malibu’s music corner: ‘Twilight & Blues’

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Lisa Hilton. Photo by Daniel Arsenault

In her latest CD, pianist Lisa Hilton establishes new standards in jazz

By Patrick Timothy Mullikin / Special to The Malibu Times

Amalgamating her concern for today’s social issues with iconic songs from decades passed, pianist Lisa Hilton last month released her 11th jazz album, “Twilight & Blues” (Ruby Slippers Productions 1012).

Alongside new songs penned by Hilton, the album also features her own versions of legendary tracks such as Marvin Gaye’s, “What’s Going On,” Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and Janis Joplin’s “Kozmic Blues.”

And though it may have seemed strategically scheduled, Hilton insists the CD’s release just in time for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock was pure coincidence.

“I wasn’t old enough to go to Woodstock, and I didn’t know about (the anniversary of) Woodstock at the time I chose that song,” Hilton, referring to Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” said last week in a telephone interview.

The timeless hope-and-angst songs from the 1960s are not your everyday jazz standards, but that’s what Hilton was searching for when she began scoping out new material for “Twilight & Blues” last fall.

“I’ve done standards for a few years now, and I wanted to look in another time block,” she said. “When we play standards-and most jazz performers play standards-those songs were written in our grandparents’ time. That’s a long time ago.”

So Hilton traveled back to the sixties and discovered a trove of songs that could be given a jazz twist, but found that Mitchell’s “Woodstock” presented a bit of a challenge.

“Stripped of its lyrics, the song has a pretty flat melodic line,” Hilton said. “It was a challenge to create something with it. I tried to create the feeling of ‘bombers turning into butterflies’,” Hilton explained in reference to a line from Mitchell’s song.

The inclusion of Joplin’s “Kozmic Blues”-a song the gravelly voiced singer performed live at Woodstock 40 years ago-was “a natural fit,” Hilton said. ‘Twilight and Blues’ is, after all, blues oriented.

“I didn’t know her [Joplin’s] work that well, but looking into her work a little deeper, there was strong composition, and the lyrics-just heart-wrenching-so I tried to see how I could portray that musically in an instrumental piece,” Hilton said. “I believe that instrumental music can touch you as much as vocals.”

Instrumental music is another one of Hilton’s passions. While she enjoys creating remixes of songs by other artists, she is first and foremost a composer of her own tracks.

Of the ten tracks on “Twilight and Blues” (which includes Henry Mancini’s all time classic, “Moon River”), half are composed by Hilton, who says all of the songs are connected thematically.

“The idea is all different colorings of blues,” Hilton said. “Some of the songs are actually written in blues scale, and some of them deal with the blues, like Janis’s song. “To me, ‘Moon River’ is just the slightest wash of blue.”

Her melding of the blues with jazz is not as far-fetched as it may seem at first glance. The classically trained Hilton said she was a big fan of the blues during her teen years in Southern California, adding that Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee were the first performers she saw live. She was also a big fan of blues guitarist B.B. King.

“If you look at and listen to all the songs, they are all different shades,” Hilton said. “If you were actually to paint them in colors they would be all different colors of blue. Whether it’s the light sky or the feeling of life’s river passing you by.

“I want to express an emotion,” she continued. “I want to touch people. I want to inspire them, to put them in a great mood. I think jazz can do all of that.”

More information about Hilton and upcoming performances can be obtained online at www.lisahiltonmusic.com.