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Lissy Walker

Lissy Walker is a jazz singer, but she brings her own unique spin to the music by adding elements drawn from the worlds of folk, country, and the 70’s singer/songwriter movement. Walker’s rich vocals and her virtuosic band slip effortlessly between genres to create their own soulfully sweet sound–dreamy and bittersweet, heartfelt and swinging–on her stunning new recording, Wonderland.

Walker’s burnished vocals have a hint of restrained passion that suggests country music, but her phrasing, which dances around before and after the beat, is pure jazz.

Her acclaimed debut album, Life Is Sweet, boasted some of San Francisco and New York’s finest musicians, including John R. Burr on piano, Jon Evans on bass, Scott Nygaard on guitar, and Steven Bernstein on trumpet. Walker and co-producer Evans re-assembled the team, along with some new players, including Ben Goldberg on clarinet, and went into Berkeley’s legendary Fantasy Studios to cut Wonderland, an album that brings Walker’s subtle intensity to bear on another collection of gems from the American Songbook, as well as a few modern classics.

The songs on Wonderland deal in dreams and illusions, desires fulfilled and unfulfilled, and the power of reflection and intent. Walker’s sweet, smoky, purring alto is perfectly suited to these songs of yearning. The focus is on songs from two great songwriting eras: swing tunes from the 20s/30s and folk ballads from the 70s. Her emotive vocal approach, the innovative arrangements, and the brilliance of the band, blend the two eras together, resulting in a classic, yet contemporary, vibe-a perfect hybrid.

Lissy Walker grew up in Berkeley surrounded by artists, architects, and writers, lovers of art and music in the seventies. Both parents were classical music buffs, and it was played night and day. As a child Walker studied classical piano. “I loved playing, and the lessons gave me an important base for all the music I’ve done,” Walker recalls. “When I discovered ragtime, I asked if I could take jazz piano. My parents encouraged me to teach myself, so I bought a book of Scott Joplin rags and learned to play ragtime on my own.”

“In the 7th Grade, I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream and decided I wanted to be an actress. I went to the Young Conservatory at ACT in San Francisco. At Berkeley High School, I studied classical music and appeared in musical productions. At choir rehearsals, I could hear the jazz band down the hall. I asked the jazz teacher, Phil Hardymon, if I could sing with the jazz band and he put together a combo with some of his students.” They performed to great success at the school and got a few gigs around town.

Walker went on to study theater and voice at UCLA, then attended the Neighborhood Playhouse School Of The Theater in New York, studying singing, dance, and acting with Sanford Meisner, the school’s founder. After graduation, Walker became a regular player with the Home for Contemporary Theater and Art. She appeared in The School For Jolly Dogs, a revue based on English Music Hall songs and Charles Mee’s The Imperialists at the Club Cave Canem, which was picked up by Joseph Papp’s Public Theater.

After eight years in New York, Walker and her husband, cellist Philip Worman, moved back to San Francisco. She appeared in the award-winning productions of Tom Jones and The Sea Plays and ACT’s critically acclaimed Long Day’s Journey into Night.

Walker never stopped singing, however. She took classes at Berkeley’s Jazzschool, learning to write her own charts and create arrangements. She made connections in the Bay Area’s jazz community and began to develop her folk/jazz approach to arranging and singing. Gigs at local clubs and events got positive feedback. Fellow musicians encouraged her to go into the recording studio because of her unique approach. Local singer/songwriter, Alexis Harte suggested Jon Evans as producer. “I met Jon and we clicked. We talked about doing a jazz album with folk and pop elements, to bring together all the music I love. I wanted people who had range, for an eclectic mix of styles. And we got just that.”

The result was Life Is Sweet, and now, Wonderland, another beautiful compilation marked by the band’s subtle virtuosity and Walker’s deep, simmering vocals, delivering an album that continuously reveals emotional and musical intensity.