There are singers, and then there’s Lisa Fischer. I really don’t know how else to say it. I mean, I’ve been to a LOT of concerts; but from the moment I first heard the incredible sounds that emanated from this woman… Well, I fell out. My jaw dropped (literally). Here’s the deal.
In Los Angeles, for a few days, my friend Armen Ra called me up and pretty much insisted that I join him the following evening, at the Catalina Jazz Club, to see someone named Lisa Fischer. Now, the name rang a bell; but wasn’t really registering. Until a frustrated Armen said “You know who she is. She was in that documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom.” Ding, ding, ding! “Oh yeah… Lisa Fisher!”
Lisa Fischer. The Grammy Award-winning “back-up singer” who’s toured with everyone from Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, and Nine Inch Nails, to Tina Turner, Chris Botti, and The Rolling Stones (with whom she toured from 1989 to 2015); was – along with Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Táta Vega, and Jo Lawry – one of the main artists featured in Morgan Neville’s Oscar-winning 2013 documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom. Two years later, after the New York Times declared “Ms. Fischer has become the unexpected star of Mr. Neville’s film;” Fischer received her second Grammy, when the documentary (and its principally featured artists) went on to win the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Music Film.
In 2014, Fischer and her band Grand Baton – JC Maillard (musical director, vocals, guitar, keys), Thierry Arpino (drums), and Aidan Carroll (bass, vocals) – began touring. Invited to perform at the eponymous jazz festivals in Newport and Monterey, and concert halls across the globe; they would go on to win the hearts of critics and fans, alike.
Observing Fischer interpret songs from the Classic Rock genre was what really got me, though. The 4-note wail that opens Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” was the sound that hooked me (and didn’t required travel to anywhere with ice or snow). For the rest of the concert, whether it was The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” or Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” or The Carpenters’ “Superstar” or her own “How Can I Ease the Pain” (the single from her 1991 album, So Intense, won Fischer her first Grammy, for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, as well as the Soul Train Award for Best R&B/Soul Single, Female) - I was dumbfounded. At one point, after the final notes of The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” faded away, while the rest of the room erupted in applause, I just sat there, agape; until Armen took pity on me, leaned over, and gently raised my mandible, thereby closing my mouth.
And while she’s been touring with Grand Baton, she’s been seriously multi-tasking. In the past year, alone, Fisher’s distinctive voice could be heard on a trio of high-profile projects – Lang Lang’s New York Rhapsody – Live from Lincoln Center with Lang Lang, Andra Day, Regina Spektor, Suzanne Vega, and Rufus Wainwright; Sing Me Home with Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble (Grammy-winner for Best World Music Album); and Louie Vega Starring… XXVIII with Little Louie Vega and The Elements of Life (Grammy-nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album).
The word that kept coming to my mind – and believe me, all night I tried thinking of the words to best quantify her voice – was pure. There is no falsetto, no wavering. Simply this unadulterated, unfiltered, clean, clear voice. And regardless of the register, the octave, or the style (all of which were likely to change, often; sometimes, within the same song) her voice remains remarkably full and robust. It’s preternatural; almost alien, in fact; except that it was coming from the beatific, sublime woman who was standing in front of me, doing what she does. And what Lisa Fischer does, is sing.
On tour, now
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Get into it!