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Meet Janet Klein

Today we’d like to introduce you to Janet Klein.

Janet, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up east of Los Angeles in the Inland Empire in San Bernardino, California. I’ve always said it was a good place to be an escapist. Our house was perched in the foothills, alongside the San Andreas fault and below the Arrowhead peak.

The town had a modern drabness to it, but as a kid, I’d imagine knocking down everything built past 1950s. (I still do this mental demolition wherever I go for my personal amusement today). When I was growing up, you could see and smell the Cooley Ranch (circa 1850s) as you entered the town, you’d notice the natural etching of the Arrowhead on the mountain, the beautiful Harris Company, (a local department store built in the 1920s with black marble and metal filigree), the remains of the early 1900s California dream was all there… the exquisite houses of the orange growers in Redlands, the last of the groves, the old train station, the rows of palms and eucalyptus that would lead to the craftsman bungalow neighborhoods.

I was endlessly attracted to old places and artifacts and I think I formulated an aesthetic sensibility then that I still carry with me today. In my mind, something is truly beautiful when it holds up to the test of time, ie, “how will this look in 100 years and always looking out for the lasting evidence of what was here 100 years ago”. The love for the layers of history and human presence drives me to do things that feel “right to me in a deep way”.

I was close to my grandparents & great aunts knew my paternal great-grandmother from Poland and maternal great-grandfather from Austria, loved their photographs, their favorite foods, the things around them, their tastes. I got hooked on their hand-me-downs and cherished the sentimental connections of handheld objects, garments and hand-made things. My parents were both teachers by day and had side vocations collaborating on making animated films, teaching the history of animation, and my dad was a painter and a classical music enthusiast.

When I came to LA for college in the 1980s, I gravitated to the Fairfax neighborhood, lived in some great old Spanish style apartments in West Hollywood and the Wilshire district. I loved the Russian & Jewish specialty shops, sought out all the haunts of the old folks… hung out at the Fairfax farmers market, Nickodell, Musso & Frank and the Silent Movie Theater, soaked up the vibe, surrounded myself with interesting characters.

At UCLA, I straddled the fence between art and design departments, studied graphic design, was interested in textile and fashion design, painting, drawing and art history.

It began to dawn on me that I had a love for books, printing, fine art & graphic design AND that also I had an inborn ham bone streak, so I set out to balance the concept of being in the working world and finding ways to express myself out loud.

I got a job at the LA Institute for Contemporary Art and worked on the LAICA Journal magazine. The staff was small, so I got to do everything from taking photos to layout, selling ads and going to the printing company for presschecks. At the same time, I did some performance art and poetry writing & recitation. I was also spending a lot of time in the UCLA music library and corresponding with 78 rpm record collectors. I found early 20th-century jazz, rural, vaudeville & theater music that knocked me out. In 1994 I took up the ukulele and started to learn a few of my favorite 1920s tunes and work them into my poetry readings.

Ultimately I carved out a duel path for myself: one in the world of design/commercial printing and the other, pursuing my passion in music/performance.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
In part, it’s been a process of “bumping off the curb of my discontent” that is, when you identify what you dislike, that can help deflect you toward things that do have meaning for you. In my personal art/music path I’ve felt “like Dorothy on the yellow brick road” that is to say, I’ve met amazing talented, unique special people one by one who have helped make my dreams come true. When I started, there was no “scene” to connect with and finding the musical sources and references before the internet was difficult. That part of the effort was hard but all the more rewarding for the pursuit and for all the wonderful friends, collectors, history buffs, musicians and fan folks who’ve thankfully found us.

The unexpected difficulties seem come about mostly when outside forces collide with what you aim to do. Events like 911 and the 2008 recession, shifts in technology, the changing sensibilities about the making of physical objects all affect my music as well as my day work in the world of printing. You can maintain your personal focus and be really great at what you do, but life pushes til it hurts sometimes, and compels you to regroup, reflect, reconfigure and that seems inevitable.

I’m on the one hand, at odds with the digital world, having a penchant for the analog world of making physical things and at the same time, am reaching out through it in new ways: documenting and sharing print projects on my new Instagram page. “janetkleinprintworks”

At the same time, I’m trying to figure out what to make next in the post CD landscape. With the current flu panic quarantine situation, I’m considering putting together some online concerts. I wouldn’t have given this much thought until this current dark obstacle presented itself.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
By day, and this year makes it an even 30, I have been a rep and project coordinator in commercial printing, which means that I connect with clients who produce printed matter. This can be books, publications, posters, cards, brochures, packaging, etc. I see these projects through from brainstorming with designers to manufacturing finished products: I form budgets, spark ideas on materials, structures & processes, translate color, meet deadlines, and see folks through the process to completion. My personal specialty has been with art-related books, exhibition catalogs and ephemera as well as projects where there might be a commercial as well as limited collectors’ or artisanal component. Whatever it is, I love helping to make beautiful and wonderful end products, and to make print items that are so tactile and well done that they are “keepers”.

Most people have had that experience of putting your hands on something, packaging or even something as simple as a ticket stub, and somehow you can’t throw it away because it’s like encountering a handheld piece of art. That’s something that can happen when you have a merger of great design and materials that are a perfect fit. We all know that feeling of falling in love with a work of art from seeing it in a printed book. I love being part of that connection and make every effort to “get it right” to use best choice materials, and to produce as essential a representation as possible to the original.

By night, I am a “musical archeologist”, singer and band-leader of Janet Klein & her Parlor Boys. We perform early jazz material mostly from the 1920s and 1930s, and as early as 1910s, specializing in rare material culled from 78rpm recordings, Vitaphone soundtracks, early sound films of the mid ‘20s to incidental music used in sound movie musicals of the early ‘30s, vaudeville, and novelty music. I’ve been performing with my band since 1998. We’ve recorded 9 CDs, as well as a couple of vinyl side projects in Japan, we’ve toured and played in festivals and my favorite thing is to put this music back into wonderful old spaces: theaters, hotels, estates, parks, places where this music originally played in the early 20th century. Those are places where you can create a real-time warp. I also love to share the bill with silent movies or early ‘30s sound films.

Since the onset of quarantine conditions, starting about March 20th, my bandmates and I have started a regular (almost daily) remote home broadcast series called: “Hit of the Week Parlor Party” which can be found on Facebook and instagram

It’s our way of staying creative & sane with the sudden cancellation of forthcoming gigs and concerts. Sharing tunes that got folks through the Great Depression of the early 20th Century is our way of offering some tried and true pep tonic.

Here are some direct links below;

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Earnestness and Joy. I think that once folks find their way to me, whether by day, through the printing door or by night at one of my musical performances, that my connection, commitment and love for what I do comes through.

I like to think that I create an inviting, friendly, unique, creative bubble that just might be outside the norm.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Cover and last photo by Beth Herzhaft
Photo collages by Rick Whitmore
Janet with Bubbles by Hoshi Hana
Live band photo taken at Cliftons by Robert Loveless

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