Lisa Hilton: Composer/Pianist/Producer/Bandleader
“Lisa Hilton has been compared to some of the best pianists in history.” The New Face of Jazz
“There are a lot of great jazz pianists, but Lisa Hilton takes a back seat to none of them.” World News
“One of the finest composers working in jazz today.” Jazz Notes
For Lisa Hilton, music and art are always intertwined. Despite formal training in classical and twentieth century piano, the rigor of composition and music theory, or leading a performance tightrope of improvisation with living jazz legends, when Lisa Hilton sits down to compose, she brings the visual to the forefront. “While Louis Armstrong was performing, Monet was painting water lilies and French composers like Debussy were using harmonic ‘impressionism’. As a composer today, I explore music as art, building the composition with musical elements then ‘painting’ texture and color through various jazz approaches,” Hilton explains. “I might apply Seurat’s pointillism ideas to improvisation, creating new ways of expressing our life today”.
On Hilton’s latest album, DAY & NIGHT her “Sunrise” and “Day & Night” offer a clear picture of this technique, conveying a deep and rich emotional view into her musical soul. Hilton utilized improvisation, blues, modal washes, shifting key centers, and free jazz, as well as impressionism to create a refreshing yet familiar vibe. “I have always admired our great American composers Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Horace Silver and “Count” Bill Basie who were able to write strong melodies as well as creating lush musical landscapes.”
Hilton, inspired by stories of her great uncle, Willem Bloemendall, (1910-1937), a young Dutch piano virtuoso, first began piano using a colored keyboard guide to learn notes and started her first compositions shortly after that before beginning lessons at the age of eight. In college though, Hilton rebelled, needing to be creative, an urge she felt was crushed by the inflexibility of the classical training that was offered. So she dropped out of music entirely and switched majors to Art and Design, earning a Bachelor’s degree with honors.
Which brings in the visual. As Hilton explains; “I compose much like abstract or non-figurative painters – expressing musically and emotionally so the audience connects with the experience when songs are performed.”
“I am from a small town and grew up with limited music resources,” Hilton notes to underscore her drive. “It is purely my passion and love for the piano and American music that has propelled me for almost twenty years. For me to quit the piano as a teenager, drop it cold, and then fast forward to my life today — a career working with the best musicians and engineers in the world, performing at Carnegie Hall, hearing our music on the radio - it all seems like a bit of a miracle.”
Hilton’s body of work includes over 200 recorded tracks and she is considered one of the most distinctive composers and pianists in jazz today, her twenty-first century compositions drawing on classical traditions, twentieth century modernists, American jazz and blues, and the avant-garde, creating a body of work embracing a rich musical history while representing the hue and the cry, the modernity and energy, of our current epoch. Hilton’s blues inflected trans-genre or poly-genre style influences extend beyond jazz legends to include bluesman Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, minimalists like Steve Reich, current rockers Black Keys or modernists Prokofiev and Bartok. “I am deeply interested in continuing to explore and enlarge the literature of American twenty-first century piano”. If you ask Hilton what she’s up to, invariably she’ll say she’s ‘composing new music’. This is indeed what drives her art and her passion.
As an independent artist, Hilton has produced a total of nineteen albums through her publishing company, as well as having two CDs released exclusively in Asia and inclusion on several international compilations. Hilton continues to work with this era's jazz luminaries including Christian McBride, Nasheet Waits, Sean Jones, Marcus Gilmore, Steve Wilson, Jeremy Pelt, Lewis Nash, Billy Hart, Larry Grenadier, Rudy Royston, and Bobby Militello among others. Her latest release, Nocturnal, features Terell Stafford/trumpet, JD Allen/tenor sax, Gregg August/bass and Antonio Sanchez/drums. Hilton’s music appears on international radio charts year after year for over a decade and has been heard on hundreds of radio stations around the world – including syndicated programs like NPR’s popular Morning Edition.
In addition, Hilton has been featured on CBS/Boston and WGN/Chicago, and has been included in the books: “The New Face of Jazz” by Cicily Janus, (Random House (2010), and “Viaggi nell’armonia delle note,” by Silvia Cinzia Turrin, (Atti Poetici 2013). Known for her warmth and showcasing diversity on stage, Hilton has played top venues coast-to-coast.
Committed to helping students who are often overlooked, for many years Hilton has regularly spent time to help blind students at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who are Blind or Visually
Impaired, The Junior Blind of America in Los Angeles, Camp Bloomfield for the Blind in California, and the adaptive music lab for visually impaired musicians at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. Not only does Hilton bring music to these institutions. She has become an advocate for the rights of the disabled after discovering students with disabilities get less arts support than public or private schools.“I enjoy extending help to those with physical disabilities – music should be for everyone,” Hilton further explains.
But for now, she will continue to focus on the creative aspects, “Music is my art now.”
“A true original at the top of her game.” All About Jazz
“Sheer beauty.” DownBeat
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