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Take Five With Lisa Young


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Meet Lisa Young:

Lisa Young is on a constant voyage of exploration and creation of vocal works using a diverse vocal language resonating from a personal sound bank aesthetic built over many years as an improvising singer.

She performs and records with her jazz quartet, and with vocal and percussion group Coco's Lunch. Her most recent work, The Eternal Pulse, with her quartet, layers Indian elements, rhythmic textures and ensemble dialogue, integrating the art of konnakol. Her music is sung by choirs throughout Australia, (The Australian Voices, Gondwanna, Young Voices of Melbourne) and by choirs in Germany, Austria, Canada and the USA.

Lisa is known to music listeners around the world as a creative vocal stylist and improviser who incorporates Indian and African elements in her work. She is a longtime student of mridangam maestro Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani in Chennai, India, and specializes in konnakol South Indian vocal percussion. She has a Masters in Music Performance from the Victorian College of the Arts, and is currently completing a PhD in music performance.


Voice, konnakol, Kis Kas (Ghanaian hand percussion. also called aslatuas).

Teachers and/or influences?

Whilst I've been influenced by many great jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, I also love Mercedes Sosa, Mari Boine, and Lila Downs, all really earthy expressive singers. A major influence on my development is all the great musicians I've played and collaborated with. In particular my long collaboration with bassist Ben Robertson (Lisa Young Quartet), and also Sue Johnson with whom I formed vocal group Coco's Lunch. Both are such creative musicians with great vision and aesthetics.

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

I always knew I was a singer. My mother is of Welsh heritage and my whole family loved to sing. Mum sang and my father is a drummer, so it's interesting that my passion is konnakol (vocal percussion). I spent much of my childhood as a dancer, which gave me a physical appreciation of rhythm. I began playing guitar and writing songs at 15 or 16. I loved the magic of composing and creating a space where songs can reveal themselves. The joy of this process has never stopped.

Your sound and approach to music:

My approach is to be connected, courageous, adventurous and expressive! Feel my feet on the ground and breathe deep! People say I have a "warm and engaging" sound.

Your teaching approach:

My approach with students is to help them be who they are as a singer, be masterful at what comes easily, and keep working on the rest. Be disciplined with vocal health and creative practice.

I teach voice at Melbourne University (VCA contemporary music stream) but I also take a lot of a cappella vocal workshops, and really enjoy sharing, with the wider community, my passion for rhythm, konnakol, improvisation and harmony.

Your dream band:

I have the dream band! Stephen Magnusson (guitar), Ben Robertson (double bass) and Dave Beck (drums), sensational, inspiring, creative musicians all with a great sense of humor. I admire lots of musicians, but I know great music comes from great connection, listening and intuition.

Favorite venue:

Taipei concert hall (Taiwan); I did a concert there with Coco's Lunch for a vocal festival. It's an incredible building architecturally, the gig went off, and we signed CDs for hundreds of people. I love performing abroad in different cultures. You hear your music with new ears, it can be so refreshing and awakening.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

Herb Albert's Tijuana Brass. I love revisiting these albums that I grew up with. The moment I hear them "A Taste of Honey," "Walk Don't Run" and others I start to smile, I see my mother and father jiving around the lounge room (they were great dancers), my sister and I joining in. Occasionally dad would stop and play an air trombone solo. It's a great memory. I also love how your ears change over time; I hear them differently now, but they still make me smile.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley (quintet), Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley (Blue Note, 1961).

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

I'm just immersed in the discovery and unfolding of it all. It's quite an intuitive process for me; I don't often analyze it consciously.

Did you know...

Apparently I am renowned for making the best Chai tea ever! We start every rehearsal with a huge pot. Lots of cardamom pods, ginger, cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, black pepper and honey.

CDs you are listening to now:

Arvo Pärt, Berlin Mass (Naxos), with the Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra;

Colin Hopkins, Still (Rufus Records)—gorgeous solo piano;

Zephyr String Quartet, A Rain From The Shadows (Self Produced).

Desert Island picks:

Ray Charles, Greatest Hits (ABC Paramount, 1962)—gotta have something to dance to on that desert island!

Arvo Pärt, Berlin Mass (Naxos), with the Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra;

Joni Mitchell, Hejira (Asylum);

Norma Winstone, Somewhere Called Home (ECM);

Kiri Te Kanawa / Siegmund Nimsgern / Ambrosian Singers, Duruflé Requiem (CBS )—the "Pie Jesu," by Kiri, is sublime!

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Phew! That question is way too big for me! I can say, that I'm part of an incredibly vibrant and creative improvisation stream here in Melbourne, Australia. There is a great blend of European and American influences and a wonderful, developing, distinctive Australian voice.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Anything that has the spirit of improvisation running through it.

What is in the near future?

Just being accepted into team zzZing (zzZing agency) is really exciting! Looking forward to Borneo Jazz Fest in May, and Cocos is likely going to India for the Hindu November Fest this year. I expect to have finished my PhD in konnakol by August this year. A composition of mine, "Other Plans,' was released on The Australian Voices' album on Warner Classics this year, and I have been invited to compose some more works for them, so I'm looking forward to that. They are incredible singers, they can sing anything you write; amazing!

What's your greatest fear when you perform?

I try to just be where I am, with the band, the sound, the audience and the concert space we are in, and breathe. The only fear I have is the sound check. Occasionally, if we aren't using our regular sound engineer, the sound check can be arduous and exhausting. The sound is pretty much everything; once that's good, you relax, and the playing and interacting follows. Heaven!

What song would you like played at your funeral?

"Spartacus—LoveTheme," as performed by Toots Thielemans and Marc Johnson on Two By Four. Toots' soaring improvised lines are transporting, I'd like to sail away to the other side listening to them.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

I love to improvise kind of wordless African chants in the shower. It's a playful start to warming up my voice.

By Day:

By day I am currently finishing my PhD in music performance. It's been such a gift, to be able to focus on the creation and reflection of The Eternal Pulse.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

world famous chai chef!p>

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Lisa Young AU


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