Born: March 27, 1957 Primary Instrument: Vocal
Lisa Lindsley may be a latecomer to singing jazz, but the wealth of creative experience she brings to American Songbook gems turns familiar tunes into bracingly contemporary tales. She makes an impressive debut with Everytime We Say Goodbye, an intimate standards session that announces the arrival of an artist who knows that beautiful melodies don’t need much adornment and that oft-interpreted lyrics have yet to reveal all their secrets.
“Every great song has a complete story in it, with a beginning, middle, and end,” Lindsley says. “When you’re singing you have to be connected to the words, or there’s nothing there, you have to have an emotional connection to the song. I want to tell the audience the story of the song, and my experience with acting helps that immensely.”
With the first few notes of her ravishing interpretation of “The Nearness of You,” Lindsley unveils a sound that’s impishly girlish yet forthrightly womanly, suffused with a lived-in sensuality that flows from an interesting life. In her former career as an actor, she learned the art of letting silences speak volumes. She brings the same kind of communicative power to a bewitched, bothered version of “The Very Thought of You,” while her interpretation of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” infuses the song’s masochism with almost cheerful defiance. She plays the sassy moll on “Why Don’t You Do Right” and suffers magnificently on “Everytime We Say Goodbye.” After nine tracks, Lindsley leaves her listeners wanting more, a true sign of a show biz professional.
She is quick to credit the great pianist George Mesterhazy with coaxing her into the studio and shepherding her through the recording process. Best known for his sublime work as Shirley Horn’s accompanist during the last three years of her life, he’s forged an equally rewarding relationship in recent years with the brilliant San Francisco jazz singer Paula West.
It was after a West performance in 2008 that Lindsley approached Mesterhazy about writing her some arrangements. She was still very much a novice singer, but convinced him that she had the talent and ambition to make good use of his work. They struck up a friendship, and he ended up writing Lindsley half a dozen charts that became the foundation of her repertoire. The following year when Mesterhazy returned to play with Paula West, he called her up and suggested they spend the weekend recording an album.
“George knew I was going through a very difficult time and he wanted to gave me this wonderful opportunity as a sort of gift,” says Lindsley. “I had no idea how to record an album; George and I had only worked on arrangements together, and had never performed with each other. Originally it was just going to be George and myself, then I thought let’s add a bass player. Then I asked George, ‘What songs are we going to do?’ He told me to bring my charts and we would decide when we got there. Talk about sailing by the seat of your pants. We didn’t rehearse the songs before we recorded, we just talked them through then let the tape roll. I really felt at home. It was magic.”
She recruited bassist Fred Randolph, with whom she had worked on several occasions, and they all convened in the studio for a spontaneous weekend session at Whip Records in Berkeley.
“The only songs I knew I was going to record were ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye,’ because George’s arrangement was amazing, and ‘Alice in Wonderland,” Lindsley says. “I’m in love with Bill Evans and his version really made me want to sing it.”
George Mesterhazy has this to say of their album together: “You know I’m a sucker for ballads. ‘The Very Thought of You’ and ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye’ are masterpieces, but the whole album is a snapshot of love, talent, and sincerity working in perfect synchronicity.”
Lisa Lindsley, who was born in Ogden, Utah (March 27, 1957), grew up listening to jazz greats like Evans, Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan because her father kept jazz and classical music playing on the stereo. Her mother, who imbued in her a love of theater, was a budding film actress, Carolynn Ross, who had left Hollywood in the 1950s under the advice of her good friend, the producer/director Joseph Mankiewicz, because of the McCarthy-era blacklist.
While Lindsley gravitated to the rock and pop music of the day as a young teen, by high school she had discovered musical theater, a passion that carried through to college. She attended the prestigious California Institute for the Arts (CalArts) theater program, then spent a decade touring and performing with The Imagination Company.
“I was living this fabulous life, getting paid to perform every day, being creative and spontaneous and touring all over,” says Lindsley. “Because of this amazing experience of so much acting, I feel that I’m able to bring my story to the surface of each song and give it life.”
Raising and homeschooling three daughters put her performing ambitions on hold for years, but a few years ago she developed a successful career as a voice-over artist, cast in video games, national ad campaigns, and radio shows. Once her daughters themselves got involved in musical theater, however, she ended up taking the plunge into singing. Her work as Vicky in a 2008 production of The Full Monty caught the attention of the owner at a Point Richmond jazz spot down the street, and he invited her to sit in at the jam session.
The experience was an epiphany. Realizing that jazz was an ideal creative outlet, Lindsley delved into the Bay Area’s rich pool of jazz education. She honed her skills at Contra Costa College with Roger Letson, whose vocal group, Vocal Flight, was a six-time winner of DownBeat magazine’s student music award in the college vocal group division. She then studied with Maye Cavallaro, Laurie Antonioli, and Pamela Rose at the Jazzschool in Berkeley. Veteran Bay Area pianist/drummer Kelly Park provided essential on-the-job training.
“He taught me a lot about music, basic theory, rhythm, and what musicians think of singers who don’t know their stuff,” Lindsley says. “So I decided to educate myself, to become a vocal musician, and I enrolled in the Jazzschool Institute this fall. It’s a very challenging program and takes a lot of hard work. Every week we have to learn at least one new song and have it memorized and ready to go. It’s not just standards, either; it’s Monk and Shorter and Annie Ross vocalese. The work has made me freer with my interpretation and has sharpened my ear. It has given me an increased appreciation for the jazz greats.”
In turning herself into the consummate professional, Lindsley has also turned into a powerfully expressive artist. Recorded during the breakup of her marriage, Everytime We Say Goodbye reflects the currents of longing, melancholy, and fortitude running through her life at the moment. In concert, she brings vivacious energy to the stage, with a repertoire reflecting her resilience and rekindled exuberance. But that’s a story for her next album.
Lisa's light, fresh sound is, at times, reminiscent of Blossom Dearie, but mostly she sounds like herself! Her playful and humorous performances are delightful and highly recommended and her dedication to the music is paying off big time as she turns into a real jazz singer and band leader. - Laurie Antonioli, director of the Jazzschool Vocal Jazz Studies program
Everythime We Say Goodbye
The Nearness of You;Don't Explain;Alice in Wonderland;Inside a Silent Tear;The Very Thought of You;It's Only a Paper Moon;Evertime We Say Goodbye;Why Don't you Do Right;The Girl From Ipanema
George Mesterhazy, Piano;Fred Randolph, Bass
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