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Take Five With Lissy Walker

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Lissy Walker: Lissy Walker grew up in Berkeley, California. She studied piano and theatre as a child, and later formed her first jazz band under the tutorship of the legendary Phil Hardymon at Berkeley High School.

She went on to study voice and theatre at UCLA and The Neighborhood Playhouse in NYC. She was in numerous theatrical productions, from New York's Public Theatre to San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre. Lissy sang in bands, choirs, and musicals throughout her life, but started to concentrate solely on singing jazz after the births of her children.

She studied at Berkeley's Jazzschool and started experimenting with her particular approach to music, an eclectic blend of jazz and folk, incorporating her husband's cello playing into some of the songs.

Fellow musicians encouraged her to record the sound she had found. She was introduced to Jon Evans and he helped her put the right musicians together for the project: John R. Burr on piano, Scott Amendola on drums, Scott Nygaard on guitar and Jon on bass formed the basic quartet. Guest appearances were made by Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Dave Ellis on sax, Julie Wolf on Hammond organ, and by Philip Worman on cello. The result is Life Is Sweet, an eclectic blend of jazz and folk-pop.

The album has been received with glowing reviews and continuous airplay on jazz stations throughout the country.

Instrument(s): voice, piano

Teachers and/or influences? Sanford Meisner and Richard Pinter at The Neighborhood Playhouse, who taught me how to listen and improvise as an actress and a human being. Maye Cavallero at The Jazzschool who opened doors for me and gave me the keys to Jazz singing. Ella Fitzgerald who constantly shows me what the human voice can do and how fun it is to play your instrument.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I realized that singing is joyful. This was early on.

Your sound and approach to music: I have eclectic tastes and my sound reflects that. I love the freedom of jazz, the soulful roots in folk and country, and the immediacy of popular song. I look for beautiful melodies and poignant lyrics. I like songs that are ambiguous, that show both darkness and light, for instance a sad lyric with a beautiful melody and a lilting waltz...that really gets to me.

I approach the music the same way I approach a part in a play, living and singing truthfully in the moment, moment to moment. I love the collaboration involved in making good music, and I look for musicians who have similar tastes, and who can listen and answer.

Your dream band: My band on Life Is Sweet is my dream band. John R. Burr (piano), Jon Evans (bass), Scott Nygaard (guitar), Scott Amendola (drums), Philip Worman (cello), Steven Bernstein (trumpet) and Dave Ellis (saxophone)

Favorite venue: Freight & Salvage 142 Throckmorton

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? Right now I'm liking "Isn't This A Lovely Day" by Irving Berlin. John R's honky-tonk piano, Jon's ebullient bass solo, and Steven's playful trumpet make me smile every time I hear it. This song was added the night before the recording, so there's a certain spontaneous and serendipitous quality I like in the song, too.

The first Jazz album I bought was: The Andrew Sisters Greatest Hits when I was 10. I loved the harmonies and formed a cover band with friends from my Girl Scout Troop.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? Unique arrangements, eclectic repertoire, and subtly emotive singing.

Did you know... ...that I'm passionate about antique garden roses.

CDs you are listening to now: Ella Fitzgerald, The Irving Berlin Song Book (Verve) Luiz Bonfa, Solo In Rio 1959 (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) The Weepies, Hideaway (Nettwerk Productions) The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (Nonesuch) Chet Baker, My Funny Valentine (Pacific Jazz)

Desert Island picks: Ben Webster, Jazz Masters 43 (Verve) Ella Fitzgerald, First Lady Of Song (Verve) Nick Drake, Five Leaves Left (Ryko) Nilsson, Greatest Hits (BMG Heritage) Stevie Wonder, Songs In The Key Of Life (Motown)

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Music education in the schools and at home is essential. Community support for musicians performing in live venues, both big and small. More jazz schools for all ages like The Jazzschool in Berkeley. We are very fortunate.

What is in the near future? I'm doing a benefit concert for Bread And Roses next month.

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


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