Janna Marit

Janna Marit

PENINSULA PROFILE: Singer rises to the next stage

PORT TOWNSEND — When the singer from Greenland heard the singer from Pennsylvania, he was dazzled.

“I thought, wow. Janna has this Billie Holiday quality to her voice. It sounds very classic and warm,” said Simon Lynge, a Greenlandic songwriter who crossed paths with Janna Marit at a retreat in Big Sur, Calif.

Marit’s singing, he said, came across as “completely natural. She has an approach to melody that’s unique . . . and simple.”

This was a songwriting retreat, and so as the sun set in the evening, each participant sang for the group.

That, said Lynge, was when “I basically fell in love with her.”

He flew back to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he lived at the time. Soon after his return home, Lynge, a popular singer in Europe, had a television appearance to make on a morning news show in Lithuania, of all places. He took a night flight there and could not sleep for thinking of the American singer.

“That’s what her voice will do to you,” said Lynge from his home in Port Townsend.

He shares this home with Marit, his wife of six years, and their 4-year-old son Django. It’s a busy household where two musical careers have flowered, and where a long-hoped-for project has come to fruition.

“Blush in Blue,” Marit’s debut CD, is complete. This will be cause for celebration tonight at The Upstage, 923 Washington St., as Marit, Lynge and a band of their fellow local musicians give a concert at 6 p.m.

Thirteen original songs fill the album, recorded over six years in the couple’s life. Lynge and Marit co-wrote two of the tracks and co-produced the record in studios in Southern California and Port Townsend; they began work on it with Los Angeles sound engineer Thai Long Ly and then, half a decade later, returned to his studio to add final touches.

Also on “Blush in Blue” are two performances by Marit’s late father Bob Knudson, whom she recorded playing trumpet before he died in 2009.

“He was a superb horn player,” said Marit. “I am so grateful to have recorded him.”

Marit, who grew up in Pennsylvania, Vermont and Massachusetts, took a few voice lessons here and there.

Having fallen love with jazz and R&B, she developed her voice while at the wheel of her car.

“I used to deliver flowers on Cape Cod. I had this great job, driving,” she recalled. “So I would drive around, singing.”

When it came time to go to college, Marit lit out for California, having chosen the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena.

And though she gained some formal vocal training there, Marit still harbored a fear of performing for anyone besides family and close friends.

It took a traumatic event in the year 2000 to awaken Marit to her essential desire: to sing.

She had gone to visit her parents in Maine, where they were restoring a beautiful old house. A terrifying fire burned the place down, leaving the family to find somewhere else to start anew. Marit’s parents moved around the country, while she returned to Los Angeles — and began to find work as a jazz vocalist.

By 2003, Marit’s family had decided on Port Townsend as their new home. Other kin came too: her sister Cynthia and her family moved here from Florida. They all joined Marit’s aunt Elaine Bailey, who’d started this westward migration.

This was also around the time Marit and Lynge met in California. Her first memory of Lynge is as vivid as his recollection of her.

“When I saw him perform, I was really struck . . . I thought he was extremely talented, a remarkable songwriter with a beautiful voice,” Marit said.

“He just intrigued me. Simon’s got a lot of depth and character. He’s unconventional, and I appreciate that.”

Lynge left Copenhagen for Los Angeles, and Marit and Lynge were married, first in 2005 at the courthouse in Beverly Hills, and again in a wedding in Port Townsend in 2006.

The pair has since traveled twice to Greenland, Lynge’s father’s home, which Marit found utterly stunning.

It’s treeless and dominated by icebergs, and the people, she added with a sigh, are as warm as the land is cold. On their first trip, she and Lynge gave a concert together, beside a glacier.

On their second trip, Marit and Lynge traveled to the capital city of Nuuk, where they performed in a packed 500-seat theater. “It was an amazing show,” in which she felt the audience’s energy wash over her.

On the initial journey to Greenland five years ago, Marit was pregnant — and about to embark on a whole other adventure back home.

Less than a month before Django was born, Marit and Lynge moved from Los Angeles to Port Townsend. They already had started work on Marit’s album but put the project aside.

Lynge’s musical career takes him across the United States, Europe and beyond for several months of each year, while Marit stays home to care for their son. And though she says their music is quite different — his is folk-inspired pop, hers “circusy cabaret” — Marit joins her husband on stage occasionally, including on one memorable night in California.

Lynge had opened for Emmylou Harris in 11 European concerts, and then returned to the States for just two more, in Tucson, Ariz., and Napa Valley, Calif., in fall 2011. Marit joined him on stage to open the Napa show, and as Harris did her final curtain call, she invited both Marit and Lynge back on.

“We all bowed, and the crowd went crazy for Simon,” Marit recalled.

Then Harris turned to Marit and, hugging her, said: “You sounded like heaven.”

The year 2012 has brought new collaborations between Marit and Lynge, and between the singers and their adopted home town. The realization of “Blush in Blue” is thanks to a Kickstarter.com fundraising effort in which supporters — friends, family, even Marit’s teacher from high school in Pennsylvania — pledged some $5,900 toward the production.

On the record, Lynge sings backup and plays many instruments: guitars, bass, drums, pot and pans, ukulele and kalimba, or thumb piano.

Well-known Port Townsenders including guitarist George Rezendes, mandolinist Matt Sircely and harpist David Michael, as well as young singers from Leslie Lewis’ children’s choir also appear, and some of these players plan to join the CD-release party tonight.

Marit is known to theater-goers for her singing last summer in the Key City Public Theatre revue “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.” But her performances have been rare since, as she has been chasing her toddler son around and working on “Blush in Blue.” And this evening’s CD event will be an unveiling of another art form Marit pursues: the visual.

At The Upstage she will display prints of her paintings done in a style reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec, offering them for purchase at just one venue outside her website.

Back in Southern California, Marit worked for several years as a scenic painter on music videos, commercials and Disneyland rides, creating the vivid worlds of “Monsters Inc.” and “Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror.”

As for the songs she will sing tonight, Marit hopes to explore the richness of the world. She hopes to give her listeners not only buoyant music, but also lyrics to feed the mind. Songs such as “Not All Who Wander” and “Devil’s Door” offer her own social commentary, with a dollop of “wonder and curiosity about life.”

There have been times when the recording process felt “very daunting. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Marit.

She and her man kept going, though.

With this final result, “I am really thrilled,” Marit said. “I can hardly believe it’s done.”

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