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Cool Kat: Milton native Kat Reinhert releasing two new jazz albums

By Jake Magee
August 19, 2015

Whatever Kat Reinhert does with her life for the foreseeable future, you can bet it will involve music.

The Milton native sings, plays piano, teaches music groups and private students, studies, writes songs, tours and performs, among other things. She's on the cusp of releasing her third and fourth jazz albums, which will be paired when they release Friday, Aug. 21.

On her third album, “Home Movie,” Reinhert draws inspiration at least partly from the small city she called home for the first 18 years of her life. Though composed of jazz covers of songs from Foo Fighters to “Mary Poppins,” there's still a personal tone. Tracks such as “Surrey with a Fringe on Top,” for instance, are reminiscent of youthful days spent riding with her mother on a horse-drawn buggy through the Wisconsin countryside.

When deciding which songs to cover, Reinhert first listens to the lyrics. If she can sing them herself and still have them remain true and authentic, she deconstructs the tracks and builds them back up in her own jazzy style.

“Spark,” Reinhert's fourth album, is much more intimate, featuring songs she wrote. The artist draws inspiration everywhere—from her friends, family and fellow musicians to pictures of Detroit to a random boy seen on a train with his mother.

“Autobiographical would be the right word,” she said of the album. “It’s about things I’m experiencing always, but not always about my life.”

Reinhert has worked with the same drummer, bassist and guitarist for about four years. She writes and arranges her original music with them in mind.

“It’s not that other people can’t play it … but it sounds different because it’s almost written for them,” she said.

Reinhert was introduced to music early when she started playing piano at the age of 8. She has followed her passion ever since.

“It was a release. It was a place to kind of get away from whatever was stressing me,” she said.

Despite her father being a jazz musician, Reinhert’s first exposure to the genre didn’t cement a love for it.

“It was too dissonant, too busy,” she said.

Reinhert joined the Choralation show choir while attending Milton High School. After graduating, she studied classical voice at Lawrence University in Appleton, but she didn’t love it.

She developed a passion for jazz when she began studying with Ken Schaphorst, a noted composer, arranger and trumpeter who also served as the school’s director of jazz studies. Under his tutelage, Reinhert also learned theory, harmony and how to transcribe music.

Transcribing in its simplest form involves listening to a piece of music and writing down the notes for others to play.

“It was very hard,” she said of transcribing. “It wasn’t something I’d ever done before.”

Gradually, Reinhert fell in love with the genre—so much so that she transferred to the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York and earned her bachelor’s in jazz/commercial music.

In 2005, Reinhert moved to Miami to earn her master’s degree in jazz pedagogy from the University of Miami. She currently is pursuing her Ph.D. in popular music education at the school.

Reinhert isn’t sure what will come next, but she knows she wants to continue touring, playing concert venues and working at the university. She hopes to one day open her own studio.

Her degrees will help her do what she already does, just with a lot less red tape, she said. Reinhert said she plans to release a new album every three to four years.

“That’s the point of being an artist is putting new creativity out into the world,” she said. “Music can’t live in silence. It needs connection to really live.”

Reinhert knows jazz can be intimidating for new listeners, but she encourages people to give her album a try. People think jazz is “fancy” when it’s actually not, considering pioneers of the genre were self-taught musicians who simply learned to jam together, she said.

As for “Spark,” it comes from a tumultuous part of Reinhert’s life and deals with subjects such as divorce and body image. The album’s tracks run the gamut from happy to sad, fast to slow, simple to complex.

“I hope that it inspires people, but I also hope it helps people,” she said.