Lisa Markley

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Stars Rained Down

Sometimes, the orchestra in my head gets to make noise in the real world.  It is a rare event.  The treasure trove of world class musicians hidden here in north Texas, is what I will miss most of all about this music scene.  Every time I assemble a band, the personnel may change a bit, but it’s always magic, kind of like finding “Brigadoon”.

Last night’s ensemble included some longtime friends and accomplices:

Julie Bonk on keys.  Though we have been great friends for many years, this was my first chance to actually play a show with Julie.  She mentored me through my North Texas auditions for grad school, on piano and vocal improv.  Never one to shy away from the truth, she still delivers her truths with great compassion and love.  She is one of the musicians who encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, and to move beyond my hiding place behind beautiful tone, to dig deeper.  I will always be grateful for her friendship as well as her piano playing.

Drew Phelps on bass.  I met Drew in Denton back in the mid 1980s.  He is one bass player that I can always call upon to play jazz shows, as well as original songs.  Often I have to choose, depending on the gig, but Drew is there and fits well in all styles.  Not all monster musicians know how to dial it back, to suit the song.  But Drew is one of those rare birds who truly gets it, from cowboy songs to bebop.  You can hear him on two of my early albums, “Goddess of Groove”, and “Live at Gloria Dei Nights” (out of print, so if you find a copy, hang onto it, only 200 were ever made).

Chris McGuire on woodwinds and trumpet.  Chris and I must have been at North Texas State at the same time, but my undergrad years are hazy (all my years are hazy these days…).  Except Chris was playing in the top groups and becoming the killer player he is, and I was at the bottom, figuring out how to give up the trombone so that I could devote more to singing.  So I never got to play with Chris until after the “turn of the century”.  Like Drew, Chris has the chops for high velocity bop, but the sensitivity to allow space when playing on the subtlest three-chord song.  I call on him for all my gigs, but rarely get to play with him, as he is always, always booked.  You will find him everywhere on the stages and in recording studios in the D/FW metroplex.  I sometimes wonder if he secretly has a clone. I do not know how he does it all.

Andrew Griffith on drums.  I rarely get to gig with a drummer.  Andrew immediately became my preferred drummer to play with.  My favorite shows with Andrew have been at the Balcony Club, where the stage is so small, that I get to sit right up against the drums.  I swear Andrew can hear, and predict every breath I am about to take, and digs into my odd phrasing as if he could read my musical mind. My great regret is that I never got to do a proper recording with Andrew before moving away.  If you troll through the inter-webs, you can find a number of live videos from different shows of ours.  I will have to settle for that, for the time being.  I hear, though, that there is no shortage of recording studios in Woodstock.  So miracle could happen.

Tony Baker on trombone.  Tony is one of the most versatile trombonists I have ever met.  Killer chops in classical music, and beautiful swinging abilities in improvisation.  Last night he was a great sport, as I had e-mailed him the wrong chart for this song. So he had to learn it on the spot.  Of course, he could tackle it, no sweat, and he even helped other players to understand the syncopated phrases of a rhumba in 3/4-time.  You can find Tony up at UNT heading up the trombone department, both on the classical and the jazz sides of the music building.  You can also find him in the orchestra pit at the Dallas Opera.

And finally, the love of my life, Bruce Balmer, on guitar.  Bruce is my rock.  My best friend.  My musical soulmate.  The burr in my saddle.  The sand in my oyster. The cream in my coffee.  Bruce is usually my full orchestra all by himself.  And he is infinitely patient with my scattered state of mind as I prepare for these shows with the full band.  He really shined last night.  I hope there are more videos of him from last night, because he was truly in his element.  I was so proud to share the stage with him last night, and I am very proud to be Mrs. Balmer, as we head back to his hometown. <3

Damon K. Clark very kindly shared this evening with me, and kicked my ass in the most sublime way.  Thank you for letting me open for you at my going away party.  That was the most beautiful gift I have ever received.  I got to sit back and listen to Damon as he blew us away, each song even better than the last.  And then he cooked up this finale, where he sang to me, and got the band to close with “Happy Trails”.  I held it together, and did not cry (well, not too much anyway).  Thank you Damon for your kindness and belief in me.  I know I will be seeing you back east soon.  This is not goodbye.

This video was taken by Jeff Liles, from the Kessler Theater.  The Kessler  (www.thekessler.org) is located here in the Bishop Arts District/Kessler+ neighborhood of historic Oak Cliff, Texas.  Thank you Jeff for indulging me in a final show at the Kessler.  You and Edwin, and all the folks at The Kessler have made our neighborhood better.  Even as our arts district is going through the very painful growing pains of gentrification, you are maintaining our foundation, the heart and soul of our arts community.  Thank you for putting it on the line for every show.  We are deeply proud to have been allowed to play this beautiful room one more time.  I will never forget last night.