We had the good fortune of connecting with Lisa Yves and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lisa, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was born in Queens, New York. My parents were both survivors from Poland who came to New York and became American citizens. Growing up in my household was quite different from my friends who grew up with American born parents. My parents spoke Yiddish and Polish in the house and we lived a very Jewish European life. My mother protected my brothers and me from the “dangers of the world”. There were secrets that were kept from us until much later in our lives. I found out I had a sister from my father’s first marriage who lived in Israel. I was only told this when I was forty years old. Religion was a big part of my upbringing and loomed over my head like a dark cloud keeping me from doing my art. My father would take me to singing lessons and auditions on Saturdays (which is a no no on the Sabbath), much to my mother’s blind eye that she turned whenever we drove away. It was very important to my parents that I play the piano. My brothers were allowed to play the guitar and I used to sit in on their lessons so I could sing along and impress the guitar teacher with my vocal abilities (he was impressed at my harmony making vocals). During piano lessons, I used to improvise and make up my own arrangements of Beethoven and Mozart. I didn’t like being restricted to just the notes on the page. I really liked using my ear to create music. I started singing around age 10 and taught myself how to play chords so I could play popular and musical theater songs to accompany my singing. Inevitably, I started writing my own songs and became obsessed with being an artist/musician. The irony here is that as much as my mother wanted me to play the piano and sing, she did not support my wish to become a performer. To her, being a performer in the public eye was the worst career choice a jewish young lady could make. I got so many mixed messages that I finally decided to make my own choice and not seek anyone else’s approval. Music was my calling, it chose me. When my parents sent me to the Yeshivah of Flatbush (Jewish High School) instead of The High School of Performing Arts (that I saw in the movie, Fame), I was disappointed. I had no choice but to go to Flatbush (all the way in Brooklyn, NY) and stand out there. I joined the choir and was quickly discovered as Flatbush’s new talent. I starred in all the productions and plays and actually had a wonderful time. My first choice for college was NYU, Tisch School of the Arts, which I got into and started in 1985 in the Circle in the Square program with classmate Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP). One of my dorm mates was Adam Sandler. We performed in the same coffeehouse that year and admired each other’s talents. Once I realized that I was more Carole King than Carol Burnett, I switched into the music program. I became a jazz vocal performance major as I really found my connection with jazz music. I believe it was in the improvisation and freedom to create your own music over already existing music that got me excited. Especially when I learned about the art of Vocalese from my teachers Marion Cowings and Kim Kalesti. Marion was working with Harry Connick Jr., at the time and I got a chance to meet him and sing with him over at the Knickerbocker Saloon one glorious Monday in 1989. While at NYU, I spent most of my time in the piano rooms on West 4th street composing songs that would later return to me when I would write my long awaited musicals, Me Myself and Jill and Dexie’s Piano Bar this year (2020). The songs and ideas lay dormant in my psyche until I met book and screen writer, Craig O’Connor who brought the stories to life with his clever and capable writing skills. During my NYU years, I spent many years playing piano bars all over NYC and as a wedding singer in various bands throughout New York, and New Jersey. I also found out that I could teach voice and even piano. I never set out to teach but I was good at it. I could always diagnose a vocalist’s weaknesses, bad habits and use their strengths to help them build the confidence in their voices. My ability to teach came in handy after my first child was born. I felt like working with kids and started teaching young students to sing jazz. I was amazed at how much the kids really liked to sing simple jazz standards and it led me to create my Jazz For Kids series. After 4 years of working with kids, I assembles a small choir of my students and went into the recording studio with some of Boston’s top musicians to record our first album, Jazz For Kids, Everybody’s Boppin’. Jazz for kids was so well received, that I won the Parent’s Guide to Media award in 2000. I recorded 2 more albums Vocalese and On The Road, in the years that followed and currently, The Very Best Of Jazz For Kids (a compilation of the best of the 3). Jazz for Kids has been heard all over the world and many educators have used the Alphabet scat and Clap Your Hands in their classrooms. My desire to create my own music led me to building my own recording studio so I could have the freedom to create whenever I felt like it. Now whenever the muse strikes, I can lay down tracks and have the freedom to produce music daily. I have released over 16 albums and continue to create music. Many of my songs have been licensed by Network TV shows, Netflix, Disney, etc. I also perform for many libraries, senior centers, private events and have been for over 25 years. I continue to teach kids and adults how to use their voices correctly and confidently. Music is my legacy and I continue to build my catalogue with a positive outlook and forward momentum.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Music is my legacy. I have always been a creative person but the journey was not a smooth one. For many years, I thought I wanted to be a performer but something always led me behind the piano. I always found myself taking the helm as musical director or teacher and helping people find their way as singers/performers. My instinct to create music is strong. I consider myself a composer and sometimes lyricist. Collaboration has been key in helping me find my way. I like to use music in a very wholistic way as wall as an artistic way. Sometimes, I compose music to lyrics by another writer. I have been writing that way for over 20 years with lyricist R. Keith Swanson. We released an album our our songs in 2019 called, When Time Stood Still. Three of our songs were included in my 2016 album produced by Crit Harmon called Jazzy Little Soul. Our song, A Love to Last has been featured in the CBS series Blue Bloods, The Bold and the Beautiful and Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings on Netflix. Sometimes, I write music and lyrics for a musical. Craig O’Connor is the book writer for Me, Myself And Jill and Dexie’s Piano Bar. Sometimes, I use my voice and sing parts. Sometimes, I produce entire productions in my studio. I also collaborate regularly with my students and have been creating some great productions with Boston singer/songwriter Mel Fine. I have also collaborated with my talented brother, Lenny Sukienik – we wrote and produced 3 albums together. Rayne (released in 2018), Horrors Like These (released in 2019) and Nineteenseventyfive (released in March 2020). In July 2020, I collaborated with my talented artist sister, Yochi Yakir Avin by adding a music video component to her art exhibit at the Frank C. Ortis Art Gallery in Florida. In the end, I get great satisfaction out of everything I do musically.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I dedicate my shoutout to my sister, Yochi Yakir Avin. She is a very talented visual artist and the other half of my heart. We have only gotten to know each other over the last 13 years and even though I feel I missed a lifetime of relationship with her, I have known her instinctually throughout my life. I also dedicate it to my twin brothers, Lenny and Harvey Sukienik, who have been beacons of positive light, grounding and creativity in my life.