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Lisa Otey

How would you describe your music?

jazz, blues, boogie woogie and cabaret

What is your role in your band? In the studio? In business or marketing decisions?

I have been performing professionally, fronting my own groups and playing as sideman for others, since moving to Tucson in 1984. I started producing my own CDs in 1994, calling my label Owl's Nest Productions. I also produce a season of 20+ concerts each year, showcasing local, national and international musicians. The CDs have also been a great showcase for these players and singers. I do all my own publicity, booking, arranging, managing, etc.

Describe your gear.

Technics keyboard, Yamaha PA and speakers, Sennhaiser and Shure Beta mics

Related Themes: Gear

Do you think being a woman and a musician is different from being a man and a musician? If so, how? Was there a moment that made a difference clear to you?

"In the beginning, I think I played harder to try to fit in with the men. They never treated me differently as a musician because I was a woman. However, if I didn't play as well as they did, that's another story. As a woman, it can be hard to fit in with men who might look at you as a sexual object. I was 17 when I started and frequently had to deflect their flirtations. even now sometimes. I earned their respect, however, and have felt like an equal for most of my professional life.

In my genre of jazz and blues, I have found an inequality- not among musicians, but with booking agents and festival and concert programmers. They usually want a white guy with a guitar in the US and a black guy with guitar or a black woman singer in Europe. In the US, you might see one woman piano player on a festival, or one woman period, but a dozen white guys with guitars. In Europe, they see jazz and blues as Black American music. They want it to be authentic so someone like me will be on a side stage, never on a main stage. Even so, I have felt very successful in my career and see more doors opening every day.

I have also never waited for someone to discover me or to create opportunities for me. I realized early on that it cost the same money to produce a short demo and shop it to different record companies as it did to produce your own full length CD and sell it. When I realized I didn't fit with concert programmers, enough to sustain myself, I started producing my own concerts as well. I have felt successful doing these things on my own. The audiences have been very receptive as well."

Related Themes: Onstage She's Got The Look Advice

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

"Women in general are more respected today then they were 100 years ago. In the beginning of jazz and blues, women had to turn tricks sometimes to make sure their rent was paid. Racism, gender bias and economic oppression has always been an issue for women. Of course, Black Americans have had a terrible time no matter what their gender.

Women I know who are generations older than me weren't able to make their living just with music. They were also teachers and nurses. I am grateful that I have been lucky in that way.

In the future, I'd like to see less gender bias in the industry so we never have one token female on the roster. Those decisions perpetuate the economic imbalance. If only one woman can be featured on a festival, the men will obviously have an easier time making a living."

Related Themes: Off The Clock

Did anyone ever give you any valuable advice about making your way in the music industry? What advice would you give to a woman musician just starting out?

"People told me to write my own songs, tell my own stories. They told me to K.A.T.N. (Kick Ass and Take Names). I have always believed that the universe will meet me halfway. I need to do my part, get my skills together, and put my dreams out there. Everything I have ever wanted as a musician has come true for me. It is a blessing to be able to make a living doing what I love.

I encourage everyone to follow their dreams and trust they will be taken care of. It's hard in these times to trust that you can let go of something that seems like a sure income. What is a sure income any more? I have never made a lot of money but I have always been able to pay my bills. Every time I put a thought out there for some kind of work I would like to do musically, the phone rings or an email comes. This has happened for every creative person I know who has done their part to be ready for these opportunities. I have truly been blessed. I am told that I don't just keep the door open behind me, I hold it open and push others through. My life has been so full and I still feel like I'm just getting started. Thanks for doing this survey."

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

"Piano was my mother's instrument. I fell in love with it as a child. In my family of professional musicians, it wasn't a question of whether you would play, just what instrument. I started at age 4 on the violin, my father's instrument. When I was 6, I wanted to switch to the piano. My mother told me I needed to be serious and couldn't just flit from instrument to instrument. She said if I was still asking for lessons in a year, I could take piano. In the meantime, I started making up songs. Mom taught me theory and how to write down the notes for my songs.

I moved to Tucson to study with a jazz piano teacher, Jeff Haskell, at the UofA. My roommate asked what I wanted to do with my life. I said, ""I think I'll play piano."" She asked, ""What if it doesn't work out for you?"" I replied, ""it has to. It's all I know how to do."" So far, 25 years later, it's been working fine."

Related Themes: The First Time