Jean Synodinos (sin-uh-DEE-nus) is a self-identified multipotentialite,* working with words, sounds, colors, and textures with equal curiosity and commitment.
“A born actress,” said the family, and it was true. One of Jean’s first vivid memories was performing onstage at age four in a production of the classic Greek comedy “Lysistrata” at Johns Hopkins University, directed by her dad. Beyond the lights, the costumes, and the peanut butter sandwiches her mom packed for her each night, Jean loved the backstage bustle and the camaraderie of castmates.
It paved the way for her first creative career as an actress—first in college, then in regional theater, and finally in New York City where a string of horrible off-off-Broadway productions paid off with a role in the hit off-Broadway comedy Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding. From 1989-1991, she left her comedic mark as Sister Albert Maria, a guitar-wielding nun who serenaded the congregation each night with her take on “Stairway to Heaven.”
Until that point, Jean had barely sung a note since 6th grade. In what turned out to be one of the more awkward moments of her youth, Jean’s terrifying music teacher, Mrs. Wolfgang, suggested that it would be best if she “not sing again” after hearing the young girl offer up a rendition of the old Burt Bacharach hit “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”
AN AUSTIN CREATIVE
But now, as a condition of employment, Jean discovered singing was fun and she wasn’t half bad. With a few more guitar lessons under her belt, she appeared at a West Village nightclub for her first open mic as a singer-songwriter in 1993. Three years later, she won the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Competition in Texas, and in late 1997, she made the move to Austin where she has quietly and steadily built a dedicated following. She is immensely proud to volunteer with Jail Guitar Doors and has brought weekly guitar and songwriting classes to incarcerated men and women at the Travis County Correctional Complex since 2013.
After years of immersing herself in the specificity of lyrical words, Jean bolted out of bed on June 1, 2013 and said, “It's time to paint.” With no formal training, she abandoned herself to colors, textures, and shapes as a new way to tap into her creative core with a prolific enthusiasm that shows no signs of slowing down. She is equally inspired by concrete and copper, and her hand-cast bowls are now in well over 100 Austin homes.
Jean lives in south Austin in a small house and what passes to lesser mortals as a garden. Other than her award-winning baklava, she is a mediocre cook and believes that the invention of the microwave is about as important as the discovery of fire. She graduated from Duke University oh-so-many years ago but is back in college again, studying creative writing so that first novel can finally get finished. She loves dogs but hates reality TV with the possible exception of “Shark Tank.”
And in 2017, a DNA test proved that she’s only 6% Greek but has a whole lot of Italian blood in her. Now, everything makes sense.
*Say what now? Multipotentiality defined here.
ABOUT THE ART
An emerging and self-taught abstract artist, Jean paints primarily with acrylics, inks, copper, and resin. She is wildly interested in the perfect imperfection of curves implied by nature, as well as the lines imposed upon nature by people.
She also works in concrete and is best known for her hand-cast, one-of-a-kind concrete bowls that are gracefully utilitarian and ruggedly decorative.
Her paintings are now in seven private collections across the country, and her concrete bowls can be found over 100 homes in Austin.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Jean delivers grit, grace and acoustic soul with a voice that's been hailed by critics as “big league” and "show-stopping." Her award-winning lyrics dig deep, moving from large affirmations to little ironies and giving equal footing to pain, kindness, honesty, and love.
Her fourth album, Love & Blood, entered the world in late 2016 as a web-based, multi-media experience, complete with extensive liner notes, artwork, essays, and videos. Reviews for Love & Blood compared it to Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, Joni Mitchell's Blue, and the poetry of Leonard Cohen. Jean's most personal effort to date, love & blood is a love letter to her late ex-husband and collaborator, guitarist Charles Rieser (The Scabs, Ugly Americans), who died in December 2014. This modern take on the old-school album experience can be explored at www.loveandblood.org.
She was a Top 10 Finalist in the 2015 Austin Music Awards for Best Songwriter and Best Folk Act, and songs from Love & Blood won first place in the International Song Door Competition and placed as finalists in the Great American Song Contest.
Jean's third album, Girls, Good & Otherwise, received a 2012 Texas Music Award for Artistic Excellence, and her previous releases, Breathe (2006) and Lucky (2003), also received their share of accolades. Third Coast Music wrote, "There's no mistaking that marvelous voice, but if that alone gives her a decided advantage in the massed ranks of Austin's Girls with Guitars, she piles it on by writing songs that are extraordinarily distinctive... she writes poetry that can be sung."