What can singers learn from Lisa Fischer?
Thank you. Have a nice day.
Joking, but seriously, Lisa Fischer is one of today’s most under-the-radar superstars. Her shows are transcendent and sublime; if you discover that she is performing anywhere near you, I suggest you buy tickets for everyone you know immediately.
She has wowed the world with her sound, singing backgrounds for everyone from Luther Vandross to Tina Turner to the Rolling Stones (for 20 years). In addition, she won her own Grammy in 1991 for her debut hit, “How Can I Ease The Pain”.
Her persona, her vocals, her sincere, overflowing love for her fellow humans is something I have not witnessed in a very, very long time. (I think Pete Seeger was the only other person who has given me that type of feeling.) I have had the pleasure of receiving hugs from her at the end of her shows and I will tell you, it’s like being in the presence of one of those gurus in India who know more about love and joy than you ever will. How in the name of all that is holy does she do this? And, will she please teach every singer how to do it, too?
**Before we continue, take 90 minutes and go watch a documentary called “20 Feet from Stardom” (a stellar film
about the lives of background vocalists) and then come back to me. If you’ve already seen it, fast forward through to all of Lisa’s parts again. You’re welcome.
Speaking of the Rolling Stones, take a listen to Lisa’s snippet of “Gimme Shelter” at the opening of this video. Then watch the rest and come back to me. You’re welcome again…
Lisa Fischer performs with two live microphones; one is hand-held, set for regular lead vocals, and the other is set for an extra portion or two of delay/echo (I’m sure her soundperson is adept at watching her like a hawk). She uses both to full advantage, giving her a unique sonic-color edge over literally everyone else.
So many things about Lisa are mesmerizing when she’s onstage. Take her wardrobe. She’s known for her African/East Indian wraps/saris, harem pants, dazzling jewelry…and bare feet.
Please, and don’t knock performing barefoot until you’ve tried it; it’s a very grounding experience, which is a far cry from her Rolling Stones days in wigs, bustiers and thigh-high boots:
Copyright: Mick Jagger and Lisa Fischer – Gorup de Besanez [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
And here she is now:
Let’s talk about Lisa’s actual voice for a bit. Her range, A2-G6 is one-in-a-million. She’s clearly a soprano who has learned to master her lower register to the point of redonkulousness. She has a whistle register, but it’s so potent you’d think she was singing in her head voice.
She’s rarely one to go for the Mariah Carey-esque melismas (a succession of notes sung on one particular syllable), and uses hardly any vibrato. Rather, her unparalleled freedom is achieved by having her technique and breath support so embedded into her consciousness that she has nothing whatsoever to think or worry about. Her voice then just gets to be. Food for thought, people, food for thought.
Lisa plays around with tone and placement like a cat batting around a cat toy.
She revels in opening her mouth as wide as possible and grimaces and snarls just as readily. She howls, hoots, hums and scats. She can be smoky, sultry, brassy and angelic…all in the same song. Have you ever noticed (and I preface this by saying this is totally subjective) that certain singers sound like the instruments they play?
Louis Armstrong sounds like the trumpet he plays; so did Louis Prima and Chet Baker. Stevie Ray Vaughan sounds like his guitar, too. Lisa, however, sounds like different instruments: a flute, saxophone, guitar and more, I’m sure.
It seems like she truly sees and feels her voice as an instrument and plays with it from that perspective, making the words…not less important, per se, but less crucial to driving the creative narrative.
She’s the definition of the consummate musician-as-vocalist. She completely understands the concept of ‘playing music’. Playing, not working. She plays with her face, her voice, her body, and her movements. And isn’t that exactly what we (ought to) all strive to do?
She’s also one of the absolutely ego-less women on any stage. She is truly aware of singing as a healing art, and you will feel it the moment she comes onstage. She rolls with the punches and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
A dear friend told me of a time when there were some pretty dire technical difficulties at one of Lisa’s shows. Instead of freaking out at the soundperson (because none of us ever do that… Yeah.Sure.None.Of.Us.Ever.Do.That.), Lisa smiled and simply said, “I’m sure everything is going to work out fine”. Sigh. Another reason Lisa is the queen.
So, dear readers, see how Lisa’s path unfolded. She started as a young woman, always singing for others, and ended up as herself singing for all of us so easily: comfy clothes, short hair, hardly any makeup, feet on the ground.
The important thing to remember is: there’s no judgment regarding either path. They’re both in service to a vision, to the truth, to the power of music.
All of us get to choose for ourselves what that vision looks like, how the path unfolds, and when we get to change paths!
There are indeed no mistakes, just learning experiences.
Well, that may or may not be true; eating Chinese food at a truck stop in Arkansas at 3am is most certainly a mistake, I’ll tell you (blargh), but I think you get what I’m saying. So here’s what to learn: don’t eat truck stop Chinese food and do run and go see and hear Lisa Fischer!
Jaime was a Musical Director, coaching voice and performance for Disney and wrote “Working With Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer” (Alfred Publishing). As a session singer, she ‘jingled’ for Coke, Pillsbury, Folgers, Chevrolet, and hundreds more. She’s sung on thousands of live gigs (covers and original music) and toured for years with Leon Russell and Sam Moore. Jaime sang BGVs live and digitally with George Strait, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny Mathis, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Willie Nelson and others. She performed off-Broadway in “Search: Paul Clayton”, toured nationally with “Old Jews Telling Jokes” and presently coaches students in voice, performance, beginner guitar/piano, studio singing, songwriting and auditioning in NY, CT, LA, Nashville and virtually. For bookings: www.workingwithyourvoice.com
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