One of the most distinctive and instantly recognizable composers and pianists in jazz today, Lisa Hilton has honed her evocative, individualistic, and impressionistic “sound paintings” for over a decade as a leader. Like Dave Brubeck and Bill Evans, her imagistic compositions draw as deeply on the classical tradition and the avant-garde as much as they look back to jazz greats like Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. Hilton's approach is nuanced, and expressive, her compositional style thorough and painterly, her touch on the keyboard alternately tender, brooding, emotive, yet methodically cerebral. Over the course of her creative career, the "Lioness of Jazz" has played with many of this era's jazz luminaries, releasing a total of fourteen albums, (over 170 iTunes tracks).
"Teaching is a way for me to pass on the information I’ve gotten over time. To function as a jazz composer at any level, you’ve got to be willing to produce your stuff, even if it’s just a demo of what it’s supposed to sound like. As a producer you facilitate everyone else’s ability to fulfill their roles. You have to acquire listening and analytical skills and understand underlying systems of harmony, form, and development. You need be able to communicate both abstract concepts and concrete ideas; to conceptualize what’s going to be on a stage before even thinking about writing for what’s going to be on that stage. You have to learn how to organize sounds, instruments, time (in the musical sense and otherwise), groups of people, and schedules. It takes attention to detail. And—because this is jazz after all—it takes flexibility. You have to plan for improvisation."
"In Harmony 1 there's a lot of vocabulary that [students are] trying to comprehend to move on to the next level. Sometimes it seems like you're trying to learn the basic bricks, but where's the music in it? But you can't write a story without knowing how to spell words. Music is difficult because it's supposed to be fun and emotional, but how can that be if you can't remember what note goes on this chord? Once you internalize it, it becomes a part of you, and you don't have to worry about it. It's like being able to speak a language."
"Teaching is like performing for me. I bring a lot of energy into the classroom and like to share that energy with my students. It's also very improvisational in that I am not afraid to let the dynamic of the class set the direction we go in. I like to see the light shining; I can really tell when I'm connecting. I teach the advanced ear training classes, and one of the things I do with my students is to ask them go back and look at their earlier workbooks from past semesters. Upon review, they quickly realize, 'That's so easy now!' It's very reassuring to them—and it's a way of curing the frustration you can have when you're always trying to learn something new."
"I always teach in terms of, 'How does what you do affect how the listener reacts?' There's a lot that that implies in terms of preparation and fundamentals. But the end result is simply making people feel things with your music. You can't stress fundamentals without tying them to reality. I show my students why fundamentals are important and how working on fundamentals is eventually going to get them to a place where they can make whatever music they want to in the professional world."
"The pace at Berklee is super-charged compared to other colleges. Our undergrad program would be a masters program anywhere else, especially the last couple years. So there's a tremendous amount of pressure; you just have to go all the way. But I tell my students, 'We're the luckiest people in the world. We get to make music for a living.' In my case I use the analogy of my Duke Ellington class. It's kind of a scandal. I get paid for two hours to talk about Duke Ellington? I would do that anyway!"
"Professional Writing has to do with all the music that is composed. We try to encompass all the styles that are happening today, all the way from contemporary classical to hip-hop. Although we work with older music, our focus is on what's happening now—which keeps us on our toes. There's been a real blending of musical styles, and Berklee is a perfect place to do that because we have so many faculty experts in all these areas."
"I think you have to bring yourself into the music and not just replicate other people's music. That's my whole philosophy. I'll assimilate all I can about Duke Ellington's music, for instance. And I'll try to write some things in his style. Not steal, but borrow. Then I'll let that sit in my system and figure out how I want to use it. I want to create my own language. Some of his sounds, textures, or vocabulary might come out in my music. But my ideas will come out, too."