Lisa Rich was one of the most promising jazz artists of the 1980s, an adventurous jazz singer with a very attractive voice. When bad health knocked her out of action in 1991, putting a stop to her performing career, Lisa became a well-respected and influential vocal teacher. But now, several decades later with the release of her previously unheard and superb third album, 1987’s Highwire, she is poised for a comeback.
Growing up in Baltimore, she remembers, “My Dad played many records by jazz singers (his favorite was June Christy), along with Duke Ellington and classical music. I was really attracted to the vocalists from an early age, When I was eight I started piano lessons and at 13 I got my first guitar. I put together a little group and we used to play at parties singing folk music.”
Attending the University of Maryland was a bit frustrating for Lisa because they did not have any jazz classes, only teaching classical music. “I met Melissa Manchester during a visit to New York and she said that if I moved up there, she would introduce me to her singing and theory teachers and that her husband would help me get gigs. I did that and got the education that I couldn’t get at school where they were ruining my voice!”
For a time, Lisa performed rock in a traveling show band as a backup singer and dancer. “The guy who led the group did not want to do the opening shows, just the two main sets. Because of that, I had a chance to work with a wonderful jazz trio. I discovered that jazz was what I was meant to do and that it was the music where my voice really sounded at its best.” Soon she got off the road, studied jazz, picked up valuable experiences, and made her first record, Listen Here. “I did not want to sing a lot of standards because I thought my forte was picking out unusual songs such as those by Dave Frishberg, Bob Dorough and the type of ballads recorded by Irene Kral and Alan Broadbent.” She used her working band for Listen Here, recorded all of the music in six hours, and put it out on her own label. It sold well.