Jazz pianist Lisa Hilton brings West Coast cool to the Schwartz Center for the Arts' season opener Saturday, Oct. 23. To entice young musicians, the Schwartz and Hilton are offering free and reduced tickets to music students.

Lisa Hilton talks about her work as a composer and jazz pianist with the wide-eyed exuberance of a child who’s just learned to play “Chopsticks.” She’ll share that with audiences when she visits the Schwartz Center for the Arts to open its 2010-2011 season at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23.
Here’s what audiences should know before heading to the Schwartz Oct. 23.

1 California girl
Lisa Hilton is a born and bred Californian.
“On the west coast, growing up near the beach, there’s a feeling of expansiveness or freedom of space,” she said.
That casual elegance is present in Hilton’s originals like “Stars” and the leaping, spinning “Just for Fun,” both from her latest album, “Nuance.”
Hilton also dabbles in covers, putting her twist on a range that includes “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day to “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell.
“She was a natural fit for the opening performance because of her talent and range of artistic ability,” said Sandra Conner, Schwartz Center executive director.

2 “Nuance”
Hilton will play a little of everything at the upcoming concert, focusing on “Nuance,” which was released this year.
“The idea was that when you think about it, it’s not the big things that are most important about people, it’s the little things. It’s how people say it, not what they say,” she elaborated.
Or as George and Ira Gershwin famously said, it’s the way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea.
Hilton said for her, it’s all about details.
“To me, I think those are the most important things in music,” Hilton said.
The Schwartz will be Hilton’s final stop on the promotional tour for “Nuance.” Sitting with the songs for a year and performing them regularly will make it a more rewarding experience for everyone at the Oct. 23 show.
“They’re only a year old but I’m intimate with them, I really know them, I have favorite parts and they’ve been able to grow and really flourish,” she said.
She’ll also debut some pieces that will likely end up on her next project.

3 Performance style
Hilton fears that when people hear she’s from California, they’re going to imagine a low-impact show.
“The west coast sound is more laid back, but don’t expect to be snoozing when I come to town, because that’s now how it is,” she said.
Hilton shares the stories behind the music with her audience, happily chatting about composing and how she felt while writing. Audiences can expect a personal performance.

4 Straying from the path
Hilton started out in music but became disillusioned with it, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in art.
“I was well trained but it was in the classics and I didn’t see myself following in that footpath,” she said.
She eventually went back to piano with a much jazzier, bluesier focus and it stuck.  

5 Education and outreach
Because of Hilton’s struggle to find her way in school, she’s passionate about education and outreach.
“I’m not a jaded, been-on-the-road-50-days-a-year performer. I come with enthusiasm. I think because my education had its challenges I really want to reach out to other people who have some experiences,” Hilton said.
As part of that outreach, Hilton and the Schwartz Center are giving students a break with the cost of admission.
“Basically we want all of those music/piano students who are interested in this performance to be able to attend,” Conner said. “By offering the child (12 and younger) ticket for free and the student ticket at a reduced cost ($13) we hope this will enable some families to attend that otherwise may not have.”

Email Sarika Jagtiani at sarika.jagtiani@doverpost.com