Inspiration, a incident on which ideas are chiseled. Diversity enters when maturity mixes with confidence, however, innovation only evolves when all the other variables of the talented source are allowed to nurture into a spirit. Creativity is not bought, sold, or birthed with the vocalizing of a note. It just comes from within, requiring no explanation for its existence. Such is the growth of vocalist Lisa Bell and her journey thus far.
Ms. Bell is a jazz artist who never turns away from a question or curiosity unanswered, as her learning process in music is always fresh and ongoing. This is why she is what she is: part of the new wave of vocalists who are hungry for much more than a microphone adorned with accolades. May this wave never reach low tide!
Lisa Bell’s second offering to the jazz public, It’s All About Love, is both an experiment and solution on true romantic emotion. A travel log, if you will, through the heart which encases all the ups and downs of the human desire and the roads taken. This is the way Ms. Bell saw it, felt it and wrote it, with her own experience as the template. As you will read, she examines the reasons why she scripted these feelings and what went through her mind as she relived them while performing.
As for the her innovative style, we are treated to her process and thoughts as she decided to breakaway from the social norm of the music industry and become a revolutionary, determined to leave her own legacy behind. Having the daring of Eva Cassidy to cross genres to the usage of a real string quartet, she recalls the instruments and the risk of including the dobro and pedal steel to the mix. Ms. Bell, as you will find many times, designs outside the textbook.
As she broke away for a few well deserved restful moments, I caught Lisa Bell open, honest, and to the point, as I explored this new style of vocalist/songwriter. What makes her strive to be different yet embraced by the jazz community? How does she feel about the new vocal trends and how she fits in? What makes her writing work? All is examined and re-examined as I go between sets with Lisa Bell.
JazzReview: There is an influx of what some call a new wave of female vocalists in the jazz genre. Please describe that new wave vocalist and how those traits may relate to you?
Lisa Bell: I do see an influx, as you say, of a new breed of female jazz vocalists, many of whom are writing their own material. I’m going to call it "new jazz" for lack of a better term. It really started with Norah Jones as she opened the door for female singer/songwriters in this new category. I and others in the category are writing songs from the heart, using a variety of influences that are both in the traditional jazz genre, as well as older pop sounds to create this new style of music.
My personal influences included the traditions of Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday, but also classic pop from people like Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick. My writing style certainly reflects the mix of influences. It’s also hugely challenging though, as it’s very hard for people to categorize the music. I was recently on a compilation CD for Jazziz magazine where I shared the docket with everyone from Madeleine Peyroux to Ani DeFranco. Even Ani, a classic AAA singer/songwriter, is successfully placing her music into this new jazz genre.
JazzReview: You are for the most part a hands on artiste for in a New York minute, you can be scripting your own lyrics, then off to the wonderful world of arranging. How does this benefit you as a complete performer? Was this your plan from the start of your career?
Lisa Bell: I really only started writing my own music seriously four years ago. Before that, I always had melodies running through my head, but ignored them and went on my merry way to sing the classic standards. Once I started really letting the creative juices flow and put those tunes down on paper, I was so very excited and amazed! I love writing lyrics from the heart, which is of course, is how all of my songs take shape. I also love performing my own material. Many audience members comment on just how much I shine on stage while performing my own tunes. I also love the classics and try and find unique ways to address those, as well.
The arranging aspect has come over time and the experience of co-producing two CDs. I have spent countless hours in the studio listening to the musicians cut their tracks, as well as in the editing/mixing room finding the right mix, learning from mistakes, etc.
Some artists are very hands off. They go into the studio to sing their vocal tracks then let the producer do his/her job in finishing the product. I just can’t do that. Each CD was like giving birth to a child for me and I am so very proud of them both, and especially the newest project, It’s All About Love. That CD let me find my true voice for the first time and has unleashed a creative energy that just won’t stop.
JazzReview: For me, jazz is not just an event, but also a way of life that influences all the senses I encompass on a daily basis. How would you place jazz in your life as for meaning and affects?
Lisa Bell: I simply love to sing, and that, for me, is my daily refuge. I grew up listening to Ella, Billy and Carmen McCrea, as well as the amazing vocal harmonies of Manhattan Transfer, Rare Silk and others. The raw emotions of both Ella and Billy in particular are so amazing, especially when you know their life stories. Relating to those emotions and tough times in life is what jazz is all about.
JazzReview: Inspiration for creative music comes in many forms and at the most unusual times. Can you recall a time where this occurred for you and where did it take you upon conclusion?
Lisa Bell: I wrote "Mary Had a Little Plan" on the back of a napkin during a 15-minute break at a gig. We were pretty much background music that night (we sometimes call it "musical wallpaper"), pushed way back on a lawn where hardly anyone could hear or see us, playing all jazz standards. I was thinking "There has to be more to my musical career than this!" Having young kids myself, I was always searching for tunes that I could perform in the summer festivals when they come out in droves. I thought it would be fun to combine all of the classic kid’s tunes into one song that told a fun story.
JazzReview: Your style has personalities as each cut shares that with the audience. When performing, at what point do you realize that the level of your performance has matched the level of desired feel you wanted to deliver to the audience? In other words your connection to them!
Lisa Bell: There have been a few amazing "chill bumps" performances that I can recall, where I knew that I had an instant connection with the audience. It happened this past summer at an amazing outdoor venue in the beautiful mountain town of Estes Park. I had been set up well with a full-page article in the local newspaper the day before, and the audience was packed and attentive. From the moment I walked on stage, I felt that I was floating, almost having an out-of-body experience. The connectivity with the audience was truly amazing. They hung on my every word, begged for more original tunes to be thrown into the set, and really did not want me to leave the stage (needless to say, neither did I, but it was getting dark and there were no stage lights that night!). When I finished, there was an instant standing ovation. Those performances don’t happen every time, but when they do, it reminds me why I’m here and that I have truly been given a gift to share with others.
JazzReview: Talk to us about your range and vocal strengths. How does a vocalist control and enhance this talent?
Lisa Bell: As a vocalist gets older, the voice and range can change. My voice is a constant work in progress for me. I have worked with amazing vocal coaches all my life, and I am always learning something new, and finding ways to make my voice more clear, vibrant, and rich in tone. The work never stops though!
JazzReview: Its All About Love is your second offering to us and a strong piece. Explain its evolution and the process you went through to complete it.
Lisa Bell: We approached the project from start to finish as my voice, my work, and I was involved in every process of its production. I began with co-writing songs with the producer and my long-time keyboard player/musical director. We met once a week for several weeks and my job was to come to them with ideas for melodies and themes. I began by writing down some important stories and things in my life. Love in its various forms, both losing love and finding it again, obviously came through as the overriding theme (but then again, most jazz tunes have that theme). I took the most likely theme candidates and told stories about them into a tape recorder.
From that, I picked out key phrases and the melodies came into my head. I would sing those into a tape recorder and take them to the writing sessions. I don’t play an instrument well, but can read music. I let my keyboard player put the chords to the melody, and then as a group, we honed the songs over the weeks. A long, but very fun process.
JazzReview: What difference did you notice from the first time with Dare To Be to the process with Its All About Love? Any significant differences in any aspect of development or performance?
Lisa Bell: The first CD was done, for the most part, in two live sessions, several months apart. I sang the vocals live with the group all in the studio. My favorite song was recorded live with no fixes on take three, at 3 a.m. The whole CD was pretty raw and simple in form with a great deal of live energy, which made it a very fun jazz standards CD. It’s All About Love was a more typical studio CD, with the basic tracks recorded first, then all of the overdubs done later--a very different process, which of course was much more time-consuming. It let us have so much more variety though, from adding a string quartet to backup singers in New York, which we could have never done live.
JazzReview: How deep do the lyrics submerge into the heart of Lisa with the originals you performed on this disk?
Lisa Bell: The lyrics that I wrote are all based on true stories in my life. Some are embellished of course, but they are all songs that come straight from my heart and soul.
JazzReview: Can you please introduce us to the band and touch briefly on their influence on this project?
Lisa Bell: John Armstrong is my keyboard player and musical director. He has been with me for more than four years and has grown a lot with me, and helped me to grow over the years. He is also my chief co-writer, so a lot of the songs have huge melodical influences from John. John also wrote one of the tunes on his own, "Don’t Wait Forever."
Bijoux Barbosa is one of the most talented bass players in this part of the country, as well as in the nation. His unique Brazilian influence can be found on many of the tunes.
Larry Thompson is my musical soul mate. He is truly one of the most outstanding drummers in the country, having played with everyone from Dr. John to Bobby Fuller. He is an amazing drummer and amazing soul. He not only influenced the beat and rhythm of the tunes, but also had amazing arrangement ideas.
Bob Rebholz is an amazing sax and flute player, having played with his fair share of celebs from Tom Jones to Peter Kater. He added an amazing touch in the studio. All of the other guest artists on the CD were each amazing in their own ways as well, making a really powerful overall product.
JazzReview: I always say there is a story behind each song and an emotion aside each note. With that in mind, which cut brings home the real Lisa and her life to this point?
Lisa Bell: Without question that is the title track "It’s All About Love." At this point in my life, I have come to realize that life is not about the tangible things, it’s about what we feel inside, how we love others and ourselves. Watching others play the game of accumulating "stuff" is interesting. Many don’t understand that it’s not until you’re happy on the inside that you truly feel rich.
JazzReview: On this project you have numerous sounds at your fingertips so to one, it may seem that you prefer an eclectic arsenal to pull from during the creative process. Explain why that is the Lisa Bell style.
Lisa Bell: I wanted something very different than what was out in the marketplace. I love string quartets, so I wanted to find a place for that. The Dobro and Pedal Steele was an idea added by the producer and I really love the crossover feel to those songs. Having a chance to have someone like Bill Payne on the CD lead us to adding an organ solo on "Burning Desire." All of it was eclectic and fun, which is very reflective of my live show, as well.
JazzReview: With cuts like "When I Wish", "She’s Not Right For You" and "Here I Am" that are not of your work, why then did they become part of this production?
Lisa Bell: The songs I did not write came from various people whom I have known personally or via the Internet. A lovely gentleman named Ed Greenebaum provided two of the songs and I have several more from him in my live show. He’s the best jazz standards writer that no one has ever heard of! He contacted me after finding my Website several years ago and just started sending me material when a dear friend who was also the producer of my first CD, LK Hill, wrote "I Wish." I had always loved his songs, but this one was simply magical. "When You Look for Love" (Redux) was embellished from a tune written by one of the guest artists on the CD, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach. I had met and sang with Gabriel the year before and really liked the tune, but felt it needed a few more vocal sections in order to feature me for this project.
JazzReview: "Burning Desire" has a heated melody to its lyrics and resonance, however, it plays out with a soul. How was the arrangement process on this piece and were there any barriers along the way in its development?
Lisa Bell: The vocals were the most challenging aspect to that tune. It took a few takes over a period of many weeks to get a performance that I was happy with. It’s such a different song than all of the rest; we wanted to make sure it wasn’t too much of a stretch to include with the others.
JazzReview: Now that Its All About Love has hit the shelf, in reflection what changes would you make on it if you could?
Lisa Bell: I really wouldn’t change much. I have since done a single of the title track in a shorter, more radio-friendly version. Other than that, I really wouldn’t change a thing.
I have been called country for having the Pedal Steele and Dobro on the album, as well as a folksy pop singer due to its very eclectic crossover nature, but that’s OK. Remember, this is "New Jazz" and jazz as an art form is all about personal reflection and taking chances. I read some early reviews of Norah Jones’ first CD and there were very similar sentiments about her style. So, there you go. She did just fine.
JazzReview: Conceptually speaking your next project would be what?
Lisa Bell: I think it will be a mix of jazz standards with unique arrangements; classic rock/pop tunes done in a jazz style; and of course more originals.
JazzReview: Now for a bit of fun. Put together a band from your favorite era/decade as you are the vocalist and tell us what three of the cuts you would want to do with those legends?
Lisa Bell: My dream has always been to sing with a legendary big band/orchestra. If I could have met and sang with any bandleader, it would have been Duke Ellington. Perhaps playing with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Cab Calloway, and of course sharing the stage with Ella Fitzgerald.
I would have loved to perform his tunes "In a Sentimental Mood," "Do Nothin&&& Till You Hear From Me," (both found on my first CD) and a little known tune of his, "Come Sunday." The Duke Ellington Orchestra is still around. His son Paul is the bandleader, so who knows! Maybe my dream will still come true.