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Lisa Marie Simmons Biography
“I find in writing songs that I’m often walking that thin line – I’m trying to make a personal, individual experience universal,” muses singer-songwriter Lisa Marie Simmons.
From her homebase on the coast of Italy’s beautiful Lake Garda, Simmons collaboratively leads two different ensembles – Hippie Tendencies and NoteSpeak – with keyboardist, arranger, and songwriter Marco Cremaschini, each deeply but differently informed by the struggles and triumphs in Simmons’ own life.
Born in Colorado Springs (CO), Simmons survived several troubled adoptions and foster homes. She found solace singing in her church choir and was featured soloist with the Boulder (CO) Youth Choir. At nineteen, Simmons moved to New York City to study theater and music at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and perform in various pop, funk, soul, blues and jazz bands throughout the Manhattan club circuit at night. “Music is my savior, and my past has taught me empathy,” she reflects.
Manhattan served as the launchpad for five years of geographic and musical globetrotting: From 1993 until 1997, Simmons explored and performed music in Amsterdam, Costa Rica, St. Marten, and France, where she began to compose her own music and lyrics. She continued her travels through Central and South America, and eventually returned to Europe to establish her new artistic home and search for someone to produce her own music.
After dalliances on the dance singles charts in France and Italy, Simmons finally stepped out as a solo artist in 1999 with her first single (“Feel It”) and continued to collaborate with various artists and producers throughout Italy. She released her last single as a solo artist (“I Won’t Be Waiting,” with producer Emanuela Gubinelli) in 2004. Since then, Simmons and Cremaschini have divided most of their attention between the neo-folk, neo-soul project Hippie Tendencies and spoken-word-jazz project NoteSpeak. Hippie Tendencies has released two full-length albums and their cover of “Here’s To You/The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti,” which recants the execution of two Italian immigrants wrongly convicted for murder during a 1920 armed robbery in Massachusetts, was adopted by Amnesty International as the theme for their #herestoyou campaign.
A unique collaboration that intertwines poetical and musical forms to raise awareness of real-life triumphs and struggles around the world, NoteSpeak explores creative paths established by such artists as The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and Brian Jackson, but venture down contemporary avenues to address current topics of which many remain unaware. Musically and vocally, NoteSpeak constantly changes, shifting from style to style – acoustic jazz solos into hip-hop beats into harmonized gospel vocals into electronic jazz and fusion into free verse rhyming – and yet seems to consistently groove. Simmons’ delivery swims in the deep waters connecting Nina Simone to Jill Scott, completely obliterating the line between vocalist and poetess: Warning like a mother lioness, whipper-snapping through urban haunts and curiously wondering about it all.
“I love the exploration of the spoken, sung and played mingled. It’s been a joy working with new musicians with NoteSpeak. We’re convinced of its relevance as an original observation deriving from our own unique experience (as each of ours is) of the world today; and in particular we are trying to call attention to some phenomena of which many are unaware,” Simmons explains. “In NoteSpeak, we’re giving ourselves the freedom to just tell these stories with as much craft and beauty and compassion as we can muster.”
In April 2018, Lisa was an invited speaker and performer at the 70th Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado. She presented NoteSpeak in Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic in November 2019, and in India at the Jaipur Music Stage in January 2020.
NoteSpeak’s debut Amori E Tragedie in Musica, released by Ropeadope Records in March 2020, made Downbeat’s “Best of 2020” list, received national radio airplay in Italy, and led to supporting performances in Austria, the Czech Republic, India and Italy.
In March 2021, one of Lisa’s essays was picked up and published by HuffPost, which led to Lisa’s televised interview on The Tamron Hall Show on ABC. Lisa’s essay Interracial Adoption for Beginners appeared in the compilation Chicken Soup for the Soul: I’m Speaking Now. Simmons was also commissioned to write “We’re Gonna Change It” for the non-profit Ampersand Families, which advocates for young persons in the US child welfare system.
Simmons’ creativity also encompasses composing with and for other artists in different genres, including: Ropeadope’s collaborative Nine-Takes performance series during the pandemic lockdown; rock ‘n’ rollers Plan de Fuga; and American roots music on Lisa Bell’s The Italian Project; and soulstress Cheryl Porter, who performed “Consequence” (co-written by Simmons and Cremaschini) at “Two Countries, One Heart” co-sponsored by the American Initiative for Italian Culture, the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras and the Italian Cultural Institute in Washington.
“I am an idealist and I truly believe in making the world a brighter place and contributing in an enlightened evolution of humankind. It seems so obvious to me that love and the thread that connects each of us is all that matters,” Simmons explains. “I want to continue to grow in ways that I cannot even imagine today, to champion those without a voice, to celebrate the gloriousness of existence, to give voice to my inner landscape, to reflect the events that surround us while learning from the past and seeking to aid in avoiding the repetition of history’s worse errors, to share, to know and be known.”
“Beautiful and Powerful” – Giuseppe Saulo Rai Radio 3 “Battiti”
“A serene r&b groove opens ‘Chillax,’ introducing an album that blends poetry and jazz while speaking out against war, ignorance and racism….Across NoteSpeak, the band’s playing remains understated, granting Simmons’ poetry the spotlight. Her words are full of internal rhymes, verbal inflections that move the rhythm in unexpected directions and juxtapositions of imagery that veer from predictable to wildly creative. 4 stars.” –
“All too often with projects such as this, banal lyrics diminish the impact and shorten the shelf-life. Simmons’ words, however, are genuinely poetic rather than journalistic and are used sparingly; in short, her input works.” – Chris May, All About Jazz February 17, 2022
Vocalist Lisa Marie Simmons was born in Colorado, studied music and drama in New York and traveled the world before finally settling down in Northern Italy. A serene r&b groove opens “Chillax,” introducing an album that blends poetry and jazz while speaking out against war, ignorance and racism. Marco Cremaschini’s rippling piano and the subtle, syncopated drumming of Valerio Abeni support Simmons as she urges listeners to relax, let go and let their minds fly off into the mystic. “Returning From Pluto” offers a vision of global unity as seen through the eyes of astronauts, reminding us that we all share this one small planet. Simmons intones a prayer for unity as the band slips into a lengthy Latin coda, featuring congas, muted trumpet and clarinet. Across NoteSpeak, the band’s playing remains understated, granting Simmons’ poetry the spotlight. Her words are full of internal rhymes, verbal inflections that move the rhythm in unexpected directions and juxtapositions of imagery that veer from predictable to wildly creative. j.Poet Downbeat Magazine May 2020
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