Jodi Farrell is known to local musicians and music lovers throughout the county. From her Midtown studio she has helped singers, guitarists and pianists find their talents and hone their crafts. As a performer — with her longtime collaborator, Jim Rankin; her current trio, TreCoustics; or the various bands she has joined off and on through more than 30 years of living in Ventura County — she has entertained crowds at many local venues, including the Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar, Grapes and Hops and the Wine Rack. And as a teacher at Ventura College (from 2001 to 2012) she helped budding musicians from all walks of life learn the finer details of vocal performance. In many ways, she’s a pillar of the musical community — an accomplishment for which she was recognized with the 2016 Mayor’s Arts Award for Arts Educator in November.
Farrell’s roots in the area go far back. Born and largely raised in Los Angeles, she spent her last few years of high school in Agoura Hills. Her household was a creative one — her father was an artist — but not particularly musical. Nevertheless, “It was something I always gravitated toward,” she says. Farrell sang from a young age, and started learning guitar “as a musical creative outlet” as a teenager. Artists in the singer/songwriter mold and good ol’ rock ’n’ roll were major influences.
“I remember when I first heard Anne Wilson of Heart — you didn’t hear a lot of females singing rock ’n’ roll,” she recalls. “That was a defining moment for me.” The music of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Eva Cassidy also spoke to the budding musician.
Farrell studied vocal performance at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and joined the National Association of Singers. She moved to Ventura in 1985 when she got married, but didn’t perform as often during those early years. “Touring is not conducive when you’re raising children,” she admits, referencing a daughter, now 28, and son, 26. But she did teach voice and piano lessons from her home, opening a studio in 1994 when a space in Midtown became available. “I’m going to try it for a year,” she told herself — and she’s been there ever since.
“I’m now teaching my students’ children!” she says with a laugh. “It’s a stark reminder of time going by quickly.”
Farrell is an avid piano and guitar player, and does offer instruction in those instruments. But her main focus is singing and performance. “I feel that I have a calling to be a teacher,” she says. She has taught hundreds of students, of all ages and interests, over nearly 30 years. Her talented “alums” include Broadway actress Sara Jean Ford, Right Amount of Wrong singer Francesca Garofoli, backup singer Sharon Hendrix (mother of local musician Jade Hendrix) and Melanie Gingerich, now a professional speech therapist.
Working with so much talent is one of her great joys. She has never stopped loving “the opportunity to be a part of the experience of another human being, growing both as an artist and in their own self-confidence.”
One of the ways she helps boost that self-confidence is with her uniquely designed performance workshops. Every other month, she gets a group of students together at a public venue (Ventura Vineyard and Bombay have both hosted these events) to perform live in front of an audience. During the performance, she provides critique and feedback to improve. It goes way beyond the traditional recital, and at first glance can seem daunting. But Farrell has found these workshops to be invaluable.
“I believe we need to practice performance just like we need to practice our instruments,” Farrell says. “It’s something that can only be achieved in front of a live audience. It’s an environment where it’s safe, educational and entertaining, all at the same time. And the audience gets to see the artist or student in process — which is so brave.”
Farrell understands the courage and skillset it takes to perform — because she’s taken to the stage many times herself, and continues to do so, currently as a duo with Jim Rankin and as a trio with TreCoustics. (She sang for blues band Front Street Prophets at one time as well.) She’s even had a taste of overseas touring, playing in Taiwan with a band called Group Therapy in 2012 and 2013. The band members originally contacted Farrell for voice lessons before the tour — and were so impressed by her abilities that she was asked to join the tour.
“I’m always open to something new,” Farrell notes. “By having that experience, I can pass that on to my students.”
Another “something new” is the bass. Farrell participated in a few Eric Clapton tribute concerts with Alastair Greene and Jim Rankin. Rankin started teaching her bass, and “Now we’re gigging together,” she says. “We’ve had fun growing together.” This collaboration has allowed both to explore something different. Farrell plays bass (a new instrument for her) and sings, while Rankin, better known as a bass man, gets to play guitar. She admits that it hasn’t been easy . . . but it has been rewarding.
“I really enjoy connecting with people through my music,” Farrell says. “I enjoy the challenge of singing and playing bass [at the same time]. I’ve only played bass for a few years . . . so I’ve got some catching up to do.” She’s also looking forward to exploring other styles of music. “I don’t want to be boxed in to just one genre,” Farrell explains. “I’d love to do more jazz. I’d love to explore more.”
That inherent curiosity and desire to learn are part of what make Farrell such an inspiring teacher. “I hope that there’s always growth,” she says of herself. “I’m always open to new ideas, new techniques, new experiments and collaborations.”
Jodi Farrell’s next performance workshop will be held on Saturday, Sept. 9, 12-3 p.m. at Ventura Vineyard, 1956 Palma Drive, Ventura. For more information, including upcoming shows and classes, visit jodifarrell.com.