Interview with Lisa Hilton: Although my intellect is always being fed, I don’t use it when I compose: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Lisa Hilton. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Lisa Hilton: – I grew up in a small town on the central coast of California, and I have always loved music.  I used to like the old show I love Lucy because Lucy’s husband was a bandleader and musician!

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

LH: – Musicians sound is just who they are – it is like a person’s physical characteristics.  You can’t really change your sound or who you are. Developing your sound is about listening to what you like best and being aware of what you like and don’t like most about your sound.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

LH: – I don’t have practice routines.  I like to compose and to develop my own music and I enjoy sight reading too.  Sometimes I’ll practice some scales but rarely.

JBN: – Can you tell us more about your influences and how your musical identity has developed over the years? 

LH: – I love the cool laid back style of “Count” Bill Basie, and the chromatic ideas of Thelonious Monk – I  feel he was a very important composer of the 20th century.  I like the grooves of Horace Silver, and the beautiful compositions of Duke Ellington.  Oh and George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Robert Johnson!

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

LH: – I cannot ever be these composers!  I think it’s cool to have a lot of different influences.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina? 

LH: – I like to be quiet and read a book before a show!  Throughout the year I spend a LOT of time in nature – it is so enriching and inspiring to be in nature.

JBN: – And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?

LH: – I think a lot about what is happening in the music and what it needs.  I think about the strengths of each player & where they grew up too.  I work for diversity so that we can complement each other.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

LH: – Hmmm, interesting question. Although my intellect is always being fed, I don’t use it when I compose. I DO work with it when the song is being developed – where you’re thinking about how to add texture or improv or harmonic colors. But for me the melody and rhythms come naturally to me.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

LH: – I don’t know if performers know what an audience wants, we just hope they enjoy what we do!

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

LH: – I like performances with great pianos, so I love playing at Carnegie Hall in NYC. Best ambience though is probably at SFJazz, although The Green Mill in Chicago is a pretty cool spot everyone should go to sometime.

I plan all my ad spending BEFORE my album comes out. Please ask me sooner – I do not advertise all year round. It’s February and the album came out in Dec, so any ads you see are planned from the past. I think you have a nice web site and if you can update these things I’ll post your link all over my socials and say nice things about your site! If you contact me in NOV or DEC next year that would be better.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old? 

LH: – My audience is 20’s and up. I don’t play music from another century

JBN: – What are your thoughts on the state of jazz music today and the direction the genre is currently being taken on?

LH: – I think jazz is alive and well!  I think the ticket prices are too high for a lot of people to be able to enjoy it though, and I don’t know how to get around that.  If ticket prices are high, some people will be excluded unfortunately.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

LH: – I think jazz and contemporary classical and “new music” should just be called 21st Century Music – we should classify it not by last centuries labels but to create one for this century.

JBN: – What are you listening to, reading and/or watching these days?

LH: – I read a LOT of biographies – my favorite book last year was a huge biography on Chopin.  I’d like to listen to the new Mehldau albums – I really like his work.  I don’t watch TV for a few years.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music? 

LH: – Every day we can choose to see what is right or wrong in our lives but everyone will feel a lot better if they look for what is right.

JBN: – As a nod to Pannonica, if you had three wishes, what would they be? Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

LH: – A fly on the wall? A club when Bill Evans was really playing well, I’d love to have seen Jaco, Cannonball and Bird in their prime too, and also Clifford Brown – I love his work!

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

LH: – Who would YOU like to see if you could go back in time?

JBN: – John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, J.J. Johnson, Scott LaFaro, Elvin Jones, Ella Fitzgerald …

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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