Spy in Tortuga
JEFF LISENBY, jazz accordionist extraordinaire. Think "accordion" and "jazz" don't belong in the same sentence? Just wait, it gets better. Lisenby, who holds a master's degree from The Conservatory of Music of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is no stranger to musical oxymorons. His experience runs the gamut of styles. He has twice been the national accordion champion and a bronze medalist in the Coupe Mondiale international classical accordion competitions. That may not sound like a big deal to us in the U.S., but in Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, China, and New Zealand, where the accordion is as common as the guitar, it's huge. But classical music wasn't the only style he practiced. "When I was a kid," Lisenby said, "my goal was to win the world accordion championship, which was for 'serious' music. So I was practicing 7-8 hours a day when I was a teenager. I would get tired of practicing the 'heavy' music, and then I would start playing pop or jazz standard tunes and improvising on them. It was a good musical mix for me." Lisenby used his genius on the accordion and keyboards to carve a niche market for himself, and gained performances with the Nashville, Kansas City, and Los Angeles Symphonies, the Palm Beach Pops Orchestra, and a gig accompanying Luciano Pavarotti during part of his recent U.S. tour. Certainly not limited to classical music, Lisenby toured extensively with the Mills Brothers, Boots Randolph, and Brenda Lee, and has accompanied Lee Greenwood, Donna Summer, Tricia Yearwood, Three-Dog Night, the Coasters, David Cassidy, Marty Stuart, Jo Dee Messina, Pam Tillis, Loretta Lynn, Roy Clark, and Dolly Parton, to name a few. Apparently the accordion has a place in American popular music after all. Most recently, Lisenby was honored to be the music director for the Broadway smash hit RING OF FIRE: The Music of Johnny Cash, for which he pulled from his extensive experience backing country artists in Nashville. Lisenby is also one of the first-call accordionist for recording sessions in Nashville. Projects he has worked on include the Grammy-winning album: "Songs from the Neighborhood; the Music of Mister Rogers", and jingles for Budweiser and Sutherland's Lumber (which he also wrote and produced). When he's not on the road performing around the country, Lisenby teaches for Belmont University's School of Music and is active in the Nashville recording scene. A Spy In Tortuga is Jeff Lisenby's first independent jazz accordion album, and features several brand-new original compositions by Lisenby. "The accordion has been stereo-typed for a long time," Lisenby said. "I want people to hear this CD, enjoy it for it's diversity, and hear the accordion as another fine musical instrument, which can be used in any type of music." When asked why he chose to record a jazz album, Lisenby answered, "I grew up in Kansas City, MO, where there is a jazz commission, as part of the city government. Because of that, I grew up hearing many of the great national jazz figures who came to town to play for us -- Count Basie, Monty Alexander, Maynard Fergusson, Bill Evans, Chick Corea. So I've been loving and playing jazz for a long time. I like the freedom to play whatever I want in the improvised sections, and I like the sound of a big band all playing in ensemble." He also adds, "There aren't a lot of jazz accordionists around, but accordion is slowly coming into style in the United States. We're hearing it on more and more pop albums. It seems like a good time to put a jazz accordion CD on the market."