We talked with singer-songwriter, pianist Liala Biali ahead of her performance in Chicago on June 8th at the Epiphany Center for the Arts (201 S Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL). The performance marks the first time she is back in Chicago since 2019 so we thought we would catch up with her and talk about her Juno Award win, new recording and what people can expect to hear on Wednesday June 8th!
Chicago Jazz Magazine: As an artist who has won the JUNO (Canada’s GRAMMY) for “Vocal Jazz Album of the Year”, performed in Carnegie Hall and even backed up music legend STING. How does it feel to be back performing and touring this summer?
Laila Biali: The return of live performances has been so long awaited, and it feels amazing! Live music is the lifeblood of what I do. In Jazz, the audience – their presence, their energy – becomes a member of the band. A beautiful exchange happens in real time that cannot be captured via livestreams. Everyone in the room feels it, and that meaningful connection is why I do what I do.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Because you haven’t been to Chicago in several years, tell our readers about some of your influences and conceptually how you think about composing and performing and the mixing of musical styles within your performances?
Laila Biali: I appreciate a huge variety of genres and styles. I was raised a classical pianist and came to Jazz a bit later in life. I’ve also always been a fan of the groove-driven sounds typical of Soul, Hip-Hop, Funk, and World music. Rather than box myself into one focused approach, I embrace the eclectic blend of influences. I also love to take material from both the Great American Songbook and what I call the Great Canadian Songbook (Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Feist, Neil Young) and reimagine it within a jazz context – experimenting with harmonies and rhythms, expanding structures and forms to allow for improvisation and spontaneity. I also play a game I call the “request-o-matic”, where I invite audience members to ask for an arrangement of any song, no restrictions on genre. As a result, we have some fun covers of David Bowie, Coldplay, Adele and other Pop icons. When you work with familiar songs from the mainstream, it can help welcome “jazz skeptics” into the fold. I’ve always believed there’s a jazz fan in everyone; it’s just a matter of including something familiar they can connect with easily while adding elements of surprise.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Your latest release “Out of Dust”, which featured multiple GRAMMY nominees and winners including Lisa Fischer, Alan Ferber, John Ellis, and Larnell Lewis, and was nominated for a 2021 JUNO Award. Was it difficult to release a recording during the shutdown and how good does it feel to be able to perform this music in front of live audiences?
Laila Biali: The album was released March 27 of 2020, and my label at the time suggested we postpone the release given the circumstances; but Out of Dust is conceptually about the movement from darkness into the light, and from despair to hope. I had such a strong sense that the album’s themes might speak to people in the moment, and so we proceeded with its release. This of course included many living room concerts and virtual performances, a beautiful thing to be able to do during lockdowns; but to share these songs live and the stories behind them with an in-person audience is a whole other experience – never to be taken for granted.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Let’s talk about the upcoming performance at Epiphany Center for the Arts, who is performing with you on June 8th and what repertoire can people expect to hear?
I’m thrilled to be joined by local luminaries Ashley Summers, also originally from Canada, and Chris Baker. We’ll share original songs and stories alongside arrangements from the Great American and Canadian songbooks as well as Pop hits re-imagined. It’ll be a ton of fun!
Chicago Jazz Magazine: What is the best way for our readers to learn more about you and your music ahead of the performance?
Readers can visit my website lailabiali.com or join me on Facebook at LAILABIALIMUSIC or on Instagram and twitter at @lailabiali.
For Tickets and Information Visit EpiphanyChi.com