Lisa Lindsley may be a latecomer to singing jazz, but the wealth of creative experience she brings to American Songbook gems turns familiar tunes into bracingly contemporary tales. She makes an impressive debut with Everytime We Say Goodbye, an intimate standards session that announces the arrival of an artist who knows that beautiful melodies don’t need much adornment and that oft-interpreted lyrics have yet to reveal all their secrets.
“Every great song has a complete story in it, with a beginning, middle, and end,” Lindsley says. “When you’re singing you have to be connected to the words, or there’s nothing there, you have to have an emotional connection to the song. I want to tell the audience the story of the song, and my experience with acting helps that immensely.”
With the first few notes of her ravishing interpretation of “The Nearness of You,” Lindsley unveils a sound that’s impishly girlish yet forthrightly womanly, suffused with a lived-in sensuality that flows from an interesting life. In her former career as an actor, she learned the art of letting silences speak volumes. She brings the same kind of communicative power to a bewitched, bothered version of “The Very Thought of You,” while her interpretation of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” infuses the song’s masochism with almost cheerful defiance. She plays the sassy moll on “Why Don’t You Do Right” and suffers magnificently on “Everytime We Say Goodbye.” After nine tracks, Lindsley leaves her listeners wanting more, a true sign of a show biz professional.
She is quick to credit the great pianist George Mesterhazy with coaxing her into the studio and shepherding her through the recording process. Best known for his sublime work as Shirley Horn’s accompanist during the last three years of her life, he’s forged an equally rewarding relationship in recent years with the brilliant San Francisco jazz singer Paula West.
It was after a West performance in 2008 that Lindsley approached Mesterhazy about writing her some arrangements. She was still very much a novice singer, but convinced him that she had the talent and ambition to make good use of his work. They struck up a friendship, and he ended up writing Lindsley half a dozen charts that became the foundation of her repertoire. The following year when Mesterhazy returned to play with Paula West, he called her up and suggested they spend the weekend recording an album.
“George knew I was going through a very difficult time and he wanted to gave me this wonderful opportunity as a sort of gift,” says Lindsley. “I had no idea how to record an album; George and I had only worked on arrangements together, and had never performed with each other. Originally it was just going to be George and myself, then I thought let’s add a bass player. Then I asked George, ‘What songs are we going to do?’ He told me to bring my charts and we would decide when we got there. Talk about sailing by the seat of your pants. We didn’t rehearse the songs before we recorded, we just talked them through then let the tape roll. I really felt at home. It was magic.”