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Take Five With Lisa Hilton

Lisa Hilton By

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Meet Lisa Hilton:

Lisa Hilton is considered one of the most distinctive composers and pianists in jazz today. Trained as a classical pianist but with a degree in art, she has created her evocative, individualistic and impressionistic "sound paintings" for over a decade as a leader. In the book, The New Face of Jazz, Hilton was "compared to some of the best pianists in history," her imagistic compositions drawing deeply on classical traditions, twentieth century modernists, and the avant-garde as much as they look back to American jazz and blues artists like Thelonious Monk, Muddy Waters and Count Basie, or minimalists such as composer Steve Reich.

Over the course of her creative career, the "Lioness of Jazz" has played with many of this era's jazz luminaries, notably Christian McBride, Steve Wilson, Larry Grenadier, Nasheet Waits, JD Allen, Jeremy Pelt, Lewis Nash and Bobby Militello of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Hilton has released a total of fifteen albums as a leader (over 200 iTunes tracks).

Instrument(s):

Piano/composer.

Teachers and/or influences?

I'm influenced by everything I hear or see as a composer, and I do try and play a variety of things. I love Monk, Basie and Duke Ellington. but also George Gershwin, Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

Well, I follow art and music both and I have done both. Now I think that those interests are working together for me: my art is my music.

Your sound and approach to music:

I think that as a composer in the 21st century it is important to find the approach that sounds like life today—not like music of the last century. We can appreciate and reference the past, while moving forward.

Your teaching approach:

I don't really believe that the arts can, or should be, taught. It is a path of discovery that only the individual should walk. Teachers can inspire, and suggest directions, but only the artist is in charge of where and how they will go and get there. Music and art are expressions of love and communication, so they are—and should be—unique to each individual. Being graded or judged for those expressions endanger the pureness of that communication.

Your dream band:

I think I have a dream band with Larry Grenadier and Nasheet Waits.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

Well, as a pianist you are normally at the mercy of whatever piano is available, and if it's been tuned or not. At one club, I was told the technician had been tuning the piano—just for me—for four hours when I got there (and took another hour after that), when it normally takes about an hour or so to get an instrument tuned! On the other hand, Steinway NY gives me the most sublime instruments in the entire U.S.

Favorite venue:

I don't know if there ever is a favorite, because everything else is a factor—the instrument, the audience, the engineer or sound. Every venue is an improvisation.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

I love our new Getaway (2013), with Larry Grenadier and Nasheet Waits. I think it is exceptionally well recorded and with these masters you want to hear it all! This is our third recording together and there is a lot of freedom exhibited here. I think you can hear excitement, but also a level of trust with each other. I think that Larry and Nasheet were laughing and happy after every take, too It was challenging, but fun.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Probably Getz/Gilberto, like most people.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

When I listen to Gershwin, his music describes the bustling New York City of the 1920s in "Rhapsody In Blue," but I have only seen that NY in movies. Our music should sound like the times that we live in, and as a composer it is important to leave work for future generations to understand and explore this time period, as well as to connect with others today. I think music is our original Social Network, and it spans the centuries.

Did you know...

I had a big challenge with performance anxiety for a very long time. Glad to move on from that one!

CDs you are listening to now:

Lisa Hilton, Getaway;

Timothy Andres, Shy & Mighty;

Brad Mehldau, Ode;

Vijay Iyer, Solo;

Diana Krall, Glad Rag Doll.

Desert Island picks:

I think this question is getting dated; my iPod or Pandora should do it.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

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