Take Five with Lisa Hilton

Lisa Hilton By

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Meet Lisa Hilton:
Pianist Lisa Hilton is driven to compose. Her compositions—rich in blues inflections and soul—make precise use of harmony and rhythm, welcoming audiences into a unique exchange between composer and listener, a human intersection where magic happens. The result is a fresh sound that is evocative, engaging and infused with 21st century sensibility.

JazzReview succinctly dubbed her "The Lioness of Jazz."

Hilton believes in tradition expressed in new ways, honoring the history of classical music, 20th century music, and American jazz, blues and minimalism in her broad compositional palette. She injects and filters every note with authentic experience, making a direct connection to the listener.

Born in a small Southern Californian town, Hilton started formal education in classical and twentieth century piano literature at the age of eight, drawing inspiration from her great uncle, Willem Bloemendaal, an early 20th century Dutch piano virtuoso. As a performer and bandleader, she attracts world-class players who share her gift for expression and invention such as: Christian McBride, Lewis Nash, Bobby Militello, Jeremy Pelt, Brice Winston, Reggie McBride and Steve Wilson. Her current line-up boasts Down Beat Magazine Critics Choice Winners bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Nasheet Waits, and saxophonist JD Allen.


Teachers and/or influences?
My compositional influences range deep and wide—from Bach to Basie, Muddy/Monk/Mehldau, Duke/Davis/Debussy. As a pianist I am not influenced by others, but my current favorites are: Brad Mehldau, John Escreet, Marc Carey, and Timothy Andres.

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

Your sound and approach to music:
As pianist and musician I am continually exploring my instrument and consuming music in as voracious a manner as I can.

As a composer, I am inspired by everything in our lives, and to connect and share experiences musically through art.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
By continuing to play arrangements of standards and covers from decades ago, we have little new jazz compositions that represent 21st century ideas and that will inspire future generations. As a composer I feel it is important that each generation contribute compositions that represent our voice, and not to just re-do what has been done in the past. 20th century American musicians contributed so many great ideas that have come to fruition. It is now time to explore new ideas, and to contribute new compositions that represent the time in which we live in.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Jazz, and 21st century music as a whole are in a very exciting stage in 2012. Now that we are embedded in this century, the ideas seem to be exploding from all areas of the arts as we emerge from The Age of Technology into what may, in the near future be referred to as The Age of the Arts. Music, the arts in general and jazz specifically, feeds our souls, nurtures our spirits and represents the original Social Networks that have been around for thousands of years. What a creative time that we are living in!

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Jazz, music, and all the arts, will always be alive and always be growing. You cannot ever control, command, or crush creative minds—it is impossible. Each generation would be wise to be open to new ideas, or new impressions of old ideas to continue to refresh their own spirits.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
An artist or photographer—I studied both in college. For me, music is now my art.

What I am listening to now:
I try and listen to a lot of music, and see as much live music as I can afford! I listen more when I'm "off season"—when I'm not in the studio, and I listen to a lot of pianists. I really am liking Vijay Iyer now, although when I first heard him I didn't—I think he's grown a lot in the last couple years. I like Marc Carey, John Escreet, Dan Tepfer and Timothy Andres and I always have Mehldau going on in my car—always, and I listen to my bandmates music too—I liked JD Allen's Victory CD a lot—I highly recommend that—it's got a cool swingy thing going on, and I like Ambrose too. With classic jazz I'll listen to Monk, McCoy, Miles, Coltrane, Ornette and Tatum perhaps, but for me I'd rather play classic jazz than listen—probably because of the recording quality! So I'm always playing Jelly Roll, Joplin, Robert Johnson, Basie right next to Bach and Liszt. I am interested in what I'll call "new voices," and then what I call the "original voices" on an instrument, but I'm not interested in people who are taking others ideas and just doing a version of it, or are mainly concerned with improvisational prowess over conceptual work.

The first album I bought was:
My parents were listening to B.B. King's Live at Cook County Jail and I became enthralled with that. I think because it was so expressive and I was attracted to the blues modes and bent tones. I couldn't stop listening to that album! It wasn't until many years later I realized Cook County was Chicago—certainly a blues city. My first live jazz concert was actually blues too: Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee were ancient when I saw them but I just thought they were exceptionally cool. I'm glad I was able to see and appreciate old school at a young age.

Desert Island picks:
My favorite jazz release would be hard to call, but I'd have to go with Kind of Blue like so many people. Why, why, why does that album effect so many people throughout time? It was a very special session. Of course like many others, the Getz/Gilberto always sounds good too. Of my generation, I'd have to pick Brad Mehldau's Live in Tokyo—I've heard him play many many times, but that is a great recording.

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