Get To Know BodyBusiness Member Jane Rundquist
“I’ll always be learning if you stick with it because it’s like an endless thing. It’s a lifetime thing. Playing guitar, being a musician or whatever like that is your life so you have to live your life the best you can.” – Matthew Robinson, Austin Blues Legend
Walking up to the packed parking lot of Azul Tequila, the hot, humid air of a mid-summer Austin night feels fitting and appropriate when mixed with the blues guitar licks and the deep, soulful voice hanging in the atmosphere around the north Austin restaurant. The tables inside are almost all empty. Alone at the bar, one man watches a re-run of the 2017 NBA Finals. A magnetic pull drags each customer to the outdoor seating. Sure, the food is good and the margaritas are strong, but they came for something else: Jane Rundquist and Too Blue. The syrupy voice that’s coming from behind the Kurzweil keyboard is something of a brain-melter if you have ever spoke to Jane outside of her role in Too Blue. The high, lilting tones of her 9 am, Monday morning voice have been replaced by a deep, emphatic sound that sticks to you like the humidity itself – the kind of noise that comes from the belly of a true bluesman (or woman).
“These are a grandma’s version of these songs but I feel it in my heart,” she says before she jumps into Chain of Fools. “Every chain has got a weak link, I might be weak yeah, but I’ll give you strength – and stability!” she sings, the crowd cheering her nod to the group exercise class many in the audience regularly attend. A few people twirl around the dance floor, some sway in their metal chairs.
As they wind down on a rendition of “Ooo Baby Baby” that would make Smokey Robinson proud, Jane bows her head and thanks Smokey for the music. The band dedicates their last song, Mustang Sally, to a friend in the crowd who promptly jumps and joins the now crowded dance floor. Jane thanks the “beautiful people for coming out,” but shouts of encore begin to ring out. She snaps out of her bluesman voice and exclaims “Gosh, this is rare!” as a giant smile comes across her face. She blows kisses to the crowd as day turns to night. A few minutes later, 98.9 plays the Dramatics’ Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get on the radio – it feels like a sarcastic wink from the music gods: Jane Rundquist – removed from her rotating wardrobe of bright spring colors, her airy voice, her almost-too-sweet-to-be-real mannerisms, her ever-present JuiceLand fanny pack – just put on a blues show full of soul and gravitas. The Austin music scene has always been full of surprises – and Jane Rundquist is no exception.
Jane’s blues and rock chops might feel so true because she learned from one of the greats. On a fateful day while working as a music teacher for the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), a custodian heard her singing and invited her to play with his band, The Mustangs. The custodian, working the job during the day to keep his dream of being a bluesman alive, ended up being blues legend Matthew Robinson, a man who has opened for the likes of James Brown.
Jane’s been playing venues around Austin since the late 70’s. Her music was far from her only contribution to our wonderful city though: She spent 43 years as a music teacher before retiring in 2017. She is quintessential Austin: generous, kind, creative, down-to-earth. As we spoke for this interview, nearly every member greeted her, some thanking her for the show she put on the past weekend. She cooed back thanks while knowing every single person by name. As we finished up, she walked in to Monday’s 10:00 a.m. Strength and Stability class, a giant grin across her face – the embodiment of the community and spirit BodyBusiness strives to create. The drums start pattering for the class and Jane’s smile is still there, a slight sway taking over her body like the seasoned blues vet she was born to be.
Q&A with Jane
How long have you been a member at BodyBusiness and what brought you in?
Since about 1999 or 2000. Knowing that after not going to the gym for a good long while that it wasn’t enough to just say “Oh, I don’t sit down a lot while I work” and I couldn’t run anymore – there’s something with my knee – I just wanted to do stuff. I wanted to do classes. I wanted to have that outlet and feel better.
You seem to have a close relationship with other members at BodyBusiness. Did you know them before or were those friendships formed here?
We’re gym friends. A lot of them, it’s because its Gillian’s class (Strength and Stability). She’s like, “Jane’s band is playing! Who’s gonna be there? Who’s going?” It’s just a nice feeling of we are all in this together and we are doing what we can with what we got in whatever stage of life. To come from my late 40s to late 60s has been a journey but it’s still good – I can still jump, my lil’ 8-year-old grandson, he’s like “I know you’re not fast, but we can play this game. If you keep going to the gym I think you can do it till you’re 80… but you are old.”
Have you always been interested in fitness/exercise?
I went through a period of time where I didn’t do it at a gym so consequently I didn’t do too much. Back in the 60’s I got into watching Jack Lelane on TV – I was like I can do this with you! I can’t pull a tug boat while I’m swimming though.
At what age did you become interested in music?
Probably age 3. My mom and my sister sang all the time. I was singing with them when I was little. I started taking piano lessons. We lived in a series of little towns. It was kind of hit and miss but I’ve been playing since about age 6. Sometimes with really good teachers sometimes not so good. I got interested in choir in high school and had a very good choir teacher. He got into music therapy when that was a new field. This was back in 1965. When I went to college I learned the fiddle, then the trumpet and the clarinet. And then I got into playing guitar when I started teaching. I mess around with guitar and ukulele and recorder. Then I got into playing African marimba for a while. You know working with some blind kids and some deaf blind kids I realized we had that bass marimba and that even if you couldn’t see you could feel it – you could feel how big it was, you could figure out proprioceptively. I said let’s get that. I had this one really talented deaf and blind girl that would just wail on that bass marimba. I got into that because I was interested in how the students would react. To reach to get outside of yourself. Music and art: it’s so important. When I worked for AISD I worked with deaf kids and I saw how much they loved bar instruments – they would get into the drums. The deaf kids would come and sing with them. It was just everyone together.
What lead you to playing the style of music you play today?
I worked with this fabulous custodian at the school for the blind who was a blues musician who grew up on the east side. He had a band called The Mustangs in the early 60’s. Oh man – great guitar player, true blues. That gravelly voice. He said you can come play with me and then Roland, my husband, he’s a drummer (the drummer for Too Blue as well), he went without drums from high school until the age of 37. So Matthew said, ‘Just come out there and play. I need a drummer tonight. ‘He’s (Roland) like, ‘I don’t know your songs.’ Matthew said, ‘I’ll tell you when to stop playing.’ You learn by gigging, you learn by playing. So Roland is 68, I’m about to be 69… you know it’s more of a therapy thing, more of a catharsis, a sharing thing. We played with Matthew, we played on 6th street when there was a lot of venues in the late 80’s and early 90’s. In fact we played at a place Gary Clark Jr. played back when he was in high school. His mom had to take him to gigs. One of our guitar players, his grandma had Ike and Tina turner come by her house. It was just being around a lot of musicians that kind of kept us going.
Have you been in any other bands besides Too Blue?
With Matthew… it was Matthew Robinson and the Key Ingredients. And oh my god, yes before we formed Too Blue it was The Killer Tomatoes. We would just play at these places on Sixth Street. We’ve had Too Blue since 1991 in various configurations. It’s Roland Cardenas on the drums, Jack Geiser is the guitar player and Mike Weimer is the bass player.
What did you want to be growing up?
I’ve been retired for 2 years now. I worked as a music teacher all together for 43 years. My father was mostly a businessman but at one point was a teacher and a principle, my sister was a teacher and my brother was a teacher…ya know I like people, lets be a teacher! I really wanted to be a flight stewardess. I just decided let’s do music. Music education with a minor in piano.
How did you end up teaching at TSBVI?
When I moved to Austin I applied to about 20 school districts and didn’t hear back from one. I got an interview at the school for the blind and I was like well heck they offered me a job! I hadn’t been around visually impaired students before but they were just like let’s do it. Ya know the 70’s were wide open. I had to go back to school at UT and study with a focus on students with low vision. The children taught me everything I didn’t know. So I just kind of got into that. I had a lot of help from sign language, from interpreters working with hearing impaired kids. Then I ended up teaching at an elementary school for special needs children. That was a real interesting jump into that. I read some books. I cried a lot. I really think that students teach you more than education classes do. I had a lot of great colleagues. After several years working with special needs kids I got a job working as a K-5 music teacher at an elementary school. It’s been a really good mix. I worked with the school district for about 12 years. It was time to change again. The school for the blind’s principal called me up one day: The music teacher is about to retire here, would you like to apply for this job and that’s when I became the music director.
What is a perfect day for Jane Rundquist?
Get up when I feel like it. Go sit with the dogs. Get up and have coffee. Walk the dogs. Come to the gym. I like to go for a hike. I like to read. I like happy hour. I like to watch Bill Maher, you know, 60 minutes. I like to go to ACL Moody Theater. See Los Lobos. I love them. I would stalk them if I could. It’s a full day!
How did you meet Roland?
We met through the school for blind and visually impaired. The first day I was there it was in 1976 – they had this big convocation. The principal came up to me and said ‘you need to sing a song, it’s about fire safety’ it was “pants on fire, pants on fire, drop down quick, you must have a plan, fire drill.” I actually got up there in front of strangers and Roland said that is the geekiest girl I’ve ever seen, she is so uncool. He had the big long hair and the Fu Man Chu mustache (she waves herself and sighs). I guess you could say we met through music. The fire drill song. It’s funny what you remember and what you repress.
Everybody knows you as someone who is so happy and positive. How do you stay in that mind frame?
People. Being around people is super important. To realize we are all in this together. It really does make a difference to me. Makes me feel a whole lot better. And I’m not faking it either. There are times when I’m grumpy but I get over it pretty fast. I really feel like being with people is what does it.
For the final question, I ask Jane what song she would play with her windows down on a nice day as she drives. Her answer: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” She laughs at how cliché it is. The answer fits her so well I don’t prod for another. BodyBusiness’ very own rock star Jane Rundquist has her song and her mantra and we are beyond lucky to call her one of our own.