Next in our series of interviews with some of Central Ohio’s finest jazz musicians is vocalist Liz Woolley. Woolley has been gaining recognition as one of the top vocal talents in the area, both from leading her own group, the Liz Woolley Band, and from collaborating with local greats like Dave DeWitt, Aaron Scott, Derek DiCenzo, and others. She has released two solo albums, with more to come (see below). Keep reading for details on Woolley’s musical background and upcoming shows and projects.
When and why did you start playing music and jazz?
Liz Woolley (LW): I have been a musician all of my life, luckily forced to take piano lessons as a child (thanks, Mom) and singing with choirs in church and school as soon and as often as I could. This musical upbringing led me to working to obtain a piano performance degree at tiny little Snow College in rural Utah. After my freshman year, the college struck up a partnership with Juilliard of all places (a partnership that continues to thrive today), and the jazz faculty from Juilliard put on a rhythm section workshop at my little college in Utah. I had zero experience with jazz, but as it was in its pilot year, I asked the dean of the college if it would be okay if I attended the workshop. He said yes, I got to spend a week listening to Benny Green, I got put into a combo led by Carl Allen, and I was challenged to play some blues and sing with the combo. It just clicked unlike any music I had ever before been involved with. After that workshop I was thrown into the school’s big band and became totally involved with the music. My friends were constantly introducing me to new artists, and I quickly fell in love with the jazz. I soon realized that the art of vocal jazz and the tunes that went along with that were not only beautiful but also the kind of music that really fit my style. As time went on I was afforded opportunities to play and sing with diverse people and groups and began songwriting as well.
Who are some of your main influences in your playing/performing?
LW: These days I’m mostly singing and writing. I listen to a lot of jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Carmen McRae, Stacey Kent, and Jamie Cullum. I listen to R&B artists like Emily King, India.Arie, Alice Smith, and Anthony Hamilton. I listen to artists like the Punch Brothers, the Milk Carton Kids, Kimbra, & John Mayer. I try to let everything I listen to and all of the artists I love creep into my vocal style and writing style.
What is your fondest musical memory?
LW: I feel lucky enough to have had many, but honestly one of the best moments was being in the audience as Benny Green, Carl Allen, & Ben Wolfe played an absolutely stunning performance of “Tenderly.” It was the first time I experienced a true connection to music. It was the first time an instrumental tune had washed over me in such a way, expressing things in ways that words never could. It made me want to create music that had the ability to touch someone in such a way. I don’t know if I’ll ever attain that, but it certainly set a meaningful standard that I’ll continue to reach for.
What are you listening to today? What’s on your playlist?
I tend to get stuck on one group for a few days or so. The last few weeks I’ve discovered: Vulfpeck (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5K3UgrPdbQ)
Lianne La Havas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1plQCMNQ4M)
The Punch Brothers new EP (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zb9din5BxwI)
The Ladybugs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IR8X12jBfms)
And the song of the year is Jacob Collier’s version of “Close to You”. I Cannot Get Enough of It.
What inspires you about the Columbus Jazz scene?
LW: The amount of talent in Columbus is astounding. You can always find an amazing show or group to check out. There are many venues that support jazz as a live art form. I have yet to meet an unkind soul in the Columbus jazz community – everyone I’ve met has been inviting and supportive. They are also crazy hardworking folks, both young and old. From full time teaching jobs, to day jobs, to attending school, to nightly gigs, to playing in all kinds of groups, to playing all kinds of genres, the musicians here are skilled and tireless.
What are you working on currently? Any new projects, exciting shows or releases?
LW: I’m really happy to answer this question. For the last year, I have been singing with the Liz Woolley Band (Dennis Hodges on guitar, Dylan Bram on vibraphone, John Philip Allen on bass and Brian Ellerman on drums). It’s been going well and we’ve been picking up steam lately – playing more shows, everyone bringing original tunes to the table – and we are looking forward to recording our first album as an official group in the new year. I especially love this group because it allows me to dabble in both traditional sounding jazz and the R&B/Soul music I have grown to love so much.
I just put together a new, sleek website that is much nicer to look at (www.lizwoolley.com), and my sophomore full length album Do Love recently celebrated its first anniversary!
Where can local audiences see you play in the near future?
LW: I’m singing Christmas Jazz with the Dave DeWitt TRio at Natalie’s on Wednesday, December 9th.
The Liz Woolley Band has our own Christmas show playing Christmas tunes mixed with Liz Woolley Band originals at Coffee Underground [2141 Indianola, Campus] on Friday, December 11th.
On New Year’s Eve I will be singing with drummer Aaron Scott and friends at Hyde Park Restaurant in Upper Arlington from 8pm – midnight.