Lizzie Ball: From violin to vocals

Photographer: David Redfern

In a place alive with the faith of worshipers, where stone walls and wooden pews reign supreme, a small ensemble of musicians play beneath a stunning glass window.

A bass player caresses his instrument like a man in love.  The nimble fingers of a pianist dance across the keys like a card shark hiding the magic number.

A woman enters in a white, sleeveless summer frock that fits her slender physique like a glove.  She seems a tennis pro, who suddenly decided to put down her racket in exchange for a microphone.

When she sings, her voice is smooth and sultry, and tells her story.  Her name is Lizzie Ball.

Before long, she switches instruments – from voice to violin, from violin back to voice back to violin again.  All eyes in the crowd are on her.

And while this humbling scene is one the audience might expect to see again and again, they would be wise to always imagine Ball at the centre.

There is an air about her that fills the room.  She is magnetic, immensely talented and down to earth.

The Orchestra of Life

One of Ball’s greatest mentors is Nigel Kennedy, who recently chose her to head his Orchestra of Life.

When Ball was ten, her mother took her to see the well known Kennedy in her local town of Sheffield.  Ball was rooted to her seat.

“I remember gripping the rail in front of me from the balcony and looking at this crazy guy, with his hair and facial expressions and just thinking, He’s amazing!

About 15 years later, she met Kennedy at Ronnie Scott’s and decided to tell him how much he meant to her as a role model.

Kennedy and his wife eventually developed a friendship with Ball and asked her to fulfil the role of leader of the Orchestra of Life, a musical ensemble which Kennedy put together earlier this year.

“It was an amazing moment, because I think it felt like karmically it was the right point for us to work together.   So I was really delighted when he approached me.  It’s been just great.  Every minute you work with him, you learn something new.”

Violin with vocals

No one ever pushed Ball into becoming a violinist.  It’s something she wanted from the age of seven.

After obtaining a music degree from Cambridge, she began making a living by playing the violin.

During a jam session, one night, with friends, Ball began to sing accompanied by a guitar.   Everyone was surprised at her natural ability and urged her to pursue it.

“To me it was something that I had always done in my own time, in the shower or with my Mum.  Strangely, I never considered singing as a career move.  It just hadn’t ever been an option for me.  Eventually, I took it a bit more seriously by trying to get to a similar level as I am with the violin.  It’s helped me to think very differently about the violin as well.  Suddenly there’s a new aspect – everything is broadened.”

The Lizzie Ball Band

Ball’s father is a jazz pianist, so she grew up listening to Herbie Hancock, Julian Joseph, Ella Fitzgerald and other greats, which explains in part, why the classical violinist has gravitated so strongly toward jazz.

The vocalist also attributes her love of jazz to her mother’s eclectic taste in music and the fact that they lived near Sheffield during a time when the town was ripe with Northern bands.

Playing in various bands from quite a young age, Ball performed with orchestra members and also joined them when they played in their own bands.

“I was probably about 15 years old, in a pub that was a really cool venue for music in Sheffield.  I remember walking out and being nervous, but literally just going for it – throwing myself in the deep end.  From there, I continued trying to improvise a bit.  And during my lessons I was told to transcribe jazz music, which is a really good way to get those colours and flavours in your harmonic language, so you’re not thinking in a straight classical way.  Jazz is a blank page; it’s just amazing.”

Ball’s eclectic background caused her to eventually create a band of her own.  The Lizzie Ball Band is made up of a skilled and diverse group of colleagues from Ball’s classical background and regular performers at Ronnie Scotts, including jazz guitarist Nick Meier, pianist James Pearson, drummer Chris Dagley, percussionist James Turner, and double bass players Rory Dempsey and Sam Burgess.

Staying grounded as an artist

Ball believes that it’s important to stay positive and to engage in activities that improves one’s outlook on life.

Photographer: David Redfern

The artist works in projects designed to help stigmatised children channel their energies in a healthy and rewarding way.  One of them, Britten Sinfonia’s project, sponsors a live gig in which the children perform.  The young students also get the opportunity to work with Ball and other artists on music projects, improving their self-confidence.

Self-confidence is an important aspect to being an artist, according to Ball.  The violinist warns against self-deprecation, which she often feels is present in England.

“There has to be a certain amount of humility, but always a pride in what you do.  It’s important for artists to get outside of England and experience other things in the world.”

As a violinist, vocalist, and leader of a band and an orchestra – music seems to permeate every aspect of Lizzie Ball’s life.  Yet, this seems as much a labour of love for the artist as it is a career.

“I think it’s very important that music still retains its true nature and we don’t get completely motivated by business.”

With incredible focus and self-discipline, she continues to embrace the world of music she was introduced to in her childhood.  Music lovers would be wise to watch out for Ball over the next couple of years.  Her dynamic personality and unwavering passion has already secured her status as a principal player in the genres of jazz and classical music.

Lizzie Ball will be performing Bachs Chaconne for solo violin with 4 vocal part accompaniment with New York Polyphony in Oslo Cathedral on August 7th at 7 30pm.

She will also be performing with the Urban Soul Orchestra in London and the South of France on the 2nd, 4th, 20th, and the 27th through the 29th of August.

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2 Responses to Lizzie Ball: From violin to vocals

  1. Pingback: Lizzie Ball piece on Candice Ashby’s Blog « Lizzie Ball

  2. Thanks for the link, Lizzie.
    We have just set up our own blog (http://urbansoulorchestra.wordpress.com) and came across this article.
    Hoping to see you one of our gigs soon!

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