Jenson got a taste of Latin music from teachers and high school classmates while growing up in a small town 20 miles north of Keene, N.H.
“There wasn’t much going on culturally,” he said. “I was yearning for it.”
The urban music that made its way north from Boston radio stations attracted the young musician like a magnet.
“I remember Kiss 108 — this is a way, long time ago, in the late ’70s and ’80s — they used to have these shows where they would put all this background, crowd noise in, and I would always think there was a big party going on.
“It was probably lousy disco music, but for me, in the woods of New Hampshire, it was hypnotic.”
After graduating from the New England Conservatory in 1991 with a master’s in jazz composition, he spent a decade playing with Boston-based blues guitarist Ronnie Earl and for New Orleans soul singer Johnny Adams.
“I got hooked into the blues thing, which affects every bit of my playing,” he said. “Everything is rooted in blues.”
For the last 10 years, Jenson’s attention has been directed mostly toward playing and teaching both salsa and reggae. He teaches a popular course on “The Music and Life of Bob Marley” at Berklee, where students discuss the social and spiritual context of reggae, in addition to learning how it is played.
“Reggae from Marley’s time was born out of a Cold War struggle,” Jenson said. “It was almost a civil war, there was a lot of violence between two big gangs in the country.”
Both forms of music have alternate sides. There are salsa performers who sing about matters of social concern and versions of Jamaican reggae that are just for dancing, but in general, the two styles have opposite aims.