Lisa Fischer’s rich collaborative history

Lisa Fischer’s rich collaborative history

Lisa Fischer
Words by Augustus Welby

Lisa Fischer has led a storied career. The Brooklyn vocalist has released just one solo album, 1991’s So Intense, which contains the premiere R&B cut, ‘How Can I Ease the Pain’. However, Fischer’s made her mark onstage with other artists.

She performed backing vocals for The Rolling Stones from the late ‘80s until 2015 and has also worked with Luther Vandross, Nine Inch Nails, Tina Turner, Chris Botti and Sting.

Fischer will be the star of the show when she returns to Australia in June. Since 2014 she has been working alongside jazz fusion trio Grand Baton, led by Guadeloupian guitarist JC Maillard.

“I was working on the film 20 Feet from Stardom and we started doing these interviews and people would ask me if I had a band. I’d go, ‘no’, because I was still touring with the Stones at the time. So I made the decision to reach out to Bobby McFerrin’s manager, Linda Goldstein. I’ve known her for a few years and she found the perfect musical director for me, JC Maillard, who started the concept of Grand Baton,” Fischer says.

Fischer and Grand Baton take on a variety of well-known songs from the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Police, Robert Palmer, Amy Grant, and of course, The Rolling Stones. They’re not stuck on a set repertoire, though.

“We do all kinds of stuff. We do blues, we do classical, we do world music, we do trance music, we do psychedelic rock stuff. Just all kinds of stuff mish-mashed together,” Fischer says.

“I made a list of the kinds of music and songs that I liked and I realised I like a lot of different stuff. I didn’t want to feel chained to any particular genre. So we just do a fusion of many things according to the mood, according to the song, according to the message and just how we want to paint it. It gives us a real lovely sense of freedom.”

Fischer’s visit to the Melbourne Recital Centre won’t be a conventional covers show, by any means. Inspired by jazz vocalists re-interpreting the standards, Fischer employs an intuitive approach. Grand Baton are more than up to the task.

“What really attracted me to JC and the gentlemen that he’s chosen to be the band is the way they listen and their sense of freedom when they’re creating in a live setting,” she says. “It’s so exciting to me because I never know what they’re going to do. But there’s a certain kind of listening that has to happen in order for it to work as a group.

“I’ve sat within myself for so long now, being a sponge around different energy, different music, that it’s nice to be able to just toss the paint up there and see what pictures come.”

Fischer performed with The Rolling Stones for close to 30 years, taking a central role on songs like ‘Monkey Man’ and ‘Gimme Shelter’. The assignment sent her around the globe numerous times and onto many of the world’s most revered concert stages. Her solo shows, by contrast, are more intimate affairs.

“I look at groups of people, no matter the size, as energy. So the larger the group, the bigger the wave of energy. It’s still water. The Stones would do an arena, a stadium, a club date. Luckily I’ve had the experience of being in those different waters with them.

“The motion of the waves of energy that come and flow have a different rhythm. So for me, that’s the only difference, but as far as what you have to give it’s still all the same. You still have to put out that same energy, but the time exchange between the band and the audience is different.”

Lisa Fischer performs at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Wednesday June 5 as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, taking place from Friday May 31 to Sunday June 9. Head to the festival website for info and tickets.