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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‘Over the Edge’ debuts at the Barbican

Last night at the Barbican, the dance show ‘Over the Edge’ debuted to a packed audience.

A diverse group of young performers entered the stage with what was sure to be a delightful display of raw urban talent.

After all, hot new street dancing groups have become more well-known to the mainstream public ever since Diversity won ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ last year.

Yet, while Over the Edge was without a doubt a flawless exhibition of technical ability and talent, it lacked passion.

Though the audience applauded vigorously after each segment of the show, it was painfully apparent that the crowd’s enthusiasm seemed based upon each dancer’s ability to krump and pop with the best of ’em, rather than an ability to engender any emotion at all.

So what happened?

The show was an interesting array of choreographed segments that seemed orchestrated to tantalise the audience.

To some degree, this attempt was highly successful – especially in segments like ‘My Alien Abduction’, which used lighting and a large projection screen to create the illusion that the players were on a spaceship being forced to move in unusual ways.

These segments were the perfect formats to feature abstract dance moves that are often associated with various types of street dancing.

However, like a lot of street dancing, so much of the show seemed focused on profiling individuals rather than the group as one fluid moving unit.

Yet, the more obvious problem was the lack of connection to the audience.  It was clear that this talented dance troupe was having a great deal of fun on the stage, but the audience wasn’t included.

The lack of passion in the music is perhaps partly responsible for the lack of passion in the dancing.  A techno-jamboree, it certainly was – but the music wasn’t the least bit emotive, which strongly affected the entire show.

Though it might be interesting to see what this young and talented group might be like after several more performances, Over the Edge is – at least for now – coming up a bit short.

Over the Edge is a production of  Boy Blue Entertainment and will be shown at the Barbican until 25th July.

Follow the Elephants

Elephant Parade © Candice Elizabeth Ashby

The first time I ever saw an elephant face to trunk, I was about seven.

My parents had taken me to the zoo, and although I had seen elephants on television, nothing prepared me for the majestic, wrinkly-skinned pachyderm that stood before me.

And so, I did what any seven-year old would have done when confronted with such immense beauty.  I cried and ran behind my mother’s legs.

Yet, after receiving a lecture on the merits of not being a cry baby, I saddled that gentle grey giant and took the required family picture.

Today, it is sad to learn that elephants in Asia are in danger of being extinct.  But as luck would have it, there is one organisation that has decided to do something about it.

Enter the Elephant Parade

This month, Elephant Family, the only UK organisation dedicated solely to saving the Asian elephant, has launched London’s biggest ever outside art installation.

Artists, designers and donating organisations such as Diane von Furstenburg, Tommy Hilfilger and BFLS have each been chosen to design one baby elephant of the 260 plus that will be displayed around London.

The money that will be raised by this event, which will go on through to July when Sotheby’s will auction off the elephant art, will go to raising awareness of the elephants and creating ancient migratory routes between forests, which are dwindling in size due to industrial development.

The founders of Elephant Family are father and son team, Mike and Marc Spits.

To make donations to Elephant Family, click here.

Curtis Eller’s Workout in F sharp

Watching Curtis Eller perform is like watching your very own avatar play out your stream-of-consciousness; especially if you’re American, left-wing and you like to dance. 

Touring across the UK for two weeks of down-home banjo playing with a strong mix of rockabilly, folk and bluegrass, Eller performed at The Green Note in Camden for the first time.

The venue was small, but filled to the brim with Londonites looking for a good time.  They couldn’t have guessed what they were going to get.

Curtis’ sound has perceivable influences, the most obvious being Elvis Presley and the least obvious, old timer Dock Boggs.  Yet, what results from his mixture of genre is something edgily original. 

His introduction to each song is part of his witty performance.  His monotone northern American accent along with his tongue-in-cheek delivery has the audience chuckling madly.

At one point, he jumps onto the empty chair of an audience member, who had left to go to the loo.  A few well placed kicks in the air by Eller told the audience that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary gig.

“If any musicians are interested, I’ve just knocked myself sharp,” Eller remarks to the crowd, as he re-tunes his banjo.

One of the crowd

Probably the most surprising aspect of Eller’s show is how similar he seems to people in his audience.  He is the centre of attention in a British nightclub; yet the crowd wouldn’t be surprised if Eller suddenly sat down with them for dinner. 

His songs, with titles such as ‘Sugar in My Coffin’ and ‘Taking up Serpents Again’, have lyrics that are occasionally laced with strong political allusions.  He is sometimes referred to as ‘the angry banjo player’. 

But that isn’t to say that Eller doesn’t have a soft side.  He introduces one of his songs as being inspired by his three-year old daughter Daisy.  The crowd collectively sighs, and Eller is off again spinning, jumping, kicking and booty shaking.   

The sheer number of musical performances around London is countless, but true originality by singer/song writers is a difficult find; which makes Curtis Eller a refreshing change in the musical atmosphere.

For more information about the artist and his music, click here.

LONDON FAILS TO CELEBRATE IRISH PRIDE

Born and raised in New York, I’ve been privy to some pretty joyous celebrations. A city that never sleeps doesn’t mind closing down streets so that thousands of people can make merry.  New Yorkers don’t need much of a reason, and will honour holidays as popular as Thanksgiving and as obscure as the Greater New York Good Neighbour Parade.  Yet, there are some parades that seem to shake up the Big Apple by the sheer magnitude of people who attend.

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York drew hundreds of thousands of merrymakers. This is how I remember the Big Apple during St. Patty’s. Day. People showed up for work wearing green no matter what cultural background they were from.  Employees of big firms would leave the warmth of their office buildings to hightail it down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a chat and some lunch with strangers.  There was food and merriment everywhere around the city.

So during my first year in London, as St. Patrick’s Day grew closer, I expected a celebration the likes of which Francis Scott Key himself would have had a loss for words.  Yet, when I first saw London’s version of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought that I had gotten the date wrong.   After all, isn’t Ireland right next door?  And aren’t more than 3 percent of 7.5 million Londoners of Irish descent, according to a 2001 census?

The celebration turned out to be a dismal disappointment.  If you were outside of the Trafalgar Square area, you probably would not have known that a celebration was taking place.   Strangely enough, London only officially began celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in 2002; another strange fact that I couldn’t get my head around.  Many of the people that I have met in London are from Ireland or have parents from Ireland.   Yet, the celebration here when compared to New York City is a small affair.  I actually became angry for Irish people everywhere.

This year, in Trafalgar Square and surrounding areas, about 30,00 people attended including Mayor Boris Johnson.  Yet, we are forced to wonder to what extent Johnson’s appearance was politically motivated.  He publicly dedicated the celebration to “peace” in order to honour a police constable and two fallen soldiers from Northern Ireland, who were killed in a bombing by the Continuity IRA.  This was after cutting £50,000 from the budget for the event.  In 2008, £150,000 was spent for St. Patrick’s Day when Ken Livingstone was in office.

While we can acknowledge the effort made by the city of London to honour Irish culture, many Irish people would agree that London could do much better.  They don’t seem to hesitate in celebrating all things British in their capital.  It is about time that the rest of the Londonites get their due.  Although, with personal bias, I can say that they will never party as lively as they do in New York City.