Lisa Hilton (musician)

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Lisa Hilton
Hilton at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood Photo: Ron Hall
Hilton at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood
Photo: Ron Hall
Background information
Birth nameLisa Kristine Hilton
BornSan Luis Obispo, California, U.S.
GenresJazz, classical
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, record producer, band leader
Years active1997–present
LabelsRuby Slippers Productions, EvoSound

Lisa Kristine Hilton is an American jazz pianist, bandleader, producer, and composer based in Southern California. Her compositions blend jazz and blues with minimalism, classical, and avant-garde music. Since the early 2000s she has recorded with Antonio Sánchez, Larry Grenadier, Christian McBride, Luques Curtis, J. D. Allen, Rudy Royston, and Sean Jones.[1][2]

Early years[edit]

Hilton was born in San Luis Obispo, a small town on California's central coast. Her father was a college professor and her mother was an accountant. At approximately the age of six, she began playing piano, first teaching herself to play with a colored keyboard guide and composing simple songs.[3] Later she was inspired by stories of her great uncle, Dutch pianist Willem Bloemendaal. Although her early years were dominated by classical music and 20th-century music study,[4] in her teens she became interested in jazz and blues.[5] Seeing the blues duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in concert had a lasting impact, as did the music of Jelly Roll Morton, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters. She played piano for her grammar school glee club starting in third grade, later joining orchestra and band on flute, and performed piano scores for high school musicals.

Hilton moved to San Francisco. As a college student who studied art, she put music aside to complete a degree in art and design. After returning to music, she was drawn to jazz. She often mentions that she draws on her background in art to create compositions, painting and sculpting her compositions with ideas from music.[6]

Return to the piano[edit]

In 1997, Hilton's interest in music was reignited by a neighbor, pianist David Foster. She resumed her studies in theory and composition with composer Charles Bernstein at UCLA. Her first album, Seduction (1997), was just solo piano which Hilton also produced. Since then she has produced and recorded about one album a year. The albums include cover tunes by musicians such as Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and Ann Ronell.

Hilton began working in 2005 with the multi-Grammy Award-winning engineer Al Schmitt and they continued working together until his passing in 2021.[7] Hilton has also worked with renowned engineers Doug Sax, Gavin Lurssen, Fernando Lodeiro, Larry Mah, James Farber, Chandler Harrod, Eric Boulanger and Jay Newland, recording 300 tracks of original compositions as well as jazz covers. Hilton has been a voting member of the Producers and Engineers Wing of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) since 2003.


Hilton has received acclaim for her compositions. She cites Thelonious Monk,[8] Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Horace Silver[9] as her most important compositional influences. Hilton uses improvisation, free jazz, and shifting modal key centers for impressionistic compositions like "When it Rains."[10] She use ideas from other art forms. "French composers like Debussy used harmonic 'impressionism,' but I like to use improvisational ideas in an impressionistic way," she told Phil Freeman of Burning Ambulance. "Seurat's pointillism technique is something I have applied to music, for example." "Music feels like my first language," she added. "It feels like I can create an experience compositionally that allows others to also feel that experience, much like a good writer being able to describe love, or a painter or photographer creating an image. I think I can compose and play the sound of twilight, of a warm summer's day, of love or grief, of a subway or dolphins even. I think of my – and our – music as abstract or non-figurative paintings."[11] Hilton ventures into longer musical forms, fusing jazz onto classical forms, as in "Midnight Sonata" from her album Nocturnal.[12] On Escapism her arrangements paired modern jazz modalities and classical techniques with a "lofty sophistication reminiscent of classic piano music from Beethoven, Chopin, or Stravinsky.".[13]

Later life and career[edit]

As a bandleader, Hilton has worked with bassists Christian McBride, Luques Curtis, and Larry Grenadier, drummers Antonio Sanchez, Nasheet Waits, Rudy Royston, Billy Hart, and Lewis Nash, trumpeters Sean Jones and Terrell Stafford, and saxophonists J. D. Allen, Steve Wilson, Brice Winston, and Bobby Militello.[14] On her latest album, Paradise Cove, her line-up included Obed Cavalaire, Ingmar Thomas, and her long-time bassist Luques Curtis.[15]

In the book The New Face of Jazz, author Cicily Janus writes that Hilton has been "compared to some of the best pianists in history" – comparisons often include Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck, but Hilton's compositions are also considered to be reminiscent of musical impressionism inspired by Claude Debussy and Erik Satie.[16]

On All About Jazz, Hilton's album Transparent Sky was included in a roundup of the Best Recordings of 2021.[17]

In 1988, Price Stern Sloan published the children's book, If Dinosaurs Were Alive Today, which Hilton wrote with her sister, Sandra L. Kirkpatrick, and illustrated by Randy Chewning.[18]


Inspired by Joni Mitchell,[19] Hilton started a publishing company that was trademarked Lisa Hilton Music. Her record label, Ruby Slippers Productions[20] was established in 2001. She is a voting member of National Music Publishers Association.


For over twenty years, Hilton has lived in Malibu, California. She has often said that the mountains, waterfalls, and beaches inspire her compositions, such as "The Sky and the Ocean" from Horizons.[21] The daughter of a biology professor, she values nature and brings it into her compositions, as in the titles "Vapors & Shadows" from Oasis, "Mojave Moon" from Escapism, and "Sunset on the Beach" from Day and Night.


Hilton supports music programs for children and teens, particularly the blind or visually impaired. She has performed benefit concerts, conducted workshops, and played with young musicians at Perkins School for the Blind,[22] Chicago Lighthouse[23] Junior Blind of America and their Camp Bloomfield in Malibu, and the Adaptive Technology Lab at Berklee College of Music in Boston.


  • Seduction (Ruby Slippers Productions, 1997)
  • Playing by Heart (Ruby Slippers Productions, 1999)
  • Cocktails at Eight... (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2000)
  • Feeling Good (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2001)
  • In the Mood for Jazz (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2003)
  • Jazz After Hours (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2004)
  • My Favorite Things (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2005)
  • Midnight in Manhattan (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2006)
  • After Dark (EvoSound, 2007)
  • The New York Sessions (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2007)
  • So This Is Love (EvoSound, 2008)
  • Sunny Day Theory (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2008)
  • Twilight & Blues (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2009)
  • Nuance (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2010)
  • Underground (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2011)
  • American Impressions (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2012)
  • Getaway (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2013)
  • Kaleidoscope (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2014)
  • Horizons (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2015)
  • Nocturnal (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2016)
  • Day & Night (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2016)
  • Escapism (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2017)
  • Oasis (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2018)
  • Chalkboard Destiny (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2019)
  • More Than Another Day (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2020)
  • Transparent Sky (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2021)
  • life is beautiful (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2022)
  • Paradise Cove (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2022)
  • Coincidental Moment (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2023)


  1. ^ Freeman, Phil (March 2016). "Interview: Lisa Hilton". Burning Ambulance. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  2. ^ Weber, Carol Banks. "Lisa Hilton's 'H O R I Z O N S': Ultimate expression of art in jazz impressions".
  3. ^ Wilkins, Woodrow (29 November 2007). "Lisa Hilton: New York Sessions". All About Jazz. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  4. ^ Plourde, Brenton. "Lisa Hilton, Twilight and Blues". JazzTimes. Retrieved 3 January 2010.
  5. ^ Mullikin, Patrick Timothy. "malibu's music corner: 'Twilight & Blues'". Malibu Times. Retrieved 2 September 2009.
  6. ^ Freeman, Phil (March 2016). "Interview: Lisa Hilton". Burning Ambulance.
  7. ^ Velez, Jennifer. "Remembering Al Schmitt, 20-Time GRAMMY-Winning Producer, Engineer And Recording Academy P&E Wing Co-Founder". Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  8. ^ "Meet Lisa Hilton". All About Jazz. 3 April 2013. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  9. ^ "Lisa Hilton". Jazztimes. Archived from the original on 17 August 2016. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  10. ^ Montague, Joe. "Jazz Composer and Pianist Lisa Hilton: Dolphins, Waterfalls and American Impressions". Riveting Riffs. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  11. ^ Freeman, Phil (March 2016). "Interview: Burning Ambulance". Burning Ambulance. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  12. ^ "USA: Lisa Hilton (Nocturnal) 2016". World Jazz News. 10 March 2016. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  13. ^ Susan, Frances (7 February 2018). "Music Review: Lisa Hilton - 'Escapism'". SeattlePI. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  14. ^ Lush, Brian. "All I Have Is Blue". Rockwired Media LLC. Retrieved 16 March 2009.
  15. ^ Jurkovic, Mike (5 November 2022). "Lisa Hilton: Paradise Cove". All About Jazz. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  16. ^ Janus, Cicily (13 July 2010). The New Face of Jazz (1st ed.). New York, NY: Billboard Books. p. 116. ISBN 978-0823000654.
  17. ^ Jurkovic, Mike (8 December 2021). "Mike Jurkovic's Best Recordings Of 2021". All About Jazz. Retrieved 1 February 2022.
  18. ^ "Books by Sandra Kirkpatrick". ISBNs. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
  19. ^ "Sony/Atv Music Publishing And Joni Mitchell Enter into Worldwide Agreement".
  20. ^ "About Ruby Slippers Productions". Ruby Slippers Productions. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  21. ^ Vejar, Alex. "Resident music composer to return to Pepperdine for performance". Malibu Surfside News. 22nd Century Media.
  22. ^ Archer, Carol. "Composer, Jazz Pianist Lisa Hilton To Perform at Perkins School". Dun & Bradstreet. Retrieved 20 November 2006.
  23. ^ Walseth, Brad. "Jazz Pianist shows big Heart in Working with Blind Musicians". Jazz Chicago. Retrieved 8 January 2007.

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