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Rising Stars: Meet Lisa Yves

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Yves.

Hi Lisa, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
As early as five years old, I was always drawn to poetry and the melodic sounds of words when they rhymed. My mother and I used to play a rhyming game at bedtime and she would sing to me songs in different languages. I was fascinated by the melodies and the sounds of the words I had never heard before as they rolled off her tongue. I started writing poems and bringing them to my teachers in school. When I started piano lessons at age seven, I was more interested in my own melodies than the ones I was learning, so I started to compose my own. Music became my outlet, my muse. Every experience I had turned into a song. Even other people’s experiences influenced me and became immortalized in song.

I decided as early as 12 years old that music would be the core of my career in life and I absorbed everything I could. I was influenced by The Beatles, Queen, Barbra Streisand, and all the music books in my library that sat on top of my piano with stiff pages waiting to be folded open and figured out. Crisp new books of Songs of the Sixties, The Liberace Big Note Songbook, Grease, Dreamgirls. Hair, Godspell, their spines waiting to be pushed open on the music stand so I could learn how to play the melodies and chords and sing the lyrics (many times, having to transpose the key to suit my mezzo soprano belting voice).

My Father was proud and always showed me off to his coworkers at the factory (he was an electrical engineer and inventor). He would put me on the spot and say, “sing something for them”. I felt awkward not being behind the piano and just to sing a capella felt weird. My mother was worried. “Did Lisa really want to go into show business?” “I know she is talented, but it’s such a dangerous career for a naive and innocent girl.”

That just made me want it more. I would prove her wrong. I could handle it. But could I? I observed Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin and was disillusioned about what dangers fame might bring. And why fame? I loved music, singing, songwriting, creating. Why was fame even a factor? It shouldn’t have been but I had no true guidance. I had to figure it out all on my own.

And so my journey began. In high school, they called me the Barbra Streisand of the school. I sang and performed often and everyone knew who I was. My desire to perform was further fueled. I went on to New York University, where I started out at the Tisch School of the Arts for Drama and switched to the music department very quickly, remembering that music was my real love. I was spending endless hours in the piano rooms and writing at least one song per day, sometimes more. I would play them for anyone who would listen. I carried around a guitar and learned how to play that as well so I could write songs in my dorm when I was away from the piano. Then I discovered vocal jazz and everything changed for me.

I loved the freedom to improvise. To work within the structure of a song but have the freedom to scat and sing vocalese and create over someone else’s creation. I switched my major to jazz vocal performance and asked the jazz department to create a vocal jazz curriculum. They complied by hiring vocal jazz singers Marion Cowings and Kim Kalesti and my journey continued. I scoured the jazz clubs in New York trying to “sit in” in any jam session. Saturdays and Sundays at the Village Gate on Bleecker Street became my new hang out. I also found work playing piano bar at various places in the city. Anywhere there was a piano, I walked in and got hired.

My passion for vocal jazz stayed strong long after I graduated from NYU. My passion for songwriting and composing also stayed with me and the creative juices flowed even more after I got married and had two daughters. I began to teach vocal jazz to kids which led me to create a series of music called Jazz For Kids. I used my creative skills to write songs that were “kid friendly” using jazz music and concepts. I hired the best musicians in Boston and went into the studio with my students to record our music.

Jazz for kids has been heard all over the world and is especially popular with educators and parents. It won the Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media Award in 2000. Currently, I host a Jazz For Kids show on a radio station out of South Bend, Indiana called WETFthejazzstation. My goal is to keep traditional jazz alive. Jazz for kids has been around for over 25 years.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When you have to carve your path, it can never be smooth. I struggled with who I wanted to be and my direction. I always found myself being able to teach very easily. I loved helping others with their musical needs but I struggled with the idea of becoming an educator. I wanted to be a performer. I ended up doing both anyway. Working with adults first as a vocal coach and then kids and still performing along the way.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I consider myself a composer mostly. I have other creative titles that I also consider. Singer, pianist, songwriter, recording artist, musical playwriter, radio host, podcast host. My favorite thing to do is studio recording work. I find myself in the best “flow” when I am in the studio. Time ceases to exist when I am creating in the studio. I collaborate with people creatively and I enjoy the process. I work with Lyricist R. Keith Swanson and we have written many songs together over the past 20 years. One of our songs, A Love To Last, has been played in network TV shows, Blue Bloods, The Young and The Restless, General Hospital, The Bold and The Beautiful, and Netflix’s Dolly Parton Heartstrings. Another song of ours, Without Love, was recorded and released this year by Sal Valentinetti. We are very proud of these accomplishments. My compositions vary in style from Great American Songbook style to current pop, R&B, jazz. I also create custom music for others. What sets me apart from others is the ability to “do it all” in the studio. I can play most instruments, sing, produce and mix. I also know when I need to hire others and outsource when needed.

I am also following a long-time passion project with writer Craig O’Connor and writing our second musical. Last year, we finished our first musical called Me, Myself, and Jill which will hopefully go into production in 2022.

Can you talk about how you think about risk?
Taking risks can be scary but what’s the alternative? They always say “Without risk, there is no reward” and I agree. What is the downside? Making a fool of yourself? That is how we learn and grow. I believe in calculated risks though. What I mean to say is that one needs to think it through and make smart risk choices. It means putting yourself out there and doing things that may scare you if that means it will lead you closer to your goal.

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