About Lisa Hilton
A lyrical and harmonically engaging pianist, Lisa Hilton is known for her enveloping original pieces and cover tunes that touch upon acoustic post-bop, blues, classical, and contemporary jazz. Along with music, the West Coast native is a trained fine artist and often draws inspiration from painting, sculpture, and nature for her compositions. Following her initial emergence in the late '90s, Hilton built a strong following, moving between atmospheric solo piano albums like 2007's After Dark, trio outings like 2013's Getaway, and ambitious small group dates like 2017's Escapism. She has continued to expand her approach, working with a bevy of top-tier players like Larry Grenadier, Christian McBride, Jeremy Pelt, J.D. Allen, Luques Curtis, and others.
Lisa Hilton was born in San Luis Obispo, California and became fascinated with music at a young age, starting piano when she was six years old. Beginning at age eight, she took classical lessons and drew early inspiration from her great uncle, Dutch piano virtuoso Willem Bloemendaal. While in school, she further expanded her skills playing flute in band and orchestra, as well as playing piano for her high school musical productions. Hilton also developed a love of jazz and blues, influenced by artists like Jelly Roll Morton, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, and others. Although she initially entered college as a music major, she became dissatisfied with the lack of creativity within her school's program and switched her attention to painting and sculpture, eventually graduating with a degree in art and design.
However, music remained a passion after Hilton settled in Malibu. It was there that she befriended her neighbor, esteemed pianist, composer, and producer David Foster, who encouraged her to keep playing piano. She sought out further study, taking theory and composition courses with composer Charles Bernstein at UCLA. In 1997, she released her debut album of solo piano music, Seduction. She returned two years later with a second solo piano outing, Playing by Heart. More records followed that found Hilton continuing to expand her sound, working alongside bassist Reggie McBride and drummer Tal Bergman, and incorporating strings and other instruments, as on 2000's Cocktails at Eight, 2001's Feeling Good, and 2004's Jazz After Hours.
With 2005's My Favorite Things, Hilton began working with engineer Al Schmitt, self-producing all of her own albums and further embracing a mix of jazz standards and reworked modern pop songs alongside her own evocative original compositions. It was an approach that further evolved with records like 2007's The New York Sessions, which found her backed by an all-star jazz ensemble featuring alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Lewis Nash. More engaging albums followed, including 2008's Sunny Day Theory with saxophonist Brice Winston, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Lewis Nash. Grenadier was also on board for 2009's Twilight & Blues, as were trumpeter Pelt, drummer Nash, and saxophonist J.D. Allen. A solo piano outing, Nuance, arrived in 2010 and included a cover of Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends."
In 2011, Hilton returned with the quartet album Underground, featuring bassist Grenadier and drummer Nasheet Waits. The same group was also together for 2012's American Impressions and 2013's Getaway. Hilton, Grenadier, and Allen then paired with drummer Marcus Gilmore for 2014's Kaleidoscope. With 2015's Nocturnal, Hilton again embraced a bold small group sound, working with Allen, trumpeter Terell Stafford, drummer Antonio Sanchez, and bassist Gregg August. A similar small group outing appeared that same year with Horizons, which featured contributions by August, drummer Rudy Royston, Allen, and trumpeter Sean Jones. Hilton then offered the solo piano album Day & Night before reuniting with her Horizons ensemble for 2017's Escapism. For 2018's Oasis, the pianist formed a trio with bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr. In 2019, she released Chalkboard Destiny, a quartet session featuring J.D. Allen, Luques Curtis, and Rudy Royston.