Q & A with composer/pianist/band leader, Lisa Hilton on her new release TRANSPARENT SKY out Sept 3, 2021 with bandmates Rudy Royston/drums and Luques Curtis/bass
Q. You, Rudy & Luques recently came out with the acclaimed 2020 release, More Than Another Day. How soon after that were you back in the studio for Transparent Sky?
A. We recorded More Than Another Day in August 2020 and Transparent Sky in May 2021- so about nine months apart. We all had a bit of extra time on our hands since there has not been any touring, so it was wonderfully normal to be playing again! I felt incredibly happy to be together and we had a much better experience than we did last August when we were anxious and awkward wearing masks and staying apart. This year, post vaccines, we could be ourselves and enjoy things. I have been very thankful that More Than Another Day has been so successful – one of the top recordings at Jazz Week so far for 2021 – but it was a bit stressful to create. Transparent Sky is very uplifting and has a lot of energy, so we hope listeners will like this one too.
Q. Is there a concept behind the title?
A. I think the title refers to how many of us are feeling right now: If a sunny sky connotes a good future, and a dark sky represents where humanity was in 2020, Transparent Sky has a sense of taking the moment for what it is – and to cherish what we can here and now. We don’t have any promises for tomorrow, do we? Today looks pretty good though.
Q. There’s a lot of different kinds of swing and movement on this album – was that intentional?
A. I always let the music emerge as I compose: I don’t know what I will create and I don’t try and force a direction or try to control it. What developed was a LOT of movement and richer chords and harmonies this year – which makes sense when you consider how static last year was and how we had less activities – as musicians we need to challenge and entertain ourselves too, so I think that’s why I subconsciously wrote in so many rhythm changes and multiple harmonic directions. Then of course, it was great fun to have Luques and Rudy add all their ideas and textures too. Our engineer, Chandler Harrod, did a great job recording and I love hearing all the cool bass and drum additions to the compositions. This music really gets me moving and I love that!
Q. Was this recording a new direction for you and your trio?
A. I began working in the direction of splicing different rhythms, genres and eras compositionally with our 2014 album Kaleidoscope. I feel that music of today should have genre mobility – that we prefer multiple ideas and references musically from any era or style, and like the colored pieces inside a kaleidoscope, that life/humanity/music is more interesting because of variety. Transparent Sky, my band, and our music are examples of this approach: that beauty in our world is created through inclusion – if there were only red squares in a kaleidoscope, it would have no appeal.
Q. That’s true! I’m curious, do you bring sheet music scores to the studio or do you just wing it? Do you rehearse?
A. When I first began recording, I didn’t use any written scores at all – I just played the tune a couple times and then we recorded – a la the Miles Davis Kind of Blue approach. But I think it’s kinder to have the sheet music, so now I do all the scores ahead of time in Sibelius: being self -taught it took me a while to master notation software, but now it’s fun for me to create the scores – of course there is always room for improvisation too – the scores are more like skeletons for the band to work from. We still don’t rehearse though – jazz has never been about perfection – it’s supposed to be a bit loose and capture the energy of the moment, whether it’s partially written or improvised. In classical music you shoot for perfection, but jazz has the energy that anything can happen at any moment, and for jazz lovers we find that much more engaging and dynamic.
Q. You included the cover God Bless The Child that was popularized and sung by Billie Holiday. Tell us about that selection please.
A. For a long time I’ve been trying to record cover songs by women who were composers, because there is very little attention paid to them in jazz – they are normally identified as singers or instrumentalists. I’ve recorded tunes by Joni Mitchell, Ann Ronnell and Janis Joplin, and I was surprised that I hadn’t even realized that Billie Holiday had written/co-written several songs. She is one of the most well – known and enduring jazz recording artists, yet we seem to know a lot more about her love affairs and drug habits than we do about her talents, right?
Q. That’s true! Did she write God Bless The Child?
A. Yes, she was the co-writer with Arthur Herzog Jr. I’ve read two books and seen a movie about Billie Holiday, and they never highlighted the fact she was a composer! I think it’s important to give women recognition for all for their talents, and by promoting these talents maybe we will see less discrimination in jazz/classical/opera music. Thankfully we see more women as bandleaders, producers, instrumentalists and recording engineers, but performing arts centers, opera houses and jazz clubs around the world are still almost entirely focused on presenting music of male composers. Billie Holiday should be recognized for her skills as a songwriter – it’s a great tune!
Q. Ok, last question that’s on everyone’s mind – do you and your trio plan to perform at all in 2021?
A. We had planned something for this fall, but we realized there are a lot of restrictions that some venues feel they need to require for performers, staff and audience too this year. Everyone wants to get back to “normal” but we are not quite there yet, so we are going to be patient for now. So I’m sorry everyone – we want you to have fun and we don’t want anyone excluded, so we are going to wait a while longer for a live show.