Coming from a musical family – music was always a big part of her life, from piano and classical music as a child to folk and pop as she grew up. Both of her parents played an instrument. Her grandmother always had an upright in the living room and would play old songs from the 30’s and 40’s. Jen loved singing from a young age, but only started to sing in public in her mid-twenties.
Growing up in a small town, Cambridge, Ontario – her main pursuits were study, horses and the piano. After her father’s untimely death and a move to Montreal for university, Charlton started to listen to more jazz (Chet Baker, Giao Gilberto) and ‘good folk’ (Dylan and Kate and Anna McGarrigle).
For a year she lived in New York where she tried the treacherous open mic scene, met some fine musicians (Hungrytown) and started to perform on stage – often with a single lightbulb overhead. But she really hit her stride after arriving in England in 2001, after some aimless travelling in Portugal and Spain.
London was in many ways a revelation – the making of character, an artist. Her real start was with a band called ‘The Lovers’ – where Russell James Palmer was her partner on and off stage. Holed up in what was essentially a garret in Kensal Rise, with little heating, but a garden and little rent to pay – Charlton and Palmer lived life with a certain romantic intensity. ‘We didn’t have a TV; there was lots of jamming, painting, William Blake and socialising in that house.’ The 4-piece folk/rock band made a wonderful sound and produced a similarly beautiful live record ‘The Lovers Live at the 12 Bar’. But it was not to last.
She then performed under her own name and consistently played with a number of great musicians, among them Uira De Noguera – (a Brazilian percussionist) Patrick Knill (a superlative vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist) and with the help of Sean Read shortly after the band’s break–up, produced ‘Wasted‘.
From her early days, she always took cues from the great artists of the 60’s and 70’s, i.e. Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen – the vocal genius of Karen Carpenter – but also drew inspiration from more independent folk and country like Graham Parsons, Judee Sill and Gillian Welch. But never one to stand still, her songwriting started to branch out from folk and head in a definitively more pop direction. Always a fan of more piano-driven artists like Carole King, she began to compose largely on her original instrument, blending great melodies, story-telling lyrics and a classical sensibility. More recent artists like Ben Folds and Regina Spektor also spoke to her new direction.
She then recorded a single ‘Kid‘ with the help of 2 different producers (the first partnership split because of artistic differences), the finished product a result of the hard work of Charlton and Howard Gott (The Wrecking Crew, Ed Harcourt, Beth Orton) – who composed beautiful string arrangements in the bargain. Soon after – on the strength of her songs, Jen recorded some songs for EMI publishing. Daniel Hart collaborated on harmonies – brilliantly.
Charlton has a strong interest in education too. By day she is a music teacher and has developed an innovative program blending language and music: ‘I have to say – I get a real kick out of teaching too. I love kids’ honesty – their utter irreverence. And teaching singing is so satisfying because you’re essentially opening up a whole new world – a whole new reality for a child.’
Jen has also written songs for film, including the winner of a Pears Foundation (UK) film grant – a short film entitled ‘I am Ruthie Segal, Hear Me Roar!’ Jen has collaborated with a multitude of artists and done some stunning re-interpretations of other artists’ songs: No Surprises, The Scientist and Derech Aruka. From singing in pubs in London, to playing dates around the UK and Europe and the Middle East, Jen has graced the same stage as Dar Williams, Dayna Kurtz and Laura Mayne (France).
After moving to Israel, Charlton wrote and collaborated with Frenchman Yves Galula. Galula and Charlton are finished an album, for which they released a 2-song single and 2 video clips: Blame it on my Family. Blame it on my family received some charming press coverage – Nerdy Frames (NZ).
Jen played lots of shows and became involved in the local music scene in Israel, collaborating with some Israeli artists and hosting live events on her rooftop in Jaffa.
Recently she relocated to Toronto and is working on a musical theatre piece about the British Mandate period in Palestine.