SOMEWHERE OVER LOS ANGELES — It's an old story: Struggling musician works a day job to supplement the meager wages earned while playing late-night club dates.
Bassist Jennifer York is no exception. But her day job starts when most after-hours jazz clubs are still going strong. She's up at 4:30 a.m., gathering her wits and her makeup. She arrives at Van Nuys airport by 5:15 and, by 5:30, as the airborne traffic reporter for KTLA Channel 5 News, York, her cameraman and the pilot are lifting off in Skycam 5.
"Looking a little green this morning," says the cameraman as he hits York with a spotlight.
"I was up till midnight," she counters, teasing her hair and smoothing her makeup while unscrambling the traffic information that's pouring into her headset.
There's a spilled load of bicycles on the San Gabriel Freeway, and Skycam 5 will be there to document the backup. York props a pair of stuffed animals in the copter's window, scribbles some notes on her clipboard and turns to face the camera mounted in the rear of the cockpit.
A couple of nights later, York, whose quartet plays Saturday at the Southern California Jazz Festival in Irvine, can be found fiddling with her bass amp on the tiny bandstand inside Tribeca, a sleek Encino restaurant and watering hole.
Her quartet--with saxophonist Janine Del Arte, drummer Suzanne Morissette and pianist Alexandra Casselli--moves into the familiar strains of "Autumn Leaves." Wearing a short blue dress speckled with white polka-dots, she leads the way, playing an upright that makes her, although she is tall, seem small.
For the second set, she switches to electric bass guitar, pounding out the rhythmic vamp of Grover Washington Jr.'s "Mr. Magic." During her solo, she slaps the strings in the heavyweight style of bassist Marcus Miller (one of her heroes), combining rhythmic and melodic elements in a way that causes a knot of patrons at the bar to shout their approval.
Later, she's back to the upright for Cedar Walton's Latin-flavored "Bolivia" and on to "My Favorite Things," the pleasant ditty from "The Sound of Music" that saxophonist John Coltrane developed into his personal declaration of freedom.
York, 31, twists and turns with the beat, obviously deep within the music and enjoying herself mightily. By the time the night's last set is finished, there's little more than four hours left before her alarm goes off again.
York's daily schedule would leave most people sleepy-eyed and cranky. But she is a whirligig of energy at both ends of the day, bursting with the kind of enthusiasm that few bring to a single job, let alone two.
"I love both my jobs," York asserts with such animation that even a cynic can't help but believe her.
"Jennifer has more energy than any 10 people I know," said saxophonist Ann Patterson, leader of the Maiden Voyage big band that also boasts York as its bassist. "She's so serious about her playing. There's no way that she's depending on her visibility in television to get by on the bandstand. She's working very hard to become a great musician."
York is equally dedicated to her broadcasting.
Her clear-headed reports during last year's Laguna and Malibu fires, coming on days that often found her working 18 hours without a break, helped her team earn an Emmy nomination for live coverage of an unscheduled news event.
The recent death of her cousin in a freeway accident, she said, emphasized to her "how important it is to remind people to drive safely, because a lot of them out there aren't paying attention."
The divergent paths York follows are a result of both conscious effort and circumstance.
"It's like I tripped and fell into this job," she said of reporting. "I consider myself a bass player first, but I love doing newscasting. I can't imagine my life without both."
Born in Covina, York grew up in Hemet and began playing the piano when she was 5. She was attracted to an electric bass in the seventh grade because "it looked just like the one Paul McCartney played."
"I tried to keep up both piano and bass for a while, but bass finally won out. It was rare to see a girl play bass, and it felt really special to me. It's a very rhythmic instrument, very percussive and melodic, and I found I could combine both those aspects."
Her high-school experiences in Hemet were particularly important, she said.
"I don't know what I would have done without music in high school. The relationships that were established there were very special, and we could really bond on band trips. It kept me out of trouble too because all my time was spent in band."
But York gave up the bass when she moved on to attend UCLA to get a degree in political science. Broadcasting became her goal. She went to New York in 1984 for an internship with ABC and "Good Morning, America," a stint that she turned into a full-time job.