HOLDING A NOTE (continued)
SHE GREW UP IN GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN, one of nine children. Her father's mother played the piano; her mother gave classical piano concerts. Walker started playing when she was four. "Everyone was very musical, and there was a lot of singing," she says. "We were like the von Trapp family." She left home when she was 16, after falling in with some hitchhiking hippies who were traveling to Chicago. By then she had her plan in place.
"First, I lied about my age so I could get jobs," she said. She did a little modeling and waitressing and gave piano lessons. By the time she was 17, she was passing for 21 and tending bar at night. She also started studying jazz theory at DePaul University with Alan Swain, who has his own music studio in Evanston. Through him, she heard Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Scot Joplin. "He changed everything for me," Walker says.
"I couldn't do the girlie thing." Walker says, "but I learned how to work the comedy-cabaret thing."
"When Lonie first came to me, she was a near beginner in terms of harmonizing and improvising creatively," Swain says. "We concentrated on building a foundation. Once she had that, she turned from one kind of performer--someone very set in her ways--to and experimental musician. She just took off. It was like placing Michael Jordan on a basketball court--it was where she was meant to be."
When she was 18, Walker was playing at the piano bar at Ratso's, a jazz club on Lincoln Avenue. The next year, she moved on to the legendary Gaslight Clubs at the O'Hare Hilton and the Palmer House, boudoir-style establishments popular with businessmen and conventioneers. "The glamorized me, so I had this very done-to-the-hilt look," she says. "And I worked in the Roaring '20s speakeasy and then The Library room. Every waitress sang and we didn't use microphones, so it was good training for the projection of your voice. But I couldn't do the girlie thing. I was too shy to do the pat-on-the-head and sit-on-the-lap thing, but I learned how to work the comedy-cabaret thing."
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