SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The driving force behind two well-known Santa Fe jazz bands, JJ and the Hooligans and the Jay Heneghan Project, didn’t anticipate ever becoming a career musician. Though she is classically trained on the piano, Jay Heneghan says she didn’t come to music until she was an adult. She briefly majored in music in college before she realized that career path wasn’t for her at the time.
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Having children is what inspired her to get back into music. “We bought a used upright (piano) and started playing again. I had children and was inspired to play for them, and have them take piano lessons,” Heneghan said.
Not long after that, she began growing her network of friends and fellow musicians little by little. “It’s been sort of like a second take at music for me,” Heneghan said.
It was then that she started performing with the band JJ and the Hooligans, and describes their music as a dance band because their music crosses multiple genres but centers around playing music people can dance to. “The high energy, dance music is absolutely born out of my having been a teenager in the 80s. It’s fun, and just the atmosphere that we miss so much right now of being in a bar or a club and everyone is packing the dancefloor. It’s fun and it really motivates you to choose music that’s going to keep that energy going in the room because it’s fun for us and fun for the audience,” Heneghan said.
A couple of years later, she put together a jazz combo that is now known as the Jay Heneghan project with one of the band members from JJ and the Hooligans. It came from a desire to do something different vocally and to have a chance to play more intimate settings as compared to clubs or bars.
Heneghan grew up with parents who frequently played Latin jazz, which is something she includes in her sets to help her feel connected to her childhood. “It just feels very familiar to me and it’s inspired me to learn some songs in Spanish which as helped me with my language in general,” Heneghan said.
Having been classically trained is something Heneghan feels gives her an advantage. “The classical training has been fundamental to me being able to do anything else that I want to do on the piano,” Heneghan said.
She has taken this time during the quarantine period to focus on her vocal technique and hone her skills musically. Not only that, but Heneghan has had the opportunity to play more with her children. She has three children, two of whom still live at home and have recently taken an interest in playing music. “They were so sick of their screens from online school all day, that they for the first time really were willing to do music with me much more than they ever have before. My younger daughter is a great vocalist and my son is a multi-instrument musician which has been wonderful for all of us,” Heneghan said.
Her son has even begun playing with her during her first shows after the COVID shutdowns. She’s also working on writing her own music and even has one song nominated for a New Mexico Music Award. “That song is very much a memento of what I was witnessing during this past year, and it’s really special to me because my son plays on the recording. Those are a couple things that were very much a result of what we’ve been through in 2020,” Heneghan said.