Red Diamonds
Gina Leneé Music)


On her 2017 album Red Diamonds, pianist / composer Gina Leneé receives support from a stellar crew of musicians—recorded 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 years—including 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, "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 Leneé . / / presents an interview with

mwe3: Can you tell us where you’re 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 don’t 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 I’m Italian, I tell them that’s the best compliment I’ve ever received. Although I’m not a true italian, I have fallen in love with the country and all it’s 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 family’s “thing” was music.

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.

In high 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 I’d ever listened too, and I was inspired. To now be produced by Will Ackerman, the same man who produced George Winston, well… it’s 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 good?

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.

I have 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 aren’t 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 about it.

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? It’s 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 they’re also excellent recording artists which must have been a big plus in getting the album finished.

Gina Leneé: I received an email early summer 2016 from Will, and invitation to record at his Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont. I didn’t hesitate for a moment, said, “Yes”, and booked the trip for mid August. I’ll 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 I’m 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, you’ve 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 body’s 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.

We’ve 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. I’m 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.

I listen 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. I’d 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 Will’s Grand Piano in the studio. It’s 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 it’s not Will’s Steinway, it’s the one I love this side of Vermont.

I’ve 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? It’s 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 don’t 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 I’m hearing a CD playing in my head.

I don’t read music and I can’t write music, so I don’t notate the music. Maybe someday I’ll 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 piano’s melody as the centerpiece. I think it turned out to be a pretty nice sounding CD. The whole experience was super special and I’ll 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?

Gina Leneé: I’ll 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. I’ll 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.

I’m 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 and out-takes.

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.

It’s nice of you to say I seem upbeat. I don’t think I was really born this way, I guess I’m 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 it’s easy for me to be cheerful, but sometimes its just a battle. I’m naturally a very deep thinking person and sometimes too highly sensitive. Like everyone, I’ve had deep hurts and disappointments, dreams that fell apart.

I’ve experienced what it’s 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, I’ve also been blessed to have days of abundance, more than enough, and the joy and extravagance of traveling to places I’ve only seen in black and white postcards I collected and kept in a pretty keepsake box.

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 couldn’t 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.

I’m so grateful that I am able to record and share my music. It’s 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. I’m 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!


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