COMPOSING

chandler harrod lisa hilton and al schmitt at capitol studios hollywood

My recording engineer Chandler Harrod is on my left, and my mix engineer, Al Schmitt (who has 23 Grammys) is on my right. This photo was taken at Capitol Studios/Hollywood, last year.

As we enter August, we can all sense the end of summer coming: the days getting shorter, the scramble to enjoy a few more BBQs, and for me, the period of my heightened creativity will change. Every spring I begin composing, and by August the little song “embryos” have grown up into full- fledged compositions ready to be hatched and recorded with my band to take flight into the real world. How will they fare? Only days remain to polish and practice these new pieces, (often with my trusty Dr. Beat metronome at my side), so we will know soon, won’t we?

My thoughts are filled not only with the music, but in seeing my bandmates again and my engineer friends, too. (I’m working on my sixteenth album with engineer Al Schmitt!) I love recording in a studio, and I feel lucky we can be together and still work safely.

Every year when I begin composing it is a mystery what I will create. I understand that many artists write to a theme or concept, (Esperanza Spaulding comes to mind here). In her book Big Magic, writer Elizabeth Gilbert mentions she waits for inspiration to come to her, while still other artists work at their craft on a daily or hourly basis. I affectionately call my composing time a “season” – this year 5 months – where I let the music flow freely, then nurture the strongest ideas into compositions.

The emergence of a new piece is a rather euphoric experience – much like a new romance – but after that, it’s a lot of work trying new things over and over to get the correct balance. Most of my 9 new compositions are about 4 pages – each page taking several hours to notate. With over a dozen rewrites for each song, the math adds up to well over 1,000 hours. That’s a lot of piano time isn’t it?

The point could be made that as a jazz artist I can freely improvise without any tune or composition. This of course is true, and how all the songs begin, but the composition is where improvisors “hang our hat” as my mom would say – we normally improvise from a form or song and a well – balanced and interesting tune is a lot of fun to improvise with AND to play.

Enjoy your summer and please wish us luck as we record our next album!

– Lisa

image grid of lisa hilton's compositions