Jackie Rada – Chicago’s Piano Woman and so much more

I noticed the hair at first and the perfect smile. But before I could digest any of the obvious – I heard the music. This girl can play. Jackie Rada can make playing that piano look as easy as peeling a banana – it is her gift – and she shares it with her audiences. She is a teacher, a student in the world of music and a dreamer. I think Chicago is lucky to have her – and I think she is someone you should get to know…

Where were you born? Tell a little about your family…

I was born on Easter weekend, April 2, 1983, in the village of Evergreen Park, IL. I am pretty much as suburban as suburban can be. After a short stint in Taunton, MA for 3 years, I moved back to Naperville until I was a freshman in high school. I then vacationed in Birmingham, AL for 6 months before returning to Naperthrill. I continued my undergrad studies at Boston College and my graduate studies at Tufts University… both in Boston. My MA is in Musicology… I don’t even know what that means.

My parents are Chicago Italian and Polish. If you’re from Chicago, you know what that means. I have no idea how they created me and my brother. Yes, I have an older brother whom I refer to as “Rob the Robot Rada.” He is 30, and we look like twins.

My dad makes me go to a lot of James Taylor concerts. I am more of a Carole King fan…

My dad also loves the Moody Blues, yet claims he never did acid.

My mom has informed me that the next time Rob Thomas is in town, we HAVE to go. Being the good daughter that I am, I will take her. I mean, I did buy her a Nickelback album for Christmas.

How did you become interested in music – piano??

It all started in my mom’s Honda Accord. She would blast Bette Midler’s “Do You Want To Dance,” and I would be in charge of shifting the gears. We used Twizzlers as microphones. Wait, if I think back even further… maybe it started in my car seat when I played a fake piano to Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind.” I remember going to see Elton John in concert as a child, and the traffic was so bad, my mom and I got out of the car and began running to the venue so we didn’t miss him! Of course, we made my dad and brother sit in traffic. So basically, I became interested in music because of cars and family. Hmmm. I remember taking a road trip to Lake Geneva with my family (aunt, cousin, grandmother included). I don’t know who was in the van, but we all ended up belting Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” at the top of our lungs. Trust me, my grandmother does not have a great voice.

I love that I credit my mom’s side of the family with getting me interested in music, considering my dad’s side actually comes from a long line of jazz musicians in the Chicago area. I mean, this is my relative:

And my grandmother still, in her 80’s, performs musicals over at Carillon (an old people’s community). She was a church organist and always sang in the choir.

But no, I will credit the Twizzlers as the reason I became interested in music.

The piano came in first grade…we had a giant bay window in the living room and my parents (probably my mom) thought a baby grand would look perfect there. I was naturally drawn to the instrument because, well, I was good at an early age and I could win competitions. The first song I ever played at a piano competition was “The Little Caballero.” I don’t know why I remember this.

Creative influences and what makes them so?

In elementary school, I wrote that Andrew Lloyd Weber was my hero. Then, I realized he was actually a thief from the great opera composers. But now, I realize again that this is just pure brilliance (this is both a sarcastic and realistic answer). We hear what we like, we mimic, and then we expand into our own identity. I think my creative style must have developed from some Ben Folds, considering I’ve seen him perform a lot – he creates a lot of boisterous sounds, is technically correct, and has a crap load of fun. I grew up with pop and rock, but I am definitely classically trained. I won’t pretend that jazz is my creative influence… because it’s not. It’s a completely different language.

I have a different creative influence every week, because I have music ADD. It’s a self-diagnosed disorder. As of lately, my biggest creative influence has been whiskey…. I feel as though I want to play in the style of taking a shot of whiskey. When I get back on my classical kick, I’ll think of a different creative influence. Maybe Liberace?

Describe your dream job/gig…..

If you had asked me two years ago, I would have told you that I want to be a Professor of the History of Rock n’ Roll. I wanted people to call me Dr. Rada. I have my MA in Musicology with a concentration in Popular Music Studies. Doesn’t this make me sound cool? My thesis is about women who cover music originally written and performed by men and how the female performers appropriate the personal narrative. Yes, I have played piano my whole life. While studying at Tufts, I was still performing Shostakovich with the Tufts Chamber Music Ensemble privately studying with my piano teacher. However, I wanted to pursue a doctorate and live in academics forever. Then I moved to Chicago.

After watching the past couple episodes of Smash, I remember my dream job from college. I always wanted to write musicals! In fact, when I was a little buzzed in NYC the other weekend, I am pretty sure I sent numerous texts to people about the musical I am about to create. If not musical theater though – I would be scoring films. I’d go over the top, super dramatic, overly emotional… the kind of score you hear on Law and Order SVU. And you know what? I’d love every minute of it.

Dream gig? Just put me at a piano next to Norah Jones, and we’ll be all set

How did you get Girlband going? What is the chemistry/dynamic like working with an all girl group?

My cover band career started by chance. I had a skill… I needed a job… I ventured into a newfound territory that no other city can claim. I mean, really. Where else can someone make a living jumping from cover band to cover band? Along the way, I met some really talented musicians. Keep in mind, I am still young and always learning the ropes of this scene. However, once I met Maggie Mitchell, I realized immediately, “We must collaborate!!” I had met Janet a while ago in a different band and upon meeting her, claimed her as my drummer for all eternity. When you know good musicians, they naturally know other talented musicians and… therefore… come along with the package. Janet introduced us to Sheela, the always smiling, badass bassist. We joke that Girlband originated from my MA thesis. I have always been obsessed with studying women in music (I have a particular fondness for the 90’s). Maggie and I were on the same wavelength, and with her knowledge of event planning, a band was formed. We sat at Pick Me Up Café the first night for about 17 hours, planning out the possibilities of Girlband. Our mission is to accentuate the musicianship first.

There is a crap load of diverse talent bundled into our little group. And diversity was key – we’ve got a punk background, a Latin background, a classical background, a pop background, a Brazilian background. The important thing that I did want to stress about the “girl band” idea was, above all, that we came together as musicians first. This band was built around musicians that I respect… musically and personally.

How can the chemistry of an all girl band not be AMAZING? As I mentioned before, the “all girl” aspect is secondary to the musicianship. All of our members are performing with other bands. Not only are they performing with other bands, but they’re rocking the shit out of other bands. I have been on stage with Kimi Hayes at plenty of weddings when she rips out a Guns n’ Roses solo for the drunkards. The crowd is always in awe.

Maybe the biggest difference is that we all help each other carry our gear. It’s definitely more of a group effort

Emily Hoskins Photography

How did you meet Grisafe and when did you start playing together?

I met Sami years ago at a little known place called The Closet. We started playing together in September when I was called into the recording studio for “I Hate Tommy Finch.” I thought it would be just a few sessions, and then we would part ways. Little did I know the massive project we were about to create! Now we have an album (soon to be released), we just returned from performances in Austin, Nashville and NYC, and we’ll be opening for Chely Wright at Backlot Bash. I think this was Sami’s plan all along… she had intended to kidnap me. She’s lucky I like her.

Do you have a favorite song or performer?

I have about 52 thousand favorite songs and performers. To me, Ryan Adams is God. How the hell do I pick my favorite? I can take my “Heartbreaker” album, give it a spin, lie on the floor, stare into space, and live in blissful peace for hours. “Come Pick Me Up” would probably be my favorite on the album, but I definitely have a thing for songs with swear words.

My favorite classical piece that I have performed would be Chopin’s Ballade in G Minor. This was the big “showstopper” for my senior recital in college. It took me a year of living in practice rooms before I could conquer this story. And yes, a ballade is a story… a tale of tragedy, hope, joy, and just crazy circus shit all in 12 intense minutes. Each time I came out of the practice room for 2-3 hours, I felt like I had just come back from a war with myself and the piano.

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

In five years, I would love to turn my teaching business (Piano By Jaclyn, Inc.) into a music school that I run… but not just any music school. I want a school that incorporates chamber music. I LOVE chamber music. I want to get children excited about little classical ensembles by electrifying them! An electric violin here, an electric cello there… it’s Shostakovich like you’ve never heard it before. Let’s get these kids to rock out some Beethoven! Basically, in five years, I see “Piano by Jaclyn” creating a school that infuses pop and classical into the youth.

Of course, this will coincide with a very successful gigging schedule for Girlband, as we continue to bring new interpretations to the greatest hits of your favorite female performers.

And in 5 years, I will have already come back from a world tour with Sami Grisafe. Don’t worry, we will have met Norah Jones along the way. I’ll have a new song coming out that I co-wrote with Norah and Ryan. It’s entitled “Whiskey Livin’”.

What are some of your upcoming shows?

May 19th is a HUGE show at the Elbo Room! Kelsey Montanez at 9 pm, Girlband at 10 pm, and Sami Grisafe at 11 pm. $10… produced by Vicious Muse, Inc.

May 24th – Who Knew (another cover band!) @ McGee’s (10 pm)

June 22nd – Sami Grisafe opens for Chely Wright @ Backlot Bash (8 pm)

June 23rd – Girlband @ Backlot Bash (4 pm)

June 27th – Girlband @ Cubby Bear (10 pm)

Jackie Rada just brings good vibes into the room – with the talent, energy and artistic inspiration that a dreamer girl like me can only envy. She has this vision and sense of humor that make her impossible to ignore. I think the following quote from Jackie says a lot. “I never want to be better than anyone I am onstage with. I want to collaborate and create awesomeness! I want to be inspired. I want to lose myself at moments because I am so in awe of what’s going on by those around me.” – See what I mean?? Take some time to make some time to see Jackie and her friends playing music around Chicago this summer – you will be glad you did.

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About K. Guzman

Kathy grew up all over the US - lots of east coast time. She is a surfer girl with an unabridged curiosity. A woman whose mid life awakening continues to bring her to the place she was meant to be. Her degree in Journalism/Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida is being yanked from the archives and put to good use. Her two kids are grown and rock stars in this wild world – her Harley is ready for some serious summer miles – and her heart remains open to life, women and the possibilities each day brings.


3 Responses to “Jackie Rada – Chicago’s Piano Woman and so much more”

  1. Great article on a great woman! As you can tell by this interview, Jackie is not only very talented, but a wonderful person. It’s no wonder I “kidnapped” her 🙂

    Thank you L Stop, for informing those who didn’t already know about this lovely woman, how lucky Chicago is to have her!

    Looking forward to our world tour 🙂


    Sami Grisafe

    Posted by Sami G. | May 10, 2012, 11:38 am
  2. And the new fact I learned about Rada? She’s from Evergreen Park — same as my grandparents. I spent waaay too much time as a kid at the Evergreen Park Mall. We must talk. 😉

    Posted by Val | May 10, 2012, 11:41 am
  3. Ha! I went to Evergreen Park Mall too. Those roasted nuts were off the chain.

    Posted by Vivian | May 10, 2012, 12:24 pm

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