of jazz voice and is the director of Avenue C, one of UNT’s 3 vocal jazz ensembles.
Until the age of 12, Jalkéus tour with her brother of the same age and their parent’s band, Swedish acapella sensation The Real Group. Her mother left the group in 2006 and began working as a freeland jazz singer in 2006; it was during this time that Jalkéus began listening to well-known jazz singers and standards.
Jalkéus cited one of her earliest influences as Johanna Newsom, an indie harpist , whom she was introduced to by her mother. “I remember listening to that CD and hating it at first, but I listened to it again year later, and it’s the reason I began playing the harp at 15,” Jalkéus said. Her mother also coincidentally played harp, but Jalkéus was never drawn to the instrument until hearing Newsom’s unique songwriting and use of the instrument.
Jalkéus enjoyed her time at the Royal College of Music - but she enjoyed her one semester at UNT as an exchange student for its structure, in comparison to the laissez-faire style of instruction in Stockholm; she remained in Denton for personal reasons but has grown fond of the multitude of music venues and musically-minded colleagues and peers.
Songwriting since the age of 16, Jalkéus said her style of writing has changed a lot. Many sources have inspired her over the years, including contemporary jazz fusion groups, free jazz, and classical music -- as well as Denton natives Horace Bray and Sky Window.
When it comes to the message that she wishes her music would send, Jalkéus’ mind is set on humanitarian issues and those of equality. “I’m very into feminism and gender equality; that’s really close to my heart,” she said. “I think it is time for change; as musicians, we can work with our own field. It’s a good way to spread a message without attacking them with your opinion.” Jalkéus is also concerned with world issues; living in Sweden, she saw firsthand the impact of the refugee crisis in Syria. “[The crisis] in Syria is also close to my heart,” she said.
Being a woman in jazz doesn’t mean too much to her at face value. “I would like to be perceived and to inspire other women by just not giving a fuck. I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not working against it, because I’ve been accepted by everyone I’ve worked with,” Jalkéus explained.
She thanked a male friend of hers from high school for encouraging her musically; from this interaction, she became unafraid of working with male musicians. Jalkéus said, “he really pushed me and thought I could do things that I didn’t think I could do, and that set off the idea that that was how I should be treated by other musicians.”
Jalkéus acknowledges and understands that male musicians often have an air of doubt around their female counterparts. She asserts that despite her lack of concern for approval male colleagues, other women who feel intimidated or oppressed shouldn’t have to assume masculine or a nonchalant demeanor in order to survive in music.
The Anna Jalkéus Group is releasing and album, entitled Estrogenia, slated for release next year. It will feature the aforementioned “Rise of Estrogenia,” the story of a superheroine, which from her name alone exudes feminine strength; but as an independent, strongly-willed, creatively masterful musician herself, it seems that Anna Jalkéus is a superheroine herself living right here in Denton. You can find out more about her music here.
Image courtesy of Mallory Frenza
Header design courtesy of Holden Foster