Coming from the sincere motivation to bring happiness to the lives of others, Joan Zen strives to uplift her audiences with lasting feelings of joyousness. In a world filled with struggles, Joan Zen’s music can be taken as an elixir of love and life. Using thoughtful lyrics imbued with sometimes prescriptive antidotes to suffering, combined with deeply infectious grooviness, JZ endeavors to bring positivity and high-energy to each and every show. Performing around the Northwest with either an acoustic duo featuring JZ’s husband, Jason Hicks, on saxophone, e.w.i. and/or percussion, or with Joan’s jazz quintet, or 6-piece funky-soul and reggae dance band, Joan Zen delivers passionate performances every time.
Born in Memphis, TN and raised near Atlanta, GA, Joan Zen’s musical journey began as a young girl performing in theatre, choir, and talent shows. Raised in a musical family, as a teen, she began singing professionally for weddings and at cafes and restaurants. In her early adult life, during her schooling at the University of San Diego, she was the lead female vocalist for one of the most popular show bands in Southern California, performing at all of the best resorts and hotels including La Costa, Sea World, and Viejas. Events ranged from concerts, festivals, weddings, clubs, and private parties. Moonlighting as a singer while working her way through college, she graduated with top honors from the University of San Diego with a BA in Communications.
After marrying her band-and-soul-mate, Jason Hicks, the couple relocated to Montana bringing their years of performing and music production experience to the area. Since their relocation to the Bitterroot Valley in 2002 and subsequent move to Missoula in 2010, the Zen couple continue to perform an average of 100 shows annually. As an acoustic duo, they offer a jazzy, yet modern sound which includes Joan Zen’s soulful vocals and guitar, tenor and soprano saxophones, hand drum, and E.W.I. (electronic wind synth). Many loyal fans of this group rave that the combination of voice and saxophone is like listening to ‘one voice’ coming from two instruments.
Zen’s lineup includes some locally famous friends Eric Hutchins on guitar and trumpet, Milan House on keyboards, Branden Barker on bass, and Brandon Zimmer on drums. They each bring something unique and special to their roles, and several of them have been dedicated to the Zen group for a decade or more. Their mission is simple: bring the funkiest grooves while singing about joy.
“It’s been a goal to write groovy, danceable songs for the club and festival crowds, which deliver messages of positivity and love. I wanted to use the music to try to make people feel quite naturally and spontaneously happy.” – JZ
Joan Zen’s 2017 3rd studio release This is the Fortunate Life was celebrated in April 2017. In addition to the core group, the new EP includes musical appearances by Mandela Leola Van Eeden, Phil Stempin, and the Pure Vida Choir led by Joshua Farmer. With cover photography by famed, local artist Steve Slocomb (sunburstwildflowers.com), back cover original art by Jaimie Fortune of Painless Steel, inside photography by Jason Hicks, and layout by Tsering Norbu (norboo.net), the graphics are as colorful as the production. Lyrically, the songs express thoughts regarding love, compassion, and oneness, while musically the styles bend and twist from soul to rock and gospel, yet all undeniably Joan Zen. It’s dharma pop music, endeavoring to move the body, the heart, and the soul. Songs include: Being Mindful, Don’t Be Concerned, It Brings Me Back to You, This is the Fortunate Life, and Every Stream Leads to the Ocean.
JZ has produced two previous studio albums, 2004’s Intramission and 2007’s Youniverse, both available here on iTunes and CD Baby. Lis-ZEN to album tracks, read lyrics, watch some videos, and become a fan of Joan Zen on social media.