Primary Instrument: Vocalist
Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) merges singing, songwriting, and poetry-rap in a way that’s unique in jazz. While reaching a broad range of listeners, Lisa B sidesteps the predictable.
On her third CD, What’s New, Pussycat?: Tunes & Tales about Cool Cats (released July 25, 2006), Lisa B explores the magical contrasts embodied by the cat (and personified by humans): “both wild and cozy, passionate and independent, playful and fierce,” in her words. The new CD combines original compositions with Lisa B’s refreshing take on familiar songs by Burt Bacharach/Hal David, Graham Nash, and Cole Porter. The new album features some of the Bay Area's best jazz musicians: Frank Martin and Ben Flint (keyboards), Danny Caron (guitar), Chris Amberger, Troy Lampkins, and John Shifflett (bass), Paul van Wageningen and Alan Hall (drums), and John Santos (percussion).
Early reviews have praised Lisa B’s new release for its rare balance of entertaining fun and creative depth. SoundstageAV.com writes: What’s New, Pussycat?... takes as its theme cats and their mysterious, independent behavior, but the result is sultry and witty and not at all precious…Her own songs are fun and sexy, and she brings a fresh voice to well-known songs...Great musicians make What’s New, Pussycat? come alive and help Lisa B keep the atmosphere fun and swinging. Ben Flint’s keyboards on the first two tracks help set the tone, and Frank Martin’s clever piano playing on the rest of the disc complements Lisa B’s singing perfectly (check out the electric piano in 'Cha Cha de la Gata (Kitty-Cat Cha)'). The recording is vibrant and detailed. 'What’s New Pussycat?' is fun, impressively played and sung, and, yes, very sexy.” Radio stations across the country have jumped on the record.
Raised in New York and Northern California, Lisa B was influenced early on by the lives and work of the many jazz musicians who were friends of her parents, including Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. She studied piano since elementary school and wrote songs and stories. She wrote and studied poetry since her teens, going on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in creative writing. Two books of her poetry have been published, Anorexia (Five Fingers Poetry) and The Transparent Body (Wesleyan University Press). Her poems have appeared in more than 50 literary magazines and anthologies. She has received grants and residencies from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Ucross Foundation, and Money for Women.
Lisa B’s frequent poetry readings in the San Francisco Bay area eventually evolved into full performances, and, inspired by those experiences, she soon began to study singing, songwriting, and music theory and to perform frequently throughout the Bay Area. Covering one of her shows, Michael Ross, critic for MSNBC and Vibe Magazine, called her “A poet, vocalist, and tunesmith who can work a room with great energy... like Joni Mitchell, she knows the value of lyrics that summon visions...” She has performed at many clubs, performance spaces, colleges, bookstores, and radio stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York.
While often composing lyrics and music on her own, Lisa B also enjoys co-writing with musicians, including Wayne Wallace, Ben Flint, Scott R. Looney, Barbara Higbie, and Bevan Manson, and her longtime producer/engineer, the composer Jim Gardiner (Pharoah Sanders, Rickie Lee Jones, David Grisman, Seattle Symphony, and numerous Bay Area rap and soul artists).
Lisa B’s spirit of inventive collaboration also yields new versions of existing compositions. Her previous record Center of the Rhyme contains two such transformations: her poetic homage “Joe Williams Died Walking” performed with “Every Day I Have the Blues” and Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love” with new poem-raps composed by Lisa. On her first full-length record Free Me for the Joy, Lisa B’s heartrending poem “Trane’s Ride” is performed with Coltrane’s “Naima.”
Lisa B first recorded an EP, Be The Word, which garnered significant airplay on both commercial and non-commercial radio stations. She followed that with 1999’s Free Me for the Joy on her own Piece of Pie label, which earned considerable acclaim from music critics nationwide, and which transcended radio formats, eventually being played on traditional and smooth jazz as well as Triple A radio. In 2003, Lisa B released Center of the Rhyme, also on Piece of Pie, marking another step forward in her musical evolution. Many of the Bay Area’s best jazz players appear, including Frank Martin (keyboards), Mimi Fox and Dave Yamasaki (guitar), Bill Douglass and Chris Amberger (bass), Paul van Wageningen (drums), Michael Spiro (percussion), and Daria (vocals). Center of the Rhyme was played on more than 120 jazz and smooth jazz stations and shows throughout the U.S.
In its review of Center of the Rhyme, the All Music Guide said, “Lisa B’s ...mix of spoken word poetry (think rap for the uptown swing crowd) and passionate jazzy vocalizing is…hard to resist.” And noted critic Ted Panken said, “Her voice is a lovely instrument, her timbre warm, her phrasing fluid, her articulation pristine, and she possesses an emotional range that makes lyrics sound like truth.” Jazz Times wrote: “A singer, spoken-word artist and poet with an incisive way of chronicling situations, memories and emotions...a pliable, expressive voice dipped in blue... saucily suggestive... imagistic...”
Now, with the release of What's New, Pussycat?, Lisa B takes the listener on a journey that is delightful and deep, playful and powerful--for sultry souls and cool cats alike.