Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein)
(Lisa Bernstein) is not only a jazz singer and songwriter, she’s also a widely published poet and spoken word performer. On I Get A Kick: Cole Porter Reimagined
, her latest CD and sixth as a leader, she applies her poetic prowess and vocal gifts to fresh interpretations of ten tunes by Cole Porter, one of the finest of the lyricists and composers (unconventionally, he was both) who created the Great American Songbook.
According to Lisa B, “My five previous CDs were largely original music, and it was time to tackle the works of another songwriter. I was always drawn to Cole Porter’s writing, and I’ve been singing his tunes in my live performances for years. In his lyrics and his shifting, major-to-minor harmonies, you can hear a dual nature. He was both an outsider and a high society partygoer, a gay man in a closeted era, a breezy wit with perfectly crafted lyrics who also could express powerful longing and sadness. I guess I’m attracted to these tensions—his suffering soul, and his charm.”
Poetry and jazz have always been a part of Lisa B’s life. Her mother wrote poetry, and her father was a serious aficionado of avant-garde jazz. He counted among his friends a number of well-known jazz musicians. Jackie McLean
was a close family friend, and Lisa B remembers sitting on Elvin Jones’ lap at a party at their family home. Although Lisa B studied classical piano and was steeped in jazz vocal music—in particular, that of Carmen McRae
—as well as R&B and musical theater, her first forays into live performance were public readings of her own poetry. Indeed, her poems have appeared in many important literary journals, and a book of her work was published by the prestigious Wesleyan University Press. Spoken word performances require storytelling skills and vocal dexterity. For Lisa B, dedicating herself to the art of jazz singing, while still incorporating poetry into her shows, was a natural progression.
Lisa B chose ten songs Porter composed for stage and screen between 1929 and 1954. Although many jazz singers have sung and recorded Porter’s tunes, Lisa B set out to re-interpret them in adventurous ways while still hewing to the essences of the lyrics. In the 1950s, some poets gave public readings accompanied by jazz music. Lisa B turns that paradigm on its head. On several tunes, she adds her own spoken word passages to jazz renditions of Porter’s tunes, creating a genre-bending, multi- dimensional effect.
It was important for Lisa B to work with musicians who are particularly attuned to lyrics and vocal performance, so she invited some of the top San Francisco Bay Area players with these affinities to join her. Chief among them is James Gardiner, who has garnered two Grammy nominations and 42 Gold and Platinum designations. Gardiner is Lisa B’s long-time collaborator, co-producer, co-arranger, and engineer, having worked with her on her five previous projects. The other musicians include Ben Flint
and Frank Martin
(keyboard), Fred Randolph
and Troy Lampkins
(bass), Jeff Marrs
, Alan Hall 99
, and Paul van Wageningen
(drums), Mike Zilber
(tenor and soprano sax), and John Santos
(percussion), all busy touring artists with international reputations.
Lisa B opens the CD with I Get a Kick Out of You,” accompanied by bass and drums only. Staying true to her vision, she adds a new dimension to the widely recorded tune not only via the spare up-tempo arrangement but also by interspersing her original vocalese. Lisa B prefaces a thoughtful version of “I Happen to Like New York” with her spoken word sequence “Sonia & Solomon” about her immigrant grandparents who landed in the Big Apple in 1923. She performs “What Is This Thing Called Love?” as a beguine, inserting a spoken word section into the middle of the song in which she answers the question posed by the title. I Get A Kick: Cole Porter Reimagined
is a stylistically diverse project. It moves, for instance, from straight-ahead renditions of “I Get A Kick Out of You” and the rarely recorded “Wake Up and Dream,” to exotic funk on “Night and Day” and “All of You,” to a bossa treatment of “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” to an emotionally raw ballad rendition of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Throughout this project, Lisa B displays not only the sensitivity and deep reading one would expect from an accomplished writer in her own right, but also the musical inventiveness and artistic freedom that only a top-notch jazz performer can harness.About Lisa B
Lisa B has performed at more than 80 venues, with her jazz band at clubs and solo at poetry readings, in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. She has not only received accolades from major jazz magazines such as JazzTimes and Jazziz, she also is the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Lisa B's influences span Gil Scott-Heron
and the Great American Songbook, John Coltrane
and Joni Mitchell
, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and Jeanne Lee, Sheila Jordan
and Jill Scott, Aretha Franklin and Allen Ginsberg. A resident of Oakland
, CA, for more than two decades, Lisa B was nominated for a 2014 Oakland Indie Award. She is also active in her community, focusing on working with young people: she has taught a children's poetry writing and performance workshop at the Allendale Recreation Center, volunteered at one of Oakland’s Boys & Girls Clubs, and taught poetry-writing as a volunteer to second- through fourth—graders in the Emeryville public school.