Artist Interview: Lisa Lindsley and the Mourad Benahmmou Quartet
Tell us about yourself and your music
Jazz vocalist Lisa Lindsley Ignites the City of Lights with her second album “Long After Midnight”, a gorgeous and playful program of familiar and overlooked standards recorded in Paris
Jazz vocalist Lisa Lindsley says that moving to Paris for a year was an idea proposed by her daughter, an aspiring high school contortionist who wanted to hone her French while studying at the Fratellini Circus School. Much to her daughter’s surprise, Lindsley put the plan in motion, and turned the adventure into the next step in her remarkable musical evolution. While her daughter decided return to the states after six months to tour with a circus in Vermont, Lindsley settled into the 19th arrondissement and quickly developed a network of regular gigs with skilled accompanists. She documents these relationships on her second album, Love After Midnight, a gorgeous collection of sultry songs on her Take One Music label that’s available in Europe (and digitally) May 13, and in the USA June 10, 2016.
“When we set out for Paris I had no gigs in mind,” says Lindsley, a longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. “I just went to all the open mics and I’d ask to sit in. The musicians were always really impressed I was an American singing the American Songbook. Afterwards I’d talk to the owner and that’s how I started getting gigs. Before long I found musicians I really enjoyed working with.”
Lindsley is no slouch at making a powerful first impression. A late blooming artist who came to jazz singing in mid-life, she earned national attention with her stellar 2010 debut release Everytime We Say Goodbye, an intimate session featuring bassist Fred Randolph and superlative accompanist George Mesterhazy (pianist for Shirley Horn and Paula West). She’s been working steadily around the Bay Area over the past decade, but when she and her daughter relocated to Paris in the fall of 2013 Lindsley put everything on hold, including her prolific career as a voice-over artist of considerable celebrity. As the voice of Princess Leia in LeapFrog’s Star Wars game and the characters Soraka and Kayle in Riot Games’ hugely popular online game League of Legends “I get fan mail and fans cry when they meet me,” Lindsley says.
Far more than a souvenir of her year-long adventure, Long After Midnight is a fully realized statement from an artist with a discerning ear for overlooked material and a sure sense of songs ideally suited for her pleasingly smoky soprano. Working with a stellar coterie of Parisian players, she delivers an irresistible program featuring pianist Laurent Marode, drummer Mourad Benhammou, Esaie Cid on flute, clarinet and tenor saxophone, and Bay Area bass master Jeff Chambers (the Paris session’s only ringer).
“Jeff used to play in Paris a lot. As soon as he walked into the studio Mourad Benhammou said ‘I saw you play with Bobby Hutcherson 20 years ago.’ We went in and laid down 15 songs in the first day. It was the Mesterhazy thing all over again,” says Lindsley, referring to the copacetic studio chemistry that pervaded her debut album.
Opening with the title track, Lindsley doesn’t waste any time sharing the music she gathered on her sojourn. With its echoes of Thelonious Monk’s iconic ballad “Round Midnight,” James Wilson and Tricia Lee Sampson’s lovely “Long After Midnight” offers an alluring invitation to a seductive nighttime world that pulses with the heartbeat of Chambers’ imposing bass. She introduces another gem by Wilson, a California-raised jazz guitarist who teaches music at the American School of Paris, with “Skylark Song,” a delightfully fluttery melody on which her poignant vocals swoop and glide with Cid’s lustrous flute.
With her relaxed phrasing and unfussy approach to arrangements, Lindsley fully claims several oft-recorded songs as her own. Her concise, amused version of “Star Eyes” finds more light than heat in the Gene de Paul/Don Raye standard. She mines the deep vein of Irving Berlin’s treasure trove with an appropriately Caribbean-inflected “Heat Wave” and a tear-jerk torchsong take on “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” a rarely heard gem associated with Rosemary Clooney from the 1954 film White Christmas.
The album’s emotional centerpiece is another undersung chestnut, “The House Is Haunted (By the Echo of Your Last Goodbye),” an ache-filled lament she delivers with just the right blend of resignation and regret. A pinch of funk dials up the sass of “Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend,” while Lindsley’s insouciant spirit is on full display on her slinky on-the-spot version of the 1966 Donovan hit “Mellow Yellow.” The album closes with sleek and sensuous trot through “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” a song tackled more often by instrumentalists than singers. As a winning bonus track, she delivers a brief impromptu medley of “When Your Smiling” and “Pennies From Heaven” featuring Benhammou’s dexterous brush work. As the dawn approaches and the evening’s revelry comes to an end, Lindsley hasn’t started to wear out her welcome.
Womanly and girlish, romantic and carnal, spirited and introverted, Lindsley comfortably inhabits a full range of roles and sensibilities. She’s a jazz singer who knows that the music is at its best when it flows from lived experience. While she’s a relative latecomer to the bandstand, she’s been around the music her entire life. She grew up listening to jazz greats like Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan because her father kept jazz and classical music playing on the stereo. Her mother, a film actress who had to leave Hollywood in the 1950s because of the McCarthy-era blacklist, imbued in her a love of theater.
While as a young teen Lindsley gravitated to the rock and pop music of the day, she discovered musical theater in high school, a passion that carried through to college. After graduating from the prestigious California Institute for the Arts (CalArts) theater program, she spent a decade touring and performing with The Imagination Company. Raising two daughters put her performing ambitions on hold for years, but she developed a successful career as a voice over artist, cast in national ad campaigns, radio shows and video games.
Just like her daughter led her to Paris, Lindsley found her way back to music when her daughters got involved in musical theater. Her work as Vicky in a production of “The Full Monty” caught the attention of the bartender at a jazzspot in the East Bay artist colony of Pt. Richmond, and he invited her to sit in at a jam session. The experience was an epiphany, and realizing the jazz was an ideal creative outlet Lindsley delved into the Bay Area’s rich pool of jazz education. She honed her skills with Roger Letson at Contra Costa College, and studied with Maye Cavallero, Laurie Antonioli and Pamela Rose at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley. Veteran Bay Area pianist/drummer Kelly Park provided essential on the job training.
“He taught me a whole bunch about music, basic theory and rhythm, and what musicians think of singers who don’t know their stuff,” Lindsley says.
In turning herself into the consummate professional, Lindsley has also turned into a powerfully expressive artist whose debut album announced the emergence of a formidable creative force. With Long After Midnight, Lindsley makes a major leap as a vocalist fully in charge of her sound and repertoire. It’s an album for blissful late-night listening that leaves you wondering what the next day has to offer.
Talk to us more about your latest release
Jazz vocalist Lisa Lindsley moved to Paris for a year settling into the 19th arrondissement and quickly developed a network of regular gigs with skilled accompanists. Aligning herself with pianist Laurent Marode, drummer Mourad Benhammou, Esaie Cid on flute, clarinet and tenor saxophone, and Bay Area bass master Jeff Chambers (brought to Paris to record their album, Long After Midnight.)
Their first recording together, Long After Midnight is a fully realized statement from Lindsley as an artist with a discerning ear for overlooked material and a sure sense of songs ideally suited for her pleasingly smoky soprano. Couple that with the pulsing heartbeat of Jeff Chambers imposing bass lines, Mourad Benhammou’s dexterous brush work as well as Laurent Madrode’s melodic and seductive piano playing and Esaie Cid’s lustrous flute and horns, and you have a coterie of magic that lights up every time they play music together.
As the dawn approaches and the evening’s revelry comes to an end, Lindsley hasn’t started to wear out her welcome. She’s a jazz singer who knows that the music is at its best when it flows from lived experience. It’s an album for blissful late-night listening that leaves you wondering what the next day has to offer.
What inspired you to write this release?
The music we create is for uplifting the spirit, if we can take you away from the stress of everyday life then we have done our job.
Any plans to release a video?
In the works..off to Paris in a week to shoot a video and mix our next album.
Any plans to hit the road?
Paris in February and July as well as part of August. Then we will be over in the US end of August and beginning of Sept.
As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?
We have unique arrangements on old standards as well as new material. Our quartet is half French and half American…We want to promote French American relations through music.
Who have you been listening to lately?
Bob Dorough and Sam Smith
Tell us about your passions
Voice Over gets me out of bed way too early. I record video games, I was the voice of Princess Leia for Lucas the a Star Wars Video Game for Leap Frog. Two voices in League of Legends, multiple radio and TV ads and the english voice over for the French company Avene.
What else is happening next in your world?
I am writing a musical with all the music from Pink Martini. It ‘s going to be a comedic/tragedy. I got a lot on my plate.
Thanks for an awesome interview, Lisa!