Her career in the entertainment industry began over 20 years ago in Frankfurt Germany, while serving her country in the USAF. Lisa not only originated the Disney roles of both “Aida” (Aida), and “Nala” (Lion King), she won the “National Broadway Theatre Award for Best Actress in a Musical” in the lead role of “Aida” while heading up its First National Tour, and continued in the role at NY’s Palace Theatre to much critical acclaim (Variety/Billboard), until the death of her mother in April 2003.
A member of The Original Broadway cast of Rent, Lisa took out its First National Tour in the role of “Mimi Marquez”, garnering nominations for both the “Helen Hayes” and “Jefferson” Awards. She was nominated for a Grammy Award, as a member of Liquid Soul, for their album “Here’s the Deal”, and has continued to blaze a trail from New York’s Carnegie Hall and Australia’s Sydney Opera House alongside Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo, Odetta, and Tracy Chapman, to headlining at New York’s Lincoln Center and Town Hall, to worldwide jazz festivals in Telluride, Montreaux, North Sea, Marciac, and The Olympia in Paris, filling hearts and souls with joy, through song.
As Lisa Simone Kelly, Lisa co-executive produced and is featured in the 2016 Oscar nominated, multi-award winning Netflix documentary on the life of her mother, Dr Nina Simone, entitled, “What Happened Miss Simone”.
Lisa’s last 2014-15 tour supported her album “All is Well”, which hit number 4 on FNAC’s jazz charts, and she is currently promoting her latest album, My World, to worldwide critical acclaim.
Lisa Simone (LS) Interview with Paola Vera (PV)
PV: First of all, thank you Lisa for taking the time to speak with us. In 2016 you released your third album ‘My World’. The album received great reviews and I have to admit I’ve been playing it constantly over the last week, could you tell us some more about this project and where it came from?
LS: You are welcome, it is my pleasure. Thank you for sharing how much you are enjoying ‘My World’. The vision for this project came together around the title track, which I had already written along with ‘Unconditionally’ years before moving to France. As the follow up to the previous album ‘All Is Well’, which I describe as an introduction ‘Hello, My Name Is Lisa Simone’…It seemed fitting to now open doors a little wider into the conversation with listener, already well underway. All of my original music is inspired by life lessons learned on my own personal journey.
PV:I love the fresh, soulful and joyful sound of the album. It features a fantastic blend of vibes, uplifting tunes, but also many more reflective, personal intimate tracks… would you tell us more about your process? How did it work out co-writing and producing with the guitarist Herve Samb?
LS: My process…Hmmmmm… It is really quite simple, or at least I think so. I find that when I am inspired it is best to record a snippet – which usually comes in lyrics, melody, a groove, and a bass line – on my phone. This may or may not develop into a bona fide tune when it comes time to write with Herve. But at least I have lots of ideas to play with. At other times, like with ‘Tragique Beauty’ and ‘Hold On’, Herve will begin to play, I will hear a melody to lyrics written, and voila! The Building blocks to both tunes mentioned were written in 5 minutes or less….Then we added backgrounds, bridge, etc. Writing with Herve continues to be amazing experience, for us both. Our musical connection is really magic, and consistent.
PV: The way you use the vocals on the album is incredibly varied – you do a lot of multi tracking, at time you use your voice like an instrument varying the choice of texture and quality with ease, showing off your obvious technical mastery of your voice. Do you feel that your former performing experience in musical theatre has helped you develop as an artist?
LS: Yes, Broadway was a training ground. It taught me how to use my instrument safely, effectively, and with confidence.
PV: Having released both standards based and original material is there any difference in how these have been received?
LS: My Big Band Show is not only a tribute to my mother, it is more standard based. It is Jazz at its finest, and is always received with surprise. Followed by a lot of enthusiasm! With my trio: Herve Samb, Reggie Washington, and Sonny Troupe the music is more original, varied and groove based…more me; and, it has also been received with much warmth and inspiration. Being the “daughter of” there are a lot of expectations, most of which I shatter coming out of the starting gate.
PV: Being the daughter of such a prominent figure in Jazz. I’m sure can leave people carrying many assumptions. Has it been difficult for audiences to accept your material as Lisa, and not necessarily just, Lisa the daughter of Nina Simone?
LS: When I first began in this business I could not get away from being the “daughter of”. Now, I am more recognised as the independent artist I have always considered myself, and that feels good. Other people’s expectations have never scared me; actually it came as no surprise. The surprise comes to those who do not know me, when I am playing the piano, nor is my show anything remotely resembling my mother’s. For many, and I have been told this by those who come to my concerts, it is a “breath of fresh air”.
Make no mistake; there is only one Nina Simone!!!
PV: How was it growing up as the daughter of a famous Jazz vocalist?
LS: It was a rich experience to say the least. Considering my unique perspective, I was approached to write a book about my life after the success of ‘What Happened Miss Simone’. Becoming an author feels like the next logical step since I have been journalising for over 25 years. And you question is like an echo. Do you know how many times I have been asked that? With my book it will now be answered in full.
PV: There has been a lot of talk recently about women in jazz and the struggle to be heard as equals – do you have any opinions on this issue? How has your experience been?
LS: Not really. My life has been no bed of roses for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with my gender. To stay on this path and reach the success that I have, it has taken a lot of faith, staying power, confidence in my abilities, and the love and support of my family and team when I just wanted to throw in the towel and walk away for it all.
PV: What are your thoughts on the state of Jazz today and where do you see the future of the genre going?
LS: I have no idea…
PV: Due to the current state of world politics, there seems to be a movement towards more “Social Comment” themed albums. What are your thoughts on this, does Social Comment play a role in Jazz?
LS: As my mother said; “It is an artist’s responsibility to reflect the times”. I cannot speak for the genre of Jazz personally. My music will always reflect my life’s journey, a journey we are all on, as human beings.
PV: Do you feel there is a difference in how you are received in Europe compared to the States?
LS: Definitely!! After 20 years of performing in the US, my career was at a standstill, which made no sense. In 2013, my husband and I were inspired to follow our hearts and leave the US – So similar to my mother – In search of something more meaningful, so we moved to France with our daughter. I had a French agent, who is still my agent, and within 13 months of arriving ‘All Is Well’ was released. Something, no record company in the US was interested in.
PV: Are audiences more or less receptive?
LS: I find in Europe there is less judgement and more appreciation for real musicianship, no matter your age, if your music is “too positive”, or the like.
PV: You will be playing the 17th April at the Cully Jazz Festival in Switzerland and also have a European tour coming up soon, what can we look forward to hearing from you in your live show?
LS: I Love ‘The Cully Jazz Festival!’ It is one of my top 3 places to perform. Those in attendance can look forward to enjoying great musicianship, good music, positive vibrations, and food for the soul.
PV: What’s next for you? What are you currently working on?
LS: We are in the studio right now recording the next new album for release in the fall (autumn) of 2018.
Interviewer: Paola Vera
If you can’t get to see Lisa Simone Live for now, here is plan B: