While she displayed “Pure Imagination” on her first CD, Ellen Winters lets Milwaukee in on her “Secret of Life” with her second.
Winters recently left her position at the Westown Association to dedicate herself fully to her music.
“The Westown Association was a wonderful place to work and I learned so much about the business world, event planning and about marketing. I'm grateful for the time I spent there; however it was becoming more and more clear to me that my music was not just a hobby,” Winters says. “It was becoming a second career and I realized that I wanted to focus my energies on my passion while I was still in a position to do so. Not many people even know what their dream is and I not only knew, but was in a position to actually pursue it -- so I did.”
She says that her newest CD, “Secret of Life,” shows a maturation because she has grown as an artist and a person.
“‘Secret of Life’ was a fantastic journey for me both musically and personally. The process of recording was much more detailed than that of my first solo recording,” she says. “The project came out of a discussion with my producer/best friend Chris Cole, president of Chicago-based 251 Records, and took off from there.”
Cole and Winters shared a love for singer/songwriters, so they decided to create a CD that was a mixture of covers and original songs that were jazz oriented.
“We wanted to find more obscure tunes written by our favorite artists and turn them around to the jazz idiom. In the process, we found some originals by friends and a few collaborations I'd done with local jazz guitarist Steve Lewandowski and started make our ‘wish list’ of tunes,” Winters says. “ I found some tunes that really spoke to me that were written by friends like teacher/songwriter Jeremy Fox, Peter Eldridge of New York Voices, Brian Eichenberger of the Four Freshmen and Peder Karlsson of the Real Group and those quickly became 'musts' for the recording.”
The CD is rounded out with songs from Joni Mitchell, Harry Connick Jr. and other established artists.
Winters says that none of this would have been possible without hard work by her trio of Jim Ryan, Hal Miller and Sam Steffke. “This project would have been very different, (without them)” she says.
New York already celebrated the release of Winters’ “Secret of Life,” but this weekend she, and a few of her musical friends, will celebrate in Milwaukee, at Caroline's Jazz Club, 401 S. 2nd St. Winters says that this weekend’s party should be less stressful than her Big Apple date, for which her CDs almost didn’t arrive in time.
“The CD release party in Milwaukee will be a blast, I know. After the stresses of the NYC release, I can enjoy the laid back, Milwaukee vibe and welcome friends, family and musical colleagues to help me celebrate this project,” she says. “I'm doubly proud to have utilized many of Milwaukee's talented musicians on this recording and almost all of them will be there at the party. I deliberately scheduled the party for a Sunday afternoon so that many of my musician friends can attend. If I held it on a Friday/Saturday, I would risk losing about half of them to gigs.
“It was the perfect choice for my CD release party. I had my first one there in 2003 and it made sense to have the second one there as well,” she says. “Caroline's was sort of my first musical "home" in Milwaukee when I moved back to town. A friend brought me to a jam session there in 2002 and they welcomed me with open arms and I started gigging with the Paul Spencer Band.”
After the CD release party, Winters will make her theater debut with In Tandem for “A Cudahy Carolers Christmas” at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts.
“I am really, really excited about this opportunity. This show, written by local boy Anthony Woods, embraces and celebrates the hometown feeling of Cudahy,” she says. “It’s a lovely, funny, holiday farce that will have you laughing until you cry. Since I was a girl growing up in Milwaukee, I have always loved Vogel Hall and it will be a thrill to do six shows a week there through the holidays.”
Originally from Des Plaines, Ill., Heather moved to Milwaukee to earn a B.A. in journalism from Marquette University. With a tongue-twisting last name like Leszczewicz, it's best to go into a career where people don't need to say your name often.
However, she's still sticking to some of her Illinoisan ways (she won't reform when it comes to things like pop, water fountain or ATM), though she's grown to enjoy her time in the Brew City.
Although her journalism career is still budding, Heather has had the chance for some once-in-a-lifetime interviews with celebrities like actor Vince Vaughn and actress Charlize Theron, director Cameron Crowe and singers Ben Kweller and Isaac Hanson of '90s brother boy band Hanson.
Heather's a self-proclaimed workaholic but loves her entertainment. She's a real television and movie fanatic, book nerd, music junkie, coffee addict and pop culture aficionado.