her 2017 album Red Diamonds, pianist / composer
Gina Leneé receives support from a stellar crew of musiciansrecorded
by the acclaimed production / engineering / musician team of Windham
Hill founder Will Ackerman and engineer / co-producer Tom
Eaton. The Ackerman - Eaton producing alliance has yielded a prolific
amount of spectacular production work in recent yearsincluding
recent titles by Australian piano composer Fiona Joy. Clearly, New
Age / Contemporary instrumental music fans will catch a positive buzz
from both the music and sound of Gina Leneé's Red Diamonds.
Speaking about her new album in the following interview, Gina
tells mwe3.com, "Red Diamonds is my seventh and most evocative
project to date. The songs were inspired by my deepest and most passionate
feelings about what is most precious to me; rare and cherished moments
that play over and over in my mind. Red is a passionate color and
my favorite. I also learned that red diamonds are the most rare and
precious gemstones of all; only a handful in the world. I thought
the theme was perfect for this album. The musicians that graciously
contributed absolutely brilliant additions to my original songs deserved
no less than to be considered as red diamonds - gems of the project."
Studio support by Will Ackerman (guitar) by Tom Eaton (fretless bass,
guitar), Jeff Oster (flugelhorn), Eugene Friesen (cello)
and other top players adds much to the overall sound. Filled with
imaginative compositions and arrangements, Red Diamonds is
a welcome addition to the New Age music repertoire of Gina
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Can you tell us where youre from originally and where you live
now and what you like best about it? What cities, states and countries
are your favorites?
Gina Leneé: I was born in Madera, a somewhat small farming
community in the center of California. My parents and their families
grew up there too, so it was pretty sure thing that my brother and
I would also be raised there. I still live 20 minutes from my hometown.
I dont love the summer heat here, but I do appreciate that we
are just a few hours drive from the beach, or the mountains.
Italy is definitely for me, the most beautiful place in the world.
The food, the wine
oh yes! I love the lifestyle that is enjoyed
there, a bit slower, savoring each and every day and moment as though
it was a chocolate truffle. When people ask me if Im Italian,
I tell them thats the best compliment Ive ever received.
Although Im not a true italian, I have fallen in love with the
country and all its treasures and look forward to my next trip.
Hoping one day to perform at the Ravello Concert Society Festival.
That would be amazing for me.
mwe3: What was your musical education like and what era of
music did you grow up in? When did you start playing piano and did
you go on to study different aspects of performance art with an interest
in becoming a composer and recording artist? Who were the artists
that inspired you in music, film, art in general?
Gina Leneé: I come from a family where music was a part
of our daily life in our home. Music was played daily in our home.
Sunday afternoons included a family jam session; Dad playing
his guitar, and mom singing with him in harmony. Some families are
into sports, travel and other interests, our familys thing
My parents were renting a piano by the month for my brother to take
lessons. I started pecking out the songs on the piano that I had memorized
from kindergarten and Sunday school. My parents noticed, and decided
to take me to piano lessons, too. I was 4. My piano soon became my
favorite way to express any feeling or thought I had. As a somewhat
shy little girl, it was a language that came much easier for me. I
took early piano lessons for a few years, but never caught onto reading
sheet music. It came easier for me to figure the songs out once I
heard them a few times, and play my version.
school, 1980s music was the rage. Madonna, The Police, Michael Jackson,
Depeche Mode, Rush
all bands I loved listening too then, and
they still sound just as good to me now, 30 years after graduation.
My aunt gave me my first CD. It was Forest, by George Winston/Windham
Hill Records. I played it over and over. It was different music than
Id ever listened too, and I was inspired. To now be produced
by Will Ackerman, the same man who produced George Winston, well
its a pretty surreal come full circle you could say.
I appreciate all forms of art and really enjoy meeting other artists,
whether their medium is paint, dance, or music. My daughters are both
talented artists, putting their heart into painting and graphic art.
My oldest daughter chose her career as a graphic artist and lives
near the SF Bay.
mwe3: You mention your music benefits different causes and
organizations. What causes and organizations matter most to you and
should music be more political or involved with promoting the common
Gina Leneé: For 15 years I worked for hospitals and
organizations creating and planning events that would raise hundreds
of thousands of dollars for our community and families it served.
From summer camps for kids with muscular dystrophy to granting wishes
for those with life threatening diseases, I felt it was the career
that I was made for. I loved getting to know the families and making
a positive difference in the lives of kids and adults who needed someone
on their side. I was fortunate to combine the two things I loved the
most; helping other AND making music, so I performed at many of the
events, and even produced a multi-sensory concert, as part of my album
release to raise funds to purchase keyboards and to start a music
program for kids with all abilities.
the softest spot in my heart for kids and adults that are hurting,
whether physically or emotionally. I also advocate for animal and
human rights and better than fair treatment for people of all backgrounds,
faiths and orientation. I really believe that we arent so different
from one another after all, and we all have dreams, passions, fears,
challenges and triumphs. I chose the title, Under the Same Sky
for my 2012 album release as a message that echoes my desire for people
to better understand others, be kind to one another, and work together
for a more peaceful future.
Music is universally understood, and can bring people together. As
an artist, I have a responsibility and privilege to use my music as
a platform that amplifies the voice of change, in every situation,
whatever the cause is that makes YOUR eyes light up when you talk
mwe3: What gave you the idea to create an album with a strong
title, Red Diamonds and how do you think the title reflects
your music? Its such an evocative title and cover art concept.
Gina Leneé: Red Diamonds is my seventh and most
evocative project to date. The songs were inspired by my deepest and
most passionate feelings about what is most precious to me; rare and
cherished moments that play over and over in my mind. Red is a passionate
color and my favorite. I also learned that red diamonds are the most
rare and precious gemstones of all; only a handful in the world. I
thought the theme was perfect for this album. The musicians that graciously
contributed absolutely brilliant additions to my original songs deserved
no less than to be considered as red diamonds - gems of the project.
mwe3: How did the relationship start between you and Will Ackerman
and Tom Eaton? Did Will put the team together that recorded the Red
Diamonds album with you and what was it like recording in Vermont?
What were your impressions of Vermont? Seems like Will and Tom continue
to have great results with totally unique results with the same players.
Have you gotten to know some of them well? I saw some pictures with
you and Jeff Oster. These guys are not only great musicians but theyre
also excellent recording artists which must have been a big plus in
getting the album finished.
Leneé: I received an email early summer 2016 from Will,
and invitation to record at his Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont.
I didnt hesitate for a moment, said, Yes, and booked
the trip for mid August. Ill never forget the day I met Will,
at his home studios, rustic, honest, strong; attributes of the man
himself that humbly walked us around his property, welcoming us to
the barn, screen house and studio he built from wood he felled from
the land when he bought it. His honest and humble nature carried throughout
the following 12 or so days we recorded the album, and built a friendship
along with a project that Im so honored to have done with him.
Tom Eaton is a talented engineer that works in smooth and effortless
balance with Will to bring out the very best that an artist can give.
He has also become my favorite pianist to listen to. He is really
brilliant, youve got to hear his albums!
It took 2 days to record the piano tracks for the 10 songs that would
make up the CD. Will reached out to fellow artists to invite them
to come to the studios to lend their talent to the project. Jeff Haynes,
Jill Haley, Premik Russell Tubbs and Eugene Friesen were the first
to come. Will and Tom got their instruments out and shared their magic.
Marc Schulman, Jeff Oster and Charlie Bisharat rounded out this dream
team that work together like no bodys business.
I knew the
album would have to be amazing with Will and Tom at the helm, and
with the musicians, nothing would be less. But getting to know the
people behind the instruments; kind, humble, genuine, eager to help
a girl from a small town like me create a CD that until then, was
more than something I ever thought I could dream about.
Weve enjoyed visits from Jeff Oster to our beach home in Pismo,
and Jeff Haynes recently brought his entire family to stay a weekend
with us during their California family trip.
The Red Diamonds album release concert was April 7 at the historic
art deco theatre, the Tower Theatre, here in Fresno, where I live,
and found out Eugene Friesen is originally from. Will, Tom, Oster,
Haynes, Eugene, Premik and Todd Boston joined me on stage to celebrate
the occasion. I found out that that evening was the 1st time that
the guys had played together on stage. Incredible! The night was totally
magical, and you could really feel the love that they all have for
one another. Im so happy that I had a part in giving them an
unforgettable memory together and before the night was over, we all
promised that the first concert together will certainly not be the
last. We are talking about shows in California, the East Coast, and
possibly even in Europe. Hey.. I can dream, right?
mwe3: You have recorded a number of albums including your 2012
album Under The Same Sky, which is the follow up to Red
Diamonds. How has your music evolved over time and in what ways
do you strive to become a better musician, recording artist and composer?
Gina Leneé: As the years have gone by since my first
made-up songs as I called them when I was little, and
life has naturally become more complex, I think my music has become
more complex, more colors, more tones, more dynamics. When I was younger,
I was too embarrassed to play my original music for others; apprehensive,
nervous that the songs might reveal emotions too raw. As my secret
language of musical storytelling has evolved, I now totally expose
my feelings in my writing, something that took me decades.
to many genres of music. I am inspired by artists that serve up their
music in the most honest presentation. I hope that my music is heart
honestly and goes beyond what the listener hears, and helps to reach
their soul; maybe providing an oasis, a place of serenity, maybe ignite
a passion, a dream that was thought to have disappeared. Id
love to think that my music makes you smile.
mwe3: The piano sound on Red Diamonds is excellent.
What piano and keyboards did you record the album with and what do
you look for in a piano? Do you find different pianos gives the music
a different sound or is it really more in the hands of the artist
and how does the piano you have at home and in your recording studio
compare with the pianos at Imaginary Road studios? Do you play other
instruments too, including electronic keyboards?
Gina Leneé: I recorded on Wills Grand Piano in
the studio. Its a gorgeous Steinway B with the most incredible,
beautiful and balanced piano sound.
Yes, I do think that all pianos are a little different, they have
personalities, if you will. Of my pianos, my Yamaha C6 is my favorite.
While its not Wills Steinway, its the one I love
this side of Vermont.
been a real purest, playing pretty much exclusively acoustic pianos.
But, the new projects I have plans for might include some tracks from
my Montage 8, a recent gift from my husband.
mwe3: What can you tell us about your compositional style?
You say you play and write music mostly by ear and what part of your
composing is notated and what part is improvised? Can you give us
an example of your composing style and improv style on the Red
Diamonds album? Its hard to know because the album has such
a sublime sounding ebb and flow.
Gina Leneé: My composing style is a contrast from how
I hear how other musicians describe their process of writing music.
I dont decide to create a new song. The music just sort of arrives,
from the first note to the last. I play the song in its entirety,
like Im hearing a CD playing in my head.
I dont read music and I cant write music, so I dont
notate the music. Maybe someday Ill learn the craft, but for
now, I commit the melody, the motifs to memory and sometimes record
on my iphone, just so I can capture the sketch of the song, and return
to it later for refinement.
When recording Red Diamonds, although I had all songs composed,
I wanted to go into it with an open mind, and enthusiasm at what the
end result of the music would sound like, with the guidance and suggestions
of Will and Tom. I left plenty of room to subtlety deconstruct pieces
within the songs that welcomed the addition of other instruments,
while keeping the pianos melody as the centerpiece. I think
it turned out to be a pretty nice sounding CD. The whole experience
was super special and Ill never forget.
mwe3: What do you have planned for in 2017 as far as promoting
Red Diamonds and future concerts, composing and recording plans?
You seem like a very upbeat person. What is your secret to staying
focused and positive at the same time in order to get the most out
of your life?
Leneé: Ill be doing some smaller venue and house
concerts featuring the songs from the Red Diamonds album. Due
to a busy year of traveling and touring for many of the artists, these
concerts will most likely
be more of an unplugged concert. Ill feature a few
of the contributing artists, including my multitalented brother, who
will add his captivating and unique style of guitar playing, Native
American flute and alto sax.
Im working on finishing up the last bit of editing for a Red
Diamonds DVD of the live concert we had in April. It will feature
the full length concert plus a bonus DVD of behind the scenes footage
I have my next trip booked out to Imaginary Road Studios for mid-October;
perfect timing to spend some time with Will, Tom and the team and
for the first time in my life, see the fall colors.
Its nice of you to say I seem upbeat. I dont think I was
really born this way, I guess Im kind of evolving into being
more positive out of sheer necessity to balance the negativity that
seems to be around us and our world. Somedays its easy for me
to be cheerful, but sometimes its just a battle. Im naturally
a very deep thinking person and sometimes too highly sensitive. Like
everyone, Ive had deep hurts and disappointments, dreams that
Ive experienced what its like to not have enough; what
it feels like to be pregnant and waiting in the welfare line, the
hopelessness of watching my child have multiple seizures in a day.
But, Ive also been blessed to have days of abundance, more than
enough, and the joy and extravagance of traveling to places Ive
only seen in black and white postcards I collected and kept in a pretty
Out of a deep desire to know and experience the moments in life that
count the most, I learned to make regular, ordinary days something
special. When I couldnt take my daughters on a far away trip,
we put on music from other countries, dressed in kimonos or sarongs
and pretended we were in exotic places fit for princesses. We had
breakfast picnics in the front yard with pink frosted donuts, our
favorites. We made rose scented crème brulee from the flowers
in our yard.
Im so grateful that I am able to record and share my music.
Its amazing for me when I find out that someone is listening
to me on the other side of the world. I really wish I could get to
know every listener, every
program director or radio host playing my music. I would love to sit
down and thank every person that included my music into their day,
or a moment, like their meditation time, or event or wedding.
There will be more CDs. Im looking for and inviting musicians,
dancers, visual artists, poets and writers to collaborate with me
on future projects and benefit concerts. So spread the word!