|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS LiSA HiLTON
ALL i HAVE iS BLUEWhen I first became acquainted with jazz pianist LISA HILTON in the late summer of 2008, she was on the verge of releasing her eleventh studio album SUNNY DAY THEORY Ė a fluid collection of jazz instrumentals that reflected HILTONís tendency to look on the Brightside when life gets chaotic. The message of the album would prove timely in the months to come which were marked by a economic collapse and an especially nasty Presidential election. Now, HILTON has changed her tune and her tone with her latest release TWILIGHT AND BLUES Ė a celebration of all that is blue and a fitting backdrop to the economic downturn and the slow and steady march toward recovery. Economics aside, HILTON has recruited a reliable band of musicians consisting of old friends LARRY GRENADIER (bass), LEWIS NASH (drums) and JEREMY PELT (trumpet) as well as new friend J.D. ALLEN (tenor saxophone) to bring an indefinable effervescence to inspired interpretations of songs by JONI MITCHELL, MARVIN GAYE, JANIS JOPLIN and HENRY MANCINI and to HILTONís own compositions such as the rousing PANDEMONIUM and the exuberant CITY STREETS.
LiSA HiLTON TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT HER LATEST CD TWiLiGHT AND BLUES
THE ENDLESS POTENTiAL OF MUSiC
AND THE THRiLL OF MUSiC
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED spoke with LISA HITON over the phone. Here is how it went.
SUNNY DAY THEORY and TWILIGHT AND BLUES seem like night and day from each other.
Conceptually SUNNY DAY THEORY was about going through a difficult time and trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course I didnít want to title the album ĎTHIS WAS A REALLY HARD YEARí. It was all about finding the bright spots in your life when things get difficult. The music was generally upbeat but it was honest. TWILIGHT AND BLUES is about all the different shades and colors of blue. Itís a mood. Itís a color. Itís a scale. It has all of these different meanings and this album was an exploration of all of that. Conceptually, there are different shades of blue represented on this album.
You released it a very interesting time with a shift in the Presidency and what feels like a Great Depression. I never lived through the first one to know for sure and neither have you.
That was another thing. I was writing the TWILIGHT AND BLUES album during the Presidential election and the financial meltdown. What was I going to do There was no way that I was going to come out with ĎLittle Mary Sunshineí. I felt like our country and our universe was in pain and I needed to express that. I could do little romantic pop songs from the thirties onward. It was a difficult time so I needed to play songs that moved me the most and hoped that they would speak to other people. That is why WOODSTOCK is there and KOZMIC BLUES Ė even though itís go the blues theme I thought the song was very meaningful. I needed meaningful songs at that time. Music needs to be a reflection of what is going on in the world.
So talk about the inclusion of the song WOODSTOCK on the album. Personally, I donít see the Ďblue themeí. Prove me wrong.
Thatís interesting. When considering the song, I had reservations about doing it because it has a flat melody line so it could be kind of hard to work with. When I looked at the lyrics when was younger, I thought it was a song about drugs because of the line of bombers turning into butterflies, but I look at the lyrics now I see the lines like ĎI came upon a child of God/He was walking along the roadí and that line in the chorus about getting back to the garden. To me JONI MITCHELL was writing about a spiritual epiphany and hearing the song in that way, it took on a much bigger meaning. Wouldnít it be wonderful that if through the power of our minds, that there were no wars. Lyrically, I think the song is very strong. I thin itís a very deeply moving song and it has held up well over the years. I think we need to support composers who werenít born when our grandparents were alive. I think every generation has great composers and not just the thirties and forties. I think itís a cool song and Iím really enjoying it.
Talk about how you go about translating these lyric compositions and turn the words to music.
Itís hard. I think music transcends words. I think that the greatest writers can put meaning into these 26 letters. Music isnít bound by these letters. With music you have the capability to create meanings that we donít have words for Ė thatís why I like working with music. The word Ďloveí has four letters and how can you truly express the depth of the meaning of that word with just four little letters. I think that music can transcend the written word. Trying to transpose what a great lyricist says into music is something that Iíve really got to think about. How would it sound if we were just walking along the road and you were in Upstate New York and it was a really gray day. What would that sound like? What would butterflies flying free sound like? I try to interpret what lyrics are musically and when it works, it is completely gratifying.
On the flipside of that has the process of composing changed for you at all for this album?
I donít think it has. Every time I write an album, I write about what is going on in my life at that time or in the world. Thatís what an artist does. I donít know if the process changes. Every year you have different things that you work with and new things to learn. For the most part, composing comes very easily to me. Itís my favorite part of what I do as a musician. I like composing, performing and the finished product.
PANDEMONIUM is a very interesting track to start the album off with. Talk about it.
That one is more a conceptual piece that stays on a basic blues riff. Itís really varied. You can create a lot of movement and mass with it. There is a lot of different stuff going on with it. When we got in the studio, we werenít kind sure how we were going to pull it off because it si based on the premise that everyone is kind of do there own thing. In the studio I explained the piece to the guys and when we recorded it, I was like ĎI donít know!Ē but the bass player LARRY GRENADIER was like ďNo, I think you got it! I think you got what you wanted.Ē I was a little unsure because in the studio it sounded kind of out of control, but after listening to the recording, I was like ďYeah, heís right!Ē It was fun to record.
How about CITY STREETS?
I wrote that one for the MIDNIGHT IN MANHATTAN album. Being from a small town and going to big city, I really notice the energy of that city which is different from what I grew up with. I didnít go to Manhattan until I was definitely an adult so I was made aware of all of these different energies from block to block or even person to person. People carry i-pods now but guys used to carry boom boxes on their shoulders and youíd walk by a store and there was music going on. There were horns honking and everything and I wanted to create a kind of polyrhythm of the city and itís one of my favorite songs now. I enjoy playing it and the band does a great job with it Ė especially on the bass solo. I did an ending on it and I thought that it was kind of boring and realized that I could do something with it so when we played it through, I added this chop sticks rhythm to it and the guys just laughed right out loud. Whenever you can surprise people, itís always great.
Youíve also got a variation on MARVIN GAYEís ĎWHATíS GOING ONí and at the CDís conclusion, you have your own composition of the same name
I think itís a song for the times that we are living and that itís a song that should always be heard. I think it should actually be a song that should be played at Christmas time and around the Holidays. Itís a song a about peace and it s just a poignant now as it ever was and it is just as beautiful to everyoneís ears. Itís a very smartly written song with nice chords and a nice bridge structure. Itís a song that has been very meaningful in my own life and I was able to convey to my band that I wanted something that sounded very soulful and musical.
Talk about the band members on this project.
They are all great guys and I am righter there in the front row of their fans. I admire their work and Iím thrilled that I get to play with them and that they get to play with me. Iíve recorded two albums with LARRY and know that we will work together again. Iíve done two with JEREMY. I was very, very lucky to get J.D. ALLEN. He is a great tenor sax player. I think they are all great leaders and great musicians and each of them adds their own flavor. Although LARRY GRENADIER is very quiet guy heís always got something to say instrumentally. LEWIS is one of the greatest drummers in the world. He is voted every year by DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE as one of the top five drummers. JEREMY knows a lot about composition. He is a great leader and has a beautiful sound to his instrument that I fell in love with. J.D. has that bluesy tenor that I was looking for. I think we are going to hear quite a bit from him over the years.
Whatís next for you musically? What sort of recording project would you like to tackle next?
I am working on a solo recording and after that, I think Iíll do a quintet. Composers always have something planned.
Itís not like being a singer/songwriter.
I really enjoy working with a band but as a composer there are things that you want to say compositionally that you canít quite individualize with a band. Itís also fun to hear the original intent of the song and there is more fluidity and movement that you can do as a player and I really like to change things around rhythmically. I donít have a s much freedom with a band. Even though it is a lot of fun playing with a band, Iím ready to do this solo recording.
Youíve had quite a musical career and Iím sure that the career has been upstaged by the family name. Since the start of you career, what didnít you expect?
I never expected to love it this much. I think that is more difficult than I expected. If you donít deeply love it then you arenít going to stay with it. I had someone tell me once that no one ever said it was easy to be a jazz musician.
What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve heard this album?
I think that the greatest thing can ever happen to you is to be touched. If something touches me and warms my heart or brings a tear to my eye or if it makes dance, I think that is the greatest gift. I would hope that the music on the album touches them in that way.