New podcast episode now available! It's time to Discover, Learn, and Play Jazz Piano with Liz Kinnon (Part 2)
Nov. 22, 2022

Special Guest, Liz Kinnon

JazzPianoSkills welcomes Liz Kinnon, a Los Angeles jazz pianist, arranger, composer, educator, and film coach.


Liz Kinnon (pianist/arranger/composer/educator/film coach), a native of Los Angeles, has performed all over the world with numerous artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Andy Williams, Barbara Morrison, Sherwood Sledge, Kenia, Octavio Bailly, and Jackie Ryan.

Ms. Kinnon’s songwriting credits include Say Goodbye on Kenia’s Love Lives On CD. Her arrangements have been featured on a variety of recordings and live performances, including The Duke Ellington Memorial Concert with legendary jazz greats Pepper Adams, Sonny Fortune, and full orchestra; strings for Sandy Graham’s 2003 CD, By Request; tracks on jazz vocalist Jackie Ryan’s last three CD releases and ongoing performances. In May 2007, Ms. Kinnon was commissioned to write and perform her own arrangement of Smile with Maiden Voyage (17-piece big band) at the Kennedy Center’s “Tribute to Women In Jazz” and returned in 2010 for a concert to honor jazz icon Mary Lou Williams.

During the 1990s, Ms. Kinnon worked as an orchestrator for Emmy award-winning composers Richard Stone, Steve Bernstein, and Tim Kelly on cartoons Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Histeria; also for composer Shirley Walker on the feature film Mystery Men. Liz went on to compose and record the scores for the documentaries The Life and Times of Jean DePaul (2005) and Nicole Wood: Cars & Beauty (2012) in Los Angeles, CA. She has worked in music preparation for hundreds of films, live performances, and television shows, including many years on the music team for the Academy Awards.

As a young faculty member at the Dick Grove School of Music from 1984-1992, Ms. Kinnon taught classes in jazz theory, arranging, and piano. In 2009 she joined the faculty as Jazz Piano Instructor at the Colburn School of Performing Arts and in 2012 she helped to launch Colburn’s Adult Studies program, where she is currently the Director of Adult Jazz Workshops and teaches other jazz-related classes.

In 2015 Liz drew from her skills as a performer and educator to coach actor Ryan Gosling through preproduction and filming for his role as an accomplished jazz pianist in the film La La Land, for which he won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor. Since then, she has worked as a piano coach on other film projects including Lost Transmissions (Simon Pegg and Juno Temple), Covers (Dakota Johnson), Coda (Eugenio Derbez), Hollywood Stargirl (Uma Thurman and Elijah Richardson), Evolution of Nate Gibson (Hannah Riley), and Mothership.

Ms. Kinnon graduated from the Composing and Arranging Program (CAP) at the Dick Grove School of Music in 1982. She returned to school in 2006 and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Studies with a minor in Communications from CSU Dominguez Hills in 2008. She was selected as one of five Los Angeles artists in 2010 for the prestigious Teaching Artist Training Program (TAAP) conducted by the Music Center Education Foundation.

Ms. Behavin’, Liz’s first solo CD, was released in March 2007. Many top international artists are featured in this dynamic merging of Brazilian, Latin, and bebop jazz.

Warm Regards,
Dr. Bob Lawrence
President, The Dallas School of Music
JazzPianoSkills

AMDG

Transcript

Dr. Bob Lawrence  0:32  
Welcome to jazz piano skills. I'm Dr. Bob Lawrence. It's time to discover, learn and play jazz piano. We've been tackling the key of D major all month with our harmonic workout melodic workout. And last week exploring the classic jazz standard fly me to the moon. So today, it's time to take a little breather, need a little break and enjoy a very special guest. I am beyond thrilled to welcome to jazz panel skills. Liz Kennan. Liz is a world class pianist, arranger, composer, educator and film coach residing in Los Angeles. She has performed worldwide with numerous artists, including Dizzy Gillespie. Now, Liz has been featured on various recordings and live performances including the Duke Ellington memorial concert. In May 22,007. Liz was commissioned to write and perform her own arrangement of smile with maiden voyage, which is a 17 piece big band at the Kennedy Center's tribute to women in jazz, and returned in 2010. For a concert to honor jazz icon, Mary Lou Williams. As a young faculty member at the Deke Grove School of Music from 1984 to 92. Liz taught classes in jazz theory, arranging and piano 2009, she joined the faculty as jazz piano instructor at the Colburn School of Performing Arts. And in 2012, she helped launched Coburn's adult studies program, where she is currently the Director of Adult jazz workshops, and teaches other jazz related classes. In 2015, Liz drew from her skills as a performer and educator to coach actor Ryan Gosling through pre production and filming for his role as an accomplished jazz pianist in the film lala land for which he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor. Since then, Liz has worked on worked as a piano coach on many other prominent film projects. The list is simply too long to share right now, but check out Liz's bio for complete list. Now Liz was selected as one of five Los Angeles artists in 2010 for the prestigious teaching artists training program conducted by the music center Education Foundation misbehave, Liz's first solo CD was released in March of 2007. Many top international artists are featured in this dynamic merging of Brazilian Latin and bebop jazz. I could go on and on and on. But let's get the part one of my interview with lives. Now both the audio and video formats are available for this podcast episode. Of course, you can listen to the audio version through any of the popular podcast directories IR Radio, Spotify, Apple podcast, Google podcast, Amazon music, Pandora, and the list goes on. Or directly at the jazz piano skills podcast website, which is jazz panel skills podcast.com where you can also watch the video of the show as well, which I strongly recommend doing now. It is my great pleasure and honor to welcome to jazz piano skills. Liz cannon.

Liz Kinnon  4:26  
Liz cannon.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  4:29  
I'm speechless. I'm so excited. I'm so fired up. What a blessing to have you on jazz piano skills. I just I'm speechless. And that believe me, Liz, that's hard to do to make me speechless.

Liz Kinnon  4:45  
Well, I'm flattered

Liz Kinnon  4:48  
and that's easy to do. Well, listen, you know,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  4:52  
mistakes are glorious mistakes are glorious. And we I know we tell our students that because through armor

Dr. Bob Lawrence  5:00  
mistakes we learn, right? But embrace the glitches and embrace the glitches. And it was my mistake, my mistake that led to our relationship. And I am. It's just mind blowing to me. So for the listeners, I'll just fill them in here real quick. You had just casually reached out to me sent me an email I had sent out a on a standard Saturday where I send out these tunes to all the list listeners and subscribers. I sent out I think it was Blue Bossa Is that correct. It was in the play along was all messed up something was it was like only doing it was looping halfway through the tune, leaving half the tune off or something like that. And you were just so kind, you were just so gracious. You sent an email and said, Hey, Bob, just FYI, the play along on the backing track on blue bosses got some glitches in it. And sure enough, I went and I listened. I said, Oh my gosh, and fixed it. And then you and I started just kind of emailing back and forth. I thank you and you email me back. And and something I don't know something in those emails. I said, Who is this Liz Kennedy?

Liz Kinnon  6:04  
Who mistakes?

Dr. Bob Lawrence  6:09  
Right? Who is she? And so I just did a little quick, I stalked you, I stalked you, I did a little bit careful. I know it, I did a little Google search on you and my jaw. Immediately my jaw hit the floor. Because I started reading your bio and realized Liz is doing everything that I've ever dreamed about as a professional pianist and an educator. And I said, Oh my gosh, I can't believe that she even took the time to email me and make me aware of my mistakes. And so I read your bio, and I couldn't believe it. And so then I immediately shot back an email to you and said, Liz, you have to come on jazz piano skills, will you please do that? And again, you were kind and gracious enough to say yes. And so here we are.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  7:02  
I'm just blown away. So for you,

Liz Kinnon  7:05  
you're welcome. And thank you, my ego needed a bit of a boost to write about them. And I will just say to clarify that it's very rare that I would like listen to a whole backing track. But as an educator, of course, I'm always looking for better better backing tracks and backing tracks that will help my students. So I see blue boss, and I think how many billions of times have I said, but for whatever reason I thought maybe this is a better one than I've ever heard. And I listen, I this is a really nice backing track on listening. And it got the to almost the end. And it loops back to the beginning of what was that me? So I listened again, same thing. And then I said, Well, I bet this guy really puts out some nice material really material. That's, that's fantastic material. And I know how much time it takes to prepare material in a very clear, concise way. Believe me, I know how much time that takes. I think the last thing that guy needs is me pointing out something that isn't right. So I think I'm first gonna let him know how great his materials are. And they are, they're really, really wonderful. But he probably would like to know that this track isn't quite right. So that's why I wrote you the note. And that was the only reason it was a complete fluke, that I would have even listened to it. So I feel like it was a it was a wonderful connection made through that.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  8:23  
Oh my goodness. It's absolutely fantastic. And so, so yeah, we embrace our mistakes and good things come from them. And look at this. Now we have our friendship and relationship and I'm thrilled to death. So okay, so with all that being said, I want you because we're gonna get into your bio, your professional background, all that all your incredible, amazing accomplishments. And then of course, we're gonna get into education side and teaching as well. But to start, I want to turn the microphone over to you. And I want you just to start at the very beginning, Liz, I want you to go back to your childhood, how you got into music, your parents, siblings, all that kind of stuff. I know you grew up in the Los Angeles area. So anyway, I'm going to shut up. I'm gonna give you the microphone and tell us your story.

Liz Kinnon  9:14  
All right. Well, feel free to cut me off if I go too far with it. Yeah, I grew up in Redondo Beach, and new in the LA area. And my parents were kind of free spirits and all the right ways very liberal and a fairly conservative neighborhood.

Liz Kinnon  9:33  
Definitely loved the arts. Neither of them played an instrument although my mother was very musical she sang she whistled and she said that she taught herself to play the piano as a kid just to spite her parents. We didn't have a piano we really didn't have money and it was still smoke and mirrors till the day she died. My mother said I don't know how we managed to live in in that area. You know, she was a self employed writer.

Liz Kinnon  9:59  
and my father had his own business. And they split up when I was 11. I think it was about 11. But it was a very amicable divorce. And they were very close always. And they both just wanted us to do whatever, whatever made us happy. So I have two younger brothers. The three of us are very close. We were all very close with both my mom and my dad. And my mom took me to well, us, I guess, as kids at some point, I guess probably I was probably about 11 to a friend's house, and there was a piano and I started to play a little bit by ear completely by ear poking around, I knew nothing. And somebody knows somebody there noticed that I had a good ear. And they asked me if do you play the piano? And I said, No. And the but somehow it got into me that somebody thought that I had some sort of talent or something. So I it's sort of like planted a seed in there. And then I discovered rock and roll and pop music. And honestly, I discovered Leon Russell.

Liz Kinnon  11:05  
And I said, oh, boy, I want to play like that guy. But we didn't have a piano. So at the time, I was doing a lot of babysitting. Yes, it was a problem. So I was doing a lot of babysitting. I was about 14 or 15. And I was doing a lot of babysitting, and I saved up my money, my babysitting money. And I bought an old funky upright piano. And it didn't fit in the door of the house. So a friend had to take the window frame off of my bedroom, and somehow get it through the window into my room. And I had a piano in my room. And I would mess around on it. I couldn't read. But before that, even I was very interested in music and playing. And there was an old lady that lived down the street, named Dorothy, she lived alone and she had a piano. She liked me and she let me come over and play her piano. And that was when I realized we you know, we really I need to have a piano. And as I said, my mom was just trying to put food on the table. So I got the piano and right about that time. My mom who was a writer, decided she wanted to write her first book. She had done a lot of articles for magazines and and

Liz Kinnon  12:16  
all kinds of stuff. She she wrote copy, she did anything that would honestly put food on the table. And she decided she wanted to write a biography and she loved the arts. And she decided her first biography was going to be about Stan Kim. Wow, of all people, right? So I'm like Stan, who, you know, give me like on Russell, Taylor, Stills and Nash was just so started doing research. And part of her research was she went to a clinic of his at Redlands, and she took me and I, there was something about that music and about that whole thing that really, really lit a fire in me. Wow. And I there was really no turning back. I started to I got out of I guess I was in my senior year of high school. She wrote the book. It's called straight ahead, the story of Stan Kenton, it's a fantastic biographer she biography. And she went on to write three other biographies that we're all very, very well researched a lot of integrity and writing them. And so can we still get our hands on that book? Yes, I think it's out of print. But you can you can find it or get it from the library or, okay. Okay, something like that. Anyway, if you're, I imagine you're interested in Stan Kenton, and she traveled on the bus with the band. She interviewed. She had some wild stories about all of that, but well, just just FYI. Stan Kenton right. I did my master's and doctorate degree at the University of North Texas and Stan Kenton left his entire library to U NT to North Texas. And the big jazz performance hall at North Texas is called Ken Hall. How about that? Yeah. Well, i i So you know, growing up in the household I did with her typing away on her typewriter, that biography. And sometimes she would leave for a few days to travel and interview somebody. And it was very, very well researched and written with a, as I said, a great deal of integrity, standard and like the book because it was an honest book. It didn't it didn't tell everything. But it didn't say that he was a saint. So it was an honest book. And I so from there, I was a senior in high school, I had all my credits. So I got to go to the local community college for some classes in the afternoon and what classes did I decide to take survey of jazz, and I decided to trial for the jazz band.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  14:50  
Wow. Stop there. First stop there for a second. So up to this point, up to this point right now if I'm hearing you correctly. You, You haven't had any formal training or lessons at all. At no, this is all you in your bedroom with this old piano that you purchased through you know saving up through babysitting and such. You that was kind of like your your tablet, your computer at that time you were just addicted to it just playing on it trying to figure things out by ear. Exactly. Normal trainees. So here we go. You're graduated from high school and, and we're at college now.

Liz Kinnon  15:28  
Yeah, well, I was still in high school. I was a sophomore in high school, right and right about that. I found out about a teacher who lived not too far. He rode a motorcycle. And he was really cool. And somebody said, Why don't you get this guy and my mom said she would scrape together the 30 bucks for the guy to come and give me a lesson. But there was absolutely nothing to do with technique. Nothing. He taught me some cool stuff and great. He came for probably, I don't know how long he came six, six months or something. But no, I didn't have formal training. And I decided I wanted to play in the jazz band at El Camino College. And I tried out even though I and I got in because nobody else auditioned. Now, here's why I got in. Now, I still might not have gotten in, except that I played with really good time. And I knew chords, I could sort of improvise. But I could not read notes. I mean, really, I really could not read notes. I knew fac E but I couldn't read. But I hadn't arrived. I feel like there are some things that I that I was not given a gift for. But two things that I think have been absolutely critical in my career and everything is good time. And a good touch. So it wasn't very lucky.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  16:52  
Yeah, it was it was an Evil Knievel that taught you the chords or

Dr. Bob Lawrence  16:57  
you know, you know, you know who Evil Knievel is.

Liz Kinnon  17:03  
That was an excellent segue there. He did teach me some chords, yes. Oh, yeah. In a basic way. And I and then I just became just, I just was thinking all the time about stuff. And I would be on the bus. And I would think wow, and augmented, try it. And I'd be thinking about augmented triads. And I realized, Oh, my God, I don't even have to try it. That's symmetrical. And that means that any one of these three notes could be, you know, so I started just put making connections and putting stuff together because I have a math brain too. And so, so I played in that jazz band, and I did my homework, man, I came home and I wrote the names of those notes. And I could get by all right, except if it was something like that, like a bassy. Straight ahead, kind of basically straight ahead, you know, the chart. And then I realized, whoa, there's a few spots here that I really need to nail. And other than that I can get by with my feel and my sort of kind of improvising, right?

Liz Kinnon  18:02  
So so then I started working on reading, and to this day, I'm not a great reader, but I, as far as notes go and vertically and stuff like that, but Right. So I did that for a while. And then after my senior year, because I was doing that at the same time, as I was finishing my senior year of high school. So at the end of that year, the teacher survey of Jess, in that in that semester, I took survey of jazz. So I was probably the youngest one in the class. I was still in high school, but the teacher of that class at El Camino College was Dr. Tom Owens, who was a he was a brilliant, kind, generous man who did his dissertation for his PhD on Charlie Parker.

Liz Kinnon  18:44  
So he was very quiet and and but he knew his stuff and he took a an interest in my, in my interest. And I started learning the survey of jazz class was fantastic, you know, just taking us through the history of jazz and when he hit bebop, I just about exploded in that room. I just I had never really heard that before, because Stan Kenton wasn't Bebop. No, but I heard at the clinic. This the other stuff I heard it really wasn't bebop, but when when when Dr. Owens played bebop, I there was something about that, that just grabbed me just absolutely blew my mind. So yeah, he took me on as an independent study student, and I started transcribing solos. And it was very as I'm sure you remember, it was very, very tedious at the time and I either did it using the phonograph needle, one hand picking it up and finding it here and picking it up. Or a cassette recorder which I would stop and then and then you pick that up. Did you Did you happen to have the Marantz cuz I was just I was just about to say until I got the Marantz machine where you put it on. What

Dr. Bob Lawrence  19:55  
Wasn't that a lifesaver? 

Liz Kinnon  19:58  
Who needs Christmas cuz that was in that that was just magic that it didn't take it down an octave. So I use that until it wore out. And then I just started trying to do things just at full speed. I mean, not super fast stuff, but yeah, right. And so, yeah, Dr. Owens that he so at the end of that year, he announced that they were going to have a two week free jazz camp. Because it was the first time they were doing it up at College of the Redwoods, which is in Northern California. Right, two weeks live there.

Liz Kinnon  20:35  
There were four instruct instructors, and they were all jazz educators. I didn't know anything, really. But I thought for free. Wow. Hey, Mom, I'd like to go to this free jazz camp. She goes, go have fun.

Liz Kinnon  20:52  
With the price, the price is right. Do I had to pay for my plane ticket to get up there and bless his heart, one of the instructors came and picked me up from the little Arcata airport and took me there. And for two weeks, I was immersed in really what jazz education is about. And I had never ever, ever had any, any experience like that. It was it was really great, where you're living with people. And at that time, I also it was, it was great for every reason, but one of the most important things I got out of that was that I heard. So I was the least experienced person. They put you in groups, you know, they placed the green group and they don't say the best and the worst. No, but I was in the least experienced group. But but there was a guy there. That was I think he was one year older than me. And he absolutely blew me away. He he could play any style. He had a I guess you'd say a photographic memory. He could play in a play any style. And he was about my age, maybe a year or two older than I was. And he was the nicest person ever, so

Liz Kinnon  22:03  
fantastic and everywhere, in every way. And it turned out that one of the four teachers for that camp was John prince from Cal State Long Beach. They had a great program at the time. And he just he just grabbed that guy and said, You're going to come to college. I think he he he definitely made him a very nice offer. And that guy to this day, I just saw him a couple days ago. His name is Jim Cox. Jim Cox is a studio piano player place. He's He's to this day one of my favorite pianists in the world. And he would be so embarrassed to hear me say that because he's he's that kind of guy. But anyway, I realized that somebody my age somebody like me could really learn to play and he's he's far he's like one in a million but right I was introduced to the fact that whoa, this this is what can happen. So that was a great experience. I came home and I just started realized that I better take some lessons so I still no technique lessons. And ever and but there was a guy in LA at the time named

Liz Kinnon  23:10  
Charlie Shoemake. He moved out of LA now but he was the guy people went to study bebop improv, and lots and lots and lots and lots of people went to him. So I went to him and I got what I could from him. And at the time, he was the right guy for me. And I learned a lot and most of that had to do with he had transcribed solos, hundreds and hundreds of solos. So I you know, every week you go and you learned some voicings, I learned some voicings from him and I would play the transcribe solo that he had transcribed. And he would say, you know, pick a phrase and play it in every key. He didn't call him licks, he called them phrases and, and then play good voicing. And one of the one of the great things he said to me, he said, my goal is for you to never play a dumb chord. So that had to do with voicings, you know, like a dumb voicing. So I say that to my students now. They don't, yeah, always accomplish that. But so I started with him for a while and I was just doing gigs and just whatever. And

Liz Kinnon  24:19  
I was living with in a in a house with three Canadian guys that had moved down to LA to study at the dick Grove School of Music. I don't know if you are familiar. Okay. So very first, that was the galley. I lived at the beach. I was in a disco band with two of those guys. And they said, We need a roommate. And I said, what I'm going to move into this house with three guys. And they go and I'm still living at home with my my mom and my brothers. And they said oh, well, we really need a roommate. And I said Well, no. And then they said, well, we'll give you the master bedroom with your own bath and I looked at them and I said

Liz Kinnon  24:57  
it was there any question that if I Is this that I would have the master bedroom with my I mean, guys and me, you know, so I but I grew up with brothers. And I was so always on boy. And I was already doing gigs, always with guys. I was very comfortable. So I thought go out there and let you know. Okay, so I did. So I lived with these, these three guys that were musicians that came down from Vancouver, Canada to study at the degrowth school. So I went over the dick row school, I thought, ooh, this looks pretty great. I met a grove. I took a class and harmony. And I was absolutely addicted. I mean, they're right. Absolutely.

Liz Kinnon  25:41  
And I talked to Dick and he hired me to work in the office, the front office worked in the front office for a while, I took another harmony class. And I was really addicted. And I somebody said, you know, you should you should apply for an NCAA scholarship. National Endowment for the Arts. Yes, it right. So I had written a couple of tunes. And I had written a very, very bad Big Band chart. I didn't know what I was doing. I really did not know what I was doing. But I had a good sense of rhythm Bart. I had, I had a really good sense of rhythm and could write hip phrases, but I didn't know how to orchestrate them. So I had the trombones and Unison all I mean, it was terrible, but but the ideas were good. So I sent this thing away along with some letters of recommendation, including one from Phil Cohen, who was a Dr. Phil Cohen from Concordia University in Canada, he used to come down to LA to give like, that's a whole other story. But he was a very, very, very special man and educator and unique person in every way. And I was really lucky to get some sessions with him. And so I got these, I threw stuff out there I sent in the application. A few months later, somebody came into the office and said, oh, i Congratulations. And I said, What? And because I was about 21 or two, and I said, Oh, you read that you got an NEA grant. And I went, what? I had forgotten that. I mean, I didn't write well, I got the grant. And I had applied to do the one year composing and arranging program with the growth. And they gave me the grant. And I made the whole thing one year. So I was teaching there. I mean, no, I was I'm sorry, I was working there in the office. I was doing the program. And it changed my life. Deke Grove as an educator and a person changed my life as a musician, as well from a career for as an educator, even though I was not teaching at the time yet at all. But I really learned a lot from him. And he was, took me under his wing a little bit very nice. And after I finished, he offered me a job as his TA, which was really I'm getting paid to, to really assimilate this stuff that this, he was phenomenal. Really? Yeah. So then he asked me to teach for him. And I did that. And then I would continue to do gigs and write arrangements. And I mean, where do you want me to stop here? Oh, my God. Well, this is that you you've kind of your story. I mean, you you realize this, right? You defeated the odds here because, you know, growing up

Liz Kinnon  28:24  
getting a piano late in your life, poking around on that piano without any formal training or guidance or instruction until high school, late high school, and and then having everything kind of unravel unfold for you after that with the connections and ending up with Digg. You. I mean, you defeated the odds, because the if you painted, if you told me your story without telling me the ending, if you just kind of set up your story at the beginning, I would say that you were probably an accountant, now, you know, doing something totally different than music, because the odds are that it would not turn out like it turned out for you. You just Yeah, it's a miracle. Well, you're right. I feel very, very lucky. I did leave out one of the most important pieces of the puzzle that I just remembered. I was so lucky that as a late teenager when I did get the piano and I did get into jazz. I lived in Redondo Beach, approximately 12 minutes from the lighthouse in Hermosa the lighthouse, right? So the lighthouse being I'm sure anybody that watches this will know about the lighthouse, but it was the jazz club on the West Coast. And everybody would go through LA did the west coast and they would play the lighthouse. I mean, everybody I saw everybody, every Wednesday night they had Ladies Night. So this was sorry guys, but you could call it discrimination but on Wednesday nights, if you were female, there was no cover charge you had why your drink minimum. I was far from 21 So I went no cover every Wednesday, every Wednesday for a couple of years.

Liz Kinnon  30:07  
No cover charge, I would buy my two surely temples, and or, you know, seven ups or whatever. And I would sit there I went alone. Wow. At the time the lighthouse there was a stage and there were pews like kind of like church pews facing. I mean, the stage was on site in the pews. Anyway, it was sort of like an L shaped facing it was very small club. And I would sit in in the pews. I would, I would have my religious experience, or I would sit in the car. I I had a chance honestly, I had an I had the opportunity to see the greatest everybody came through there along with a guys that lived in LA that played there somewhat regular like blue Mitchell and Harold land played there. Now the player probably played there every few months or li guys but the other guys that came through I mean, everybody from everybody would come through and I sat and I listened to the music. And I was inspired. But one of the most important things besides just getting the getting the language and getting the phrasing and getting the all of that in my head was seeing the interplay of the musicians. Right. And never I never thought about it. I just right. I just internalized it from watching. And I didn't realize until many years later, honestly, what an impact that made and why I was always so comfortable playing in a group. Right? You know, more so than playing solo to this day, I would much rather planet group and play solo piano. Right. Well, that see, that's a big piece of the puzzle for your life as well. Right?

Dr. Bob Lawrence  31:41  
Talk about being in the right, you know, growing up there in that area, that Redondo Beach area and then have an access there to the job and, and hearing all the great players. I mean, you were just kind of immersed in it. I mean, it was just all around you.

Liz Kinnon  31:55  
So exactly what a blessing. You know, it was absolutely amazing.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  32:00  
So okay, so now let's talk about now that we kind of have an idea of your your background.

Liz Kinnon  32:05  
Okay, what's your story just gets even weirder. No, I was actually gonna say more amazing. It just gets more amazing because your professional accolades just absolutely blow my mind. Like, he played with Dizzy Gillespie. Well, I would love to tell you that he called me to do that. He didn't call me to do it. But I did play with him because I was playing in a group at the time. And we got hired to play on a jazz cruise. And we were one of four groups maybe, and Dizzy was hired to play on the jazz crews. And Sandy Graham singer Sandy Graham. Yep. And so we did our own sets. But then we also played with Dizzy for a he didn't bring a band. He just he was on the on the he came to play, right. They said, Oh, well, this group they they're going to that the group that I was in at the time was called the jazz birds and Stacy rolls, trumpet player, and Betty O'Hara who played trombone and horns.

Liz Kinnon  33:08  
We and bass player drummer, so we bet we got to play with Dizzy. We played his set with him every night that he played. And that was like, great. Oh my gosh, that's a that's a dream come true there. I mean, holy it was he didn't kick me down. So I figured, okay, well, they don't come any bigger than physical. Come any bigger than that. So no. Okay, what about all the stuff you're doing in Hollywood? Oh, my gosh, all this movie stuff. Are you kidding me? Like the La La Land experience with Ryan Gosling.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  33:38  
Okay, talk. Talk to us about that, because I'm reading everything that you're doing there. How did all that happen?

Liz Kinnon  33:46  
Well, I was I was, I was a player, I am a player. I am a player. But I was predominantly a player at that time doing some arrangements that came up. If I was in a group and I wanted to do some, I would just do an arrangement doing stuff like that. And I did teach at the degrowth school for 10 At least 10 years while I was doing gigs and other stuff, and then the school closed and then I was freelancing, again doing gigs and various other things, music preparation, stuff like that. And then I started teaching at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, which is a performing arts school very fine, wonderful place and I'm still there. And somebody called the a one of the producers for lala land called and spoke with the assistant dean at the time and said Can you recommend a piano coach for our actor we're going to be doing this movie that is a featuring a jazz pianist is going to be the lead role. And she she thought of me and she told him to call me.

Liz Kinnon  34:51  
So I answered, and I found out a little more about it and just to kind of cut to the chase

Liz Kinnon  35:00  
So I spoke with a few people. And I, they said, why don't you go meet with him and see how it feels? And I said, Okay, great. So I went and met with him. And we talked for a while. And he said, Have you ever coach, I'm talking about Ryan right now? Have you ever coached an actor for a film on piano? And I said, No, I have not. But I, I have no doubt that it would, it will work fine. Because first of all, I am a jazz piano. Second of all, I've been teaching for a very long time. And third, I grew up in Los Angeles. And that film is an homage to La as much as it is an homage to jazz. So we talked about a lot of things we talked about kids we talked about, you know, and he gave me a thumbs up, and they hired me. And so we started working. And

Liz Kinnon  35:50  
that was a very intense, the biggest gig of that type that that I've had, and it was my first. So I learned a lot. And the the music team was fantastic, really, the the music supervisor, and the music producer, and everybody and the director, they really helped me to make it very, very successful. And it was, and I'm very proud of it. After that. I got a lot of calls from people asking if I could teach them to play jazz piano in three months. And yes, yes, yes. We were that successful at the. So I've signed up for that class, Liz. Right. I am. Okay.

Liz Kinnon  36:37  
So after that, though, you know, I get calls from other people to do the same thing. And now I've worked with many, like, probably, I think I just finished with maybe the 13th Act, working on something like that to prepare, really, it's preparing an actor for a role that that includes playing the piano. And this is for an actor that that really doesn't play. So we as musicians take a lot for granted. But the the, the whole point is to prepare them to be a professional in that role and to be ready for it. So that's what I do.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  37:15  
Wow. Well, what of how cool is that? I mean, just really, like, how cool is that? That's awesome.

Liz Kinnon  37:20  
It's a real quirky niche.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  37:23  
Yeah, it's awesome. Right? So listen, before we get because I want to I want to start talking about some jazz education with you as well. But before we do that, before we do that, I want you to talk about misbehaving. Oh, well, thank you. Ms. Yeah. Great. Yeah. misbehaving. Okay. What a great liberator. Right? You're right.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  37:48  
What a great CD. What a great recording. Oh, my goodness. I've been I've been listening to it. I've been binging on it. And you. So talk a little bit about that project. And I want everybody listening. You gotta go check it out. Right. It's out there. Amazon Music Spotify, me and everywhere, right. And even a hardcopy in hardcopy as well.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  38:11  
So, talk talk about that, because it's got everything Brazilian Latin bebop, the whole nine yards. Talk about that project in that recording.

Liz Kinnon  38:21  
Well, thank you very much for bringing that up. Yes, I have one CD out. And I finally did it some years ago took a long time to do it because I it was interrupted by having two kids and working and running out of money and running out of time and all that but I did finally finish it there.

Liz Kinnon  38:39  
So I played all kinds of Music, Pop, jazz, bebop, all kinds of stuff like that contemporary music. And then And then came the day my life changed. And I heard Afro Cuban music. And I about I mean, I had that same like electricity, feeling as I did when I had heard bebop back in Dr. Owens class. I heard Afro Cuban music in in a in a court, my degrowth class on composing and arranging my the program I did one day, he did Afro Cuban. And he brought a guy in who played stuff and talked about the pieces as they, you know, meet together, the pieces of the puzzle in the music, you know, the parts, and I was just mesmerized, and I remember Dick walked by me and he said, I can see the gears turning in your head. And I just was fascinated. It was the syncopation and it just grabbed me. So I said, Okay, I have to learn a little little something about this. So I learned more than a little something about it. And I listened a lot. And I learned my little piano. Montesinos, and I learned all that stuff on my own. And then I did a rehearsal band that wasn't Latin. That was just a big band. And a guy there said, oh, you know,

Liz Kinnon  39:55  
I have a gig. This guy Bobby Redfield, he was playing with our piano player has to leave. And I wonder if you want to do a join the game. It's an afro Cuban Latin jets. And the piano player at that time was Charlie Otwell, who was playing with Pancho Sanchez. And he was getting too busy. So I go, Yeah, I'd be interested. So the leader said, Go to Charlie's house and have him check you out to make sure that you can you know, your. So I said, Well, I really want to be in a group like this. I practiced my mantra knows I'm Yeah. So I go to Charlie's house. And Charlie. He was great and played a little bit. And then he said,

Liz Kinnon  40:37  
Yeah, sure, sure. You can do the gig. So I got my piano Rhodes in the car, and I go down to the gig and I walked in and I knew my friend, the percussionist Kurt at the time was doing the gig and Bobby, but I didn't know who else was blank. And I walked in and sitting there setting up was Pancho Sanchez, and his bass player and drummer, which were the Vonda brothers at the time. This was the gig that night. So I said, Oh, whoa, okay. So I set up my stuff. And I started, we started playing Mambo and poncho kept turning back on one, one. So I was fine doing my Montuno was by myself. But when I was in the in the group with the bass playing, not on one and all that stuff. I was I wasn't there, you know, and it took about

Liz Kinnon  41:27  
then all three of those guys were yelling one. They could have been really horrible to me, and I would have deserved it. But they were so nice. And honestly, about the third Mambo we played, something clicked. And I got it. It was just I got it. I understood where the pieces went that fit together. I just got it. And I stayed, I was in that band, Poncho had his own band. So he didn't play in the band very often. But I was in that band for probably three or four years. And then somebody heard me in that band, and they said, we have a Brazilian gig, do you? And I said, Well, I'm presuming that that sounds good. So I went I did this Brazilian gig. And the guy said, Oh, we're going to start a trio of Brazilian guys. And so I said, Yes.

Liz Kinnon  42:17  
Because I can pick up on stuff and I do my homework religiously. I listen to all the stuff I figured out. So I got into Brazilian music from that. I then I got called to be in the band. This was one of the most flattering things ever. Ottavio Bailey who goes went back to he came from Brazil, and he played with Sergio Mendes and everybody and he and Claudio Sloane were the two guys in LA that played Brazil. They were the guys to play Brazilian music, drums and bass, a generation older than me. And Octavio said, I'm starting a group do you want to be in it? And I thought,

Liz Kinnon  42:52  
Wait, who? And I joined his band. So it was it was remarkable. And it was exciting. And it was it was such a great experience for me Lucky, lucky lucky. And from that, Claudio left the band and Enzo came into the band and ends up today's go drums. And when that gig ended, which was a year and a half, five nights a week. So also, I decided, you know, we've been playing together five nights a week, I need to record my stuff with these guys. While we're while we're hot, you know, right? And so that's where that CD came from. And it's called misbehave. And that's like a little a play on you know, ain't misbehaving Haven. And what that is the title track. So the whole CD is Latin and Latin, Latin, jazz, Brazilian Latin oriented, except for the very last little short little piece, which is a little solo piano piece. But everything else would just absolutely, which is absolutely beautiful, by the way. Thank you. That's solo piano piece. And that was for your two sons, right? Yeah. Having an Eric Right. Yes.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  44:06  
I listened to it last evening. And I just closed my eyes. And I thought, wow, that is just some

Liz Kinnon  44:13  
Oh, thank you.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  44:15  
Very good playing it was. So okay, I didn't want to get that. I just wanted to get that in there.

Liz Kinnon  44:20  
So go get that in there. Thank you. Let's see, I started the CD.

Liz Kinnon  44:27  
Because you know, when you play in a group with the same guys for a long period of time, there's something that happens that can't happen in any other way unless magically thrown in a group with some. So I really wanted to capitalize on that. And so we did, I think five tunes, and then life got in the way and and many years later, I thought I better finish this thing. And so I did and fortunately, Octavio and Enzo, were still around here, and they they were able to play on the rest of the tracks, but I also have good song they're like players that I know including my husband, who is a fantastic replayer Dick Mitchell. And he puts so he plays all the read stuff, flute stuff everything on there but I had some great players. And the the title track misbehaving is a contra fact on ain't misbehaving. And it's a Brazilian shorty Newsline, a samba thing that I wrote on on the changes for Ain't Misbehavin, and I featured CC rolls on Flugel horn.

Liz Kinnon  45:29  
One still to this day, one of my favorite players ever she's gone now. But yeah, that's how that CD came along. And so I got to ask all my favorite players to play on it and wrote most of the tunes. I did some arrangements on a couple of things. But I, I am really happy that I did that documented that.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  45:49  
Well, it's fabulous. Thank you. I've like I said, I've been binging on it. And that's what I loved Smile. Smile is awesome. Thank you really, really nice treatment. And now I'm curious. Do your sons Kevin and Eric, do they? Do they play? Do they are they musicians,

Liz Kinnon  46:05  
they're very musical. And they did play. But at this point in their lives, they're in their mid and late 20s. They're not they're not professional musicians, but they're super musical. And they played for a long time. And they play for enjoyment and do other things. But they they you know, grew up growing up in a house with two musicians and they really couldn't get away from it. So they're, they're great audiences, and they appreciate my my older son Kevin always sends me music that he's listening to because he wants to keep me up on on stuff that I probably wouldn't hear otherwise. And he's right. And they're Yeah, they're both doing their own thing.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  46:45  
Yeah, it's fascinating, right? You and your husband, professional musicians, you know, me, me and my wife were professional musicians and, and our boys are baseball players. I like what the heck, you know, but it's, but it's kind of funny. I love I love I love antagonizing, because I'll use musical terms with all their baseball talk. I'll say hey, man, when's the when's the audition? Tonight?

Liz Kinnon  47:07  
I do the same thing I do. Yeah.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  47:10  
And they go. It's called a tryout. Well,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  47:17  
yeah. Or I'll say wins the rehearsal. And they go, Dad, it's called practice. All right. Okay. All right.

Liz Kinnon  47:23  
Well, I know my younger son played baseball, and I use baseball terminology sometimes or sports terminology in my teaching, in lots of ways because right baseball is baseball and books and nature. Besides music, give me baseball books and nature and so sorry about the Dodgers this year. Right? Right. What happened there? So I don't know. Who knows. Right. So well, I'm right with you. So let's talk a little bit about education. Liz.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  47:51  
I hope you have found part one of this jazz piano skills podcast interview with special guests, Liz cannon to be insightful and of course to be very beneficial. Next week, Liz will share her insight and expertise when it comes to jazz education, you definitely want to check it out. One of my mentors and teachers out Franzen would say to me after every lesson never forget, the greatest thing about music is the people you meet through it. And the privilege of meeting and spending time with Liz simply confirms our sentiment 100% We get to listen to part two of this interview next week. Now no mas class this Thursday evening, I will be home celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. And I hope you all have a very restful and blessed Thanksgiving holiday. If you need to reach me, you can always do so by phone through the Dallas School of Music. My number here at the school is 972-380-8050 My office extension is 211 you can reach out by email Dr. Lawrence. That's Dr. Lawrence at jazz piano skills.com. Or you can use the nifty little SpeakPipe widget that is found throughout the entire jazz panel Skills website to send me a message that way.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  49:14  
Well, there is my cue. That's it for now. And until next week. Enjoy the journey. Joy the pearls of wisdom shared by Liz Kim. And most of all, have fun as you discover, learn and play jazz Piano.

Liz Kinnon Profile Photo

Liz Kinnon

Jazz Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Educator, Film Coach

Liz Kinnon (pianist/arranger/composer/educator/film coach), a native of Los Angeles, has performed all over the world with numerous artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Andy Williams, Barbara Morrison, Sherwood Sledge, Kenia, Octavio Bailly, and Jackie Ryan.

Ms. Kinnon’s songwriting credits include Say Goodbye on Kenia’s Love Lives On CD and her arrangements have been featured on a variety of recordings and live performances including The Duke Ellington Memorial Concert with legendary jazz greats Pepper Adams, Sonny Fortune, and full orchestra; strings for Sandy Graham’s 2003 CD, By Request; tracks on jazz vocalist Jackie Ryan’s last three CD releases and ongoing performances. In May 2007 Ms. Kinnon was commissioned to write and perform her own arrangement of Smile with Maiden Voyage (17-piece big band) at the Kennedy Center’s “Tribute to Women In Jazz” and returned in 2010 for a concert to honor jazz icon Mary Lou Williams.

During the 1990s, Ms. Kinnon worked as an orchestrator for Emmy award-winning composers Richard Stone, Steve Bernstein, and Tim Kelly on cartoons Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Histeria; also for composer Shirley Walker on the feature film Mystery Men. Liz went on to compose and record the scores for the documentaries The Life and Times of Jean DePaul (2005) and Nicole Wood: Cars & Beauty (2012) in Los Angeles, CA. She has worked in music preparation for hundreds of films, live performances, and television shows including many years on the music team for the Academy Awards.

As a young faculty member at the Dick Grove School of Music from 1984-1992, Ms. Kinnon taught classes in jazz theory, arranging, and piano. In 2009 she joined the faculty as Jazz Piano Instructor at the Colburn School of Performing Arts and in 2012 she helped to launch Colburn’s Adult Studies program, where she is currently the Director of Adult Jazz Workshops and teaches other jazz-related classes.

In 2015 Liz drew from her skills as a performer and educator to coach actor Ryan Gosling through preproduction and filming for his role as an accomplished jazz pianist in the film La La Land, for which he won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor. Since then she has worked as piano coach on other film projects including Lost Transmissions (Simon Pegg and Juno Temple), Covers (Dakota Johnson), Coda (Eugenio Derbez), Hollywood Stargirl (Uma Thurman and Elijah Richardson), Evolution of Nate Gibson (Hannah Riley), and Mothership.

Ms. Kinnon graduated from the Composing and Arranging Program (CAP) at the Dick Grove School of Music in 1982. She returned to school in 2006 and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Studies with a minor in Communications from CSU Dominguez Hills in 2008. She was selected as one of five Los Angeles artists in 2010 for the prestigious Teaching Artist Training Program (TAAP) conducted by the Music Center Education Foundation.

Ms. Behavin’, Liz’s first solo CD, was released in March 2007. Many top international artists are featured in this dynamic merging of Brazilian, Latin, and bebop jazz.