Interview with jazz vocalist Lisa Marie Simmons. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?
Lisa Marie Simmons: – I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. I was adopted late, at eight years old and am a transracial adoptee. A survivor of childhood trauma raised in a predominately white community. My adoptive parents loved music, and with all of the bad that there was in that home, there was also that.
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We listened to music all of the time. So much of the good that is in me, I learned from them. If my adoptive mother hadn’t read us to sleep every evening, would I have the love of literature- of words that I do? If she hadn’t gathered us around the record player (yes LP’s! Now there is a delicious memory: belly down on the carpet, chin in hand, legs kicking up into the air, perusing the album covers and lyrics, singing along.) so often would I have chosen the path of singer?
Music was a bulwark. I used to pull my clock radio close to my ear every evening to lull myself to sleep. There I discovered that I was not alone in pain. I heard Billie Holiday’s voice, Marvin Gaye and all the others and knew they knew. As for making a living at it? I never thought about it, I just knew that it was my way through and forward.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
LMS: – We had just missed meeting each other several times for at least seven years prior to our first face-to-face encounter. I arrived in Italia in 1996, and I wanted to meet as many musicians as possible, with an eye towards forming a band. I met dozens of musicians, some of whom I still collaborate and share friendships with today, but though Marco lived just a few kilometers away, I had never met him. He spent most of that time touring outside of Italy. In the meantime, I had formed a blues band, which was not going well. It irked me that the band members were content to play standard blues tunes and had no desire to write any original material. Anyone trying to make a living in music knows you need a side hustle, so when I was approached to write and perform dance music, I did not shy away.
The arrival of some moderate success had me then touring extensively in Europe, leaving just as Marco was settling back into the area. That project was different from the direction I wanted to go in. Poetry had a grip on me. I was deep into my love affair with words and frustrated with the producer continuing to tell me that I had to dumb it down, as well as with his formulaic approach to song writing. So, I moved on. Marco had a reputation for being the best pianist in the area, apparently skilled at playing a variety of styles with great ability, though he specialized in jazz. At the time, he was backing up several vocalists, and from the fiercely competitive, tight circle of musicians in the area, I’d heard only the most positive of remarks when his name came up. We met when I hit him up to improve my piano work. As soon as I looked into his warm green eyes, I felt at ease. I sat at the piano and played a few songs when we finally met. He listened attentively and then asked enthusiastically if this was my preferred style and the direction I wished to pursue. I smiled and nodded. “Yes, absolutely!” He replied laughing, “You could do with some piano lessons, but I love your style. What do you say to forming a band? I would love to work with you”.
The tangible connection that I felt humming in the room between Marco and I had me elated with the surety that I had found someone with whom I could create beauty. He gave me some material of his own to listen to, and shortly after, I caught his trio playing a gig near my house and was thrilled with his artistry, with his butterfly fingers, as I immediately dubbed them light, quick and inspiring; not to mention his utter originality and sense of humor when improvising.
We bonded instantly as writing partners. Though I had collaborated with many, some quite productively, I had generally looked at writing as a solitary process and thought my best work up to that point were the songs and poems I had written alone. I’ve found it is not at all easy to collaborate with just anyone; sometimes, it takes more thought- more intellectualizing of the process. When you’re lucky, though, you find a partner with whom song writing is lifted to another level…where the sum of your creativity reaches a pureness of expression that you alone could not have captured. To answer your question- finding one’s tribe is elemental for growth. Finding those who elevate your work. Search for fundamental truths and, in so doing- find and deliver your authenticity—also, practice practice, practice.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
LMS: – My routine practice continues to evolve. It depends on the project we are working on. Tried and true is the fact that a daily commitment to study of music theory, ear training and piano has been key.
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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
LMS: – It’s a constant back and forth. The intellect leads the way, but without the soul, it has nowhere to go.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
LMS: – I sing for the person who, like me as a girl, is looking for connection and fellow feeling. There is no better high than a show where the audience and the performer are in synch, whether I’m on stage or watching.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
LMS: – Excellent question. I think classics are such because they stand the test of time. It starts at home. Raise children to be critical thinkers and expose them to the good stuff, be it jazz or any other art form, and they will gravitate toward what resonates with them.
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JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
LMS: – Tricky question. If I could wave a magic wand, I would offer young musicians time and support to develop themselves without thinking they need a “real” job.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
LMS: – It varies. Like Duke Ellington said, “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” I love many styles. I’m listening to Kamasi Washington and Christian Scott.
Interview by Simon Sarg
Note: https://jazzbluesnews.com/2023/03/19/useu-jazz-blues-association-festivals/ You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals, naturally receiving an appropriate royalty. We cover all expenses. The objectives of the interview are: How to introduce yourself, your activities, thoughts and intellect, and make new discoveries for our US/EU Jazz & Blues Association, which organizes festivals, concerts and meetings in Boston and various European countries, why not for you too!! You can read more about the association here. https://jazzbluesnews.com/2022/11/19/useujba/