While the theme of Lisa Bell's second album may be familiar (IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE is the title), her style shows she is one of the new breed of female jazz singers doing it her way.
You know it's a new era for jazz singers when you hear Lisa because she writes much of her own material, mixes in influences from pop music to Broadway, and crafts compelling modern arrangements that alternate between trumpet and sax on some tunes and non-traditional jazz instruments such as dobro and pedal steel on others.
She also adds a real string quartet on one song. Her contemporary eclecticism is fully in evidence on her latest recording.
"There is a whole new movement of female vocalists like me that are in the jazz-pop-crossover field - maybe we need a new category," Bell says with a laugh.
"I've been inspired by Norah Jones as a songwriter and someone willing to be eclectic with her instrumentation; by Eva Cassidy who made pop tunes jazzy and jazz standards more pop than before; by Aretha Franklin's early jazz albums that mixed in gospel and soul; and by the versatility of Diana Krall. I was at a songwriting conference recently and after hearing one of my songs ("Along the Beaches"), someone described it as 'Flack-a-rach' - a cross between Roberta Flack and Burt Bacharach - which makes sense because both were also influential to me."
Regarding the album's love theme, Lisa explains, "There are thousands upon thousands of great love songs, but there is always room for more. Love, whether you are finding it or losing it, is one of the strongest emotions we ever feed. Since I have been on that rollercoaster ride the past five years of my life, it seemed appropriate to make this album all about love."
On IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE, Bell is backed by some of the top musicians in her home state of Colorado including her pianist for the past four years, John Armstrong, who wrote one song on the album ("Don't Wait Forever") and co-wrote seven others with her. Lisa's core band is bassist Eduardo "Bijoux" Barbosa (Nelson Rangell, Brad Upton Quintet, Bolao), drummer Larry Thompson (Dotsero, Wind Machine, Tim O'Brien), respected local guitarist Ross Martin and percussionist Christian Teele (Tony Furtado Band, Nina Storey, Chuck Pyle).
There are special guest appearances by Bill Payne (Little Feat) on piano and organ; recording artist Gabriel Mark Hasselbach (John Denver, Powder Blues Band, Jim Byrnes) on trumpet, flute and flugelhorn; Bob Rebholz (Tom Jones, Peter Kater, Chris Daniels & The Kings) on saxophone, flute and wind
The bulk of the CD was recorded in Colorado, but backing vocals on eight tunes were recorded at the renowned Soundtrack Studios in New York City where Lisa brought in Gregory Clark (Oleta Adams) with whom Bell first sang in college, Machan (a recording artist herself and former backup singer with Sting and Pat Benatar), and Everett Bradley (a Broadway performer in "Swing" and "Stomp"). Robert Johnson (Wayne Newton) also adds vocals to three songs.
The seed for the first song and title track of the album was planted during a phone call with her producer. "I was walking on a beach in South Florida one lovely day when he called to talk about final song ideas for the CD," Lisa remembers.
"He asked what was really important to me in life and my reply was simply, 'It's all about love, isn't it?' That thought inspired both the lyrics and the melody, and helped focus the theme of the album around love."
Songs co-written by Bell include "It's All About Love," "Ain't Divorce Grand" ("a combination of all the funny and sad stories I heard at a divorce recovery class"), "Along The Beaches" ("about finally marrying my true love on the beach on Kauai a couple of years ago"), "Mary Had a Little Plan" ("I thought it would be fun to take lines from familiar children's songs and string them together to tell a fun story"), "You'll Find Me" ("about not making the same relationship mistakes again"), "Faraway Friends" ("it's important to keep true friendships going throughout life") and "Burning Desire" ("sometimes love goes astray and deception enters the picture").
Lisa also covers four other tunes (never recorded commercially by any other artist), including two love songs ("She's Not Right For You" and "Here I Am") written by 87-year-old Edward Greenbaum who contacted her out-of-the-blue by email a few years ago ("he's the best jazz-standard composer you've never heard of"). The beautiful "When I Wish" was written by her first CD producer and songwriter LK Hill.
Lisa grew up singing jazz from the time she was six-years-old, graduated from college with a degree in vocal performance, was a backing vocalist for Bobby McFerrin in concert, sang in numerous harmony-laden vocal jazz ensembles, worked as a studio session singer, did a stint as the vocal soloist for the 25-piece old-timey Radio Days Orchestra, had renowned jazz saxophonist Nelson Rangell and keyboardist Bill Payne of Little Feat play on her albums, served as the opening act for Christopher Cross and Stanley Jordan, and has been booked under her own name to appear on the main stage at many festivals.
Lisa's earliest musical inspiration came from two concerts (Dionne Warwick and Ella Fitzgerald) she saw when she was six-years-old. Soon the youngster was standing on her fireplace hearth giving concerts for her family based on records she heard around the house by Ella, Carmen McRae, The 5th Dimension, Burt Bacharach, Karen Carpenter and Chicago. As a teenager, Lisa sang in camp and school choirs culminating in being selected for Excalibur -- the 12-person, top high school jazz choral group in Boulder, Colo., where she was born and raised. The group's repertoire included tunes by Manhattan Transfer and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
A scholarship led her to the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where she got a B.A. degree in both Communications and Vocal Performance. Although the emphasis was on jazz vocals, she also studied opera and musical theater. In addition, she was chosen to be in the college's top jazz vocal group, Connection.
In Kansas City, Bell sang backing vocals in concert for Bobby McFerrin, Marilyn May and Ida McBeth, among others. In addition, Lisa began doing extensive studio session work, especially jingles for local radio commercials that she often co-wrote in the studio before singing them. She also made choir demonstration recordings for Hal Leonard Publishing that were sold for school use.
She sang with a vocal ensemble after college (More or Less Jazz), performed in musical theater productions in the Midwest such as "Jesus Christ Superstar," was made a vocal soloist for the Radio Days Orchestra (a 1920s-styled big band with horns and strings), and worked with the Theatre League of Kansas City on a variety show doing an impersonation of Carol Channing in "Hello, Dolly" on Broadway.
After returning to Colorado, Lisa joined the Colorado Symphony Chorus for three Gilbert & Sullivan shows at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, formed a vocal jazz quartet (Jazz On The Rocks), and was a member of the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus and Ars Nova.
Bell began studying jazz again in 2000. After singing jazz standards on a regular basis, she began coming up with significantly different arrangements for classics ranging from "Summertime" to "Black Coffee."
She captured these songs (and one original tune) on her first album, DARE TO BE which featured special guest Nelson Rangell. Soon Lisa was performing at jazz clubs throughout the area and at major festivals such as the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, Taste of Colorado and the 2004 JVC Winter Park Jazz Festival. Lisa has even joined with Denver's smooth jazz radio station CD104 for twice-a-year "Jazz On The Tracks" performances aboard a special Amtrak train touring through the Rocky Mountains.
"The songs on IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE are a fairly autobiographical look at the last five years of my life. It's all about the various aspects of love - the ups and downs, the good and the bad, the beautiful memories and the painful ones.
After the first album, I didn't want to get categorized as just a singer of jazz standards, so I purposely picked all new material for this recording. My producer and I also wanted to try some different things in the studio so we put a dobro on two tunes and a pedal steel on one, something you would never expect on a jazz album.
There are quite a few female singers and composers working today that are willing to follow their musical hearts and take chances. I support that completely. That's my ideaL"