Veronica Lewis, teenager with retro sound, will perform at Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival

veronica lewis interview

VERONICA LEWIS

For her 2021 debut album, You Ain’t Unlucky, 19-year-old singer-songwriter and pianist Veronica Lewis recorded an instrumental homage to Jerry Lee Lewis, titled “Ode to Jerry Lee.” She also included material associated with Louis Jordan (“Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby”) and Katie Webster (“Whoo Whee Sweet Daddy”), and played piano in the boisterous New Orleans style associated with artists such as Professor Longhair and Dr. John.

Not typical musical heroes, to say the least, for a teenager.

“My whole life, music has just been a huge part of everything,” says the New Hampshire native, who will perform with her band at the free, annual Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival, taking place Sept. 17 on the Morristown Green with The Walter Trout Band headlining (see schedule below). “When I was 5 and 6, I would listen to all different kinds of stuff: more modern stuff, and then the stuff from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. And to be honest, I never put a genre to it in my mind. I just thought, ‘That music is so cool.’ You know, that early rock ‘n’ roll, and blues, and New Orleans-style piano playing. I didn’t know what it was but I knew I loved it and it was such a fun style of music to listen to. I had never heard a piano played like that.

“I watched videos of Jerry Lee Lewis, and I was sold immediately: You know, those old ’50s TV shows. He was playing ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ And I just sat down to the piano. I think I was 6 years old, and I just tried to figure it out. And I’ve been figuring it out ever since.”

She’ll front a four-piece band — also featuring a guitarist, a drummer and a saxophonist — in Morristown. There is no bassist, she says, because she handles bass with her left hand, on the piano.

Lewis — who graduated high school and is now a part-time college student, taking classes online while she concentrates on her music — says her family is filled with music lovers. “My grandfather, who lost his sight when he was 15 years old … we really connected through music, and he really instilled in me a love for finding things that I was excited to hear.”

He was an amateur bass player, she says, “and he actually had to to give it up because the calluses on his fingers prevented him from reading braille. But at heart, he’s a musician, and it’s just something we really connected with.”

The cover of Veronica Lewis’ album, “You Ain’t Unlucky.”

Her influences, she says, “span from Katie Webster and Little Richard, to all the great blues players like Otis Spann, and Fats Domino, all the way through Freddie Mercury and Avril Lavigne. It’s a wide span, for sure.”

She is self-taught on piano, but “a few years ago,” she says, “I started working with a vocal mentor, and that really has helped. I just needed someone to help me find my voice. But piano, I just learned through listening and writing.”

The writing, she says, began almost as soon as she started playing. “I figured out how to play the 12-bar blues,” she says. “Then I would start improvising, creating riffs and little two-minute songs of riffs put together. By the time I was 12, I was writing full songs with lyrics, and that’s when I started singing. It all happened very naturally.”

As far as her future music, she says that while she always wants to be open to new influences, “I think blues and roots will always be at the core of who I am as a musician. That’s where I really found my love of music. Right now, I’m actually working on my next album, and working on writing so many songs. I have enough for a few different albums.

“When I’m writing songs, I try to not think about, ‘Oh, what genre is this and who’s going to want to hear it?’ I just try to set my mind back to when I was 6 years old, just discovering what I loved about playing and writing.”

This will be the 12th annual Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival. Here is the schedule:

Noon: James Langton’s New York All-Star Big Band featuring Dan Levinson on clarinet
2 p.m.: Frank Vignola’s Guitar Night at Birdland Band with special guest Ken Peplowski on clarinet and saxophone
4 p.m.: The Bria Skonberg Quintet
6 p.m.: Veronica Lewis
8 p.m.: The Walter Trout Band

For more information, visit morristownjazzandblues.com.

For more about Lewis, visit veronicalewis.com.

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