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Vocalist, Recording Artist and Educator

The release of Lisa Rich’s Long As You’re Living can be thought of as the comeback of the year. The singer’s first new recording since ill health forced her to stop performing in 1991, this rather remarkable album finds Lisa Rich not only in prime form but enthusiastically singing with adventure, daring, swing, and a deep understanding of the lyrics that she interprets.

Lisa had earlier had a brilliant career that was full of accomplishments. Her first three records, Listen Here, Touch Of The Rare and Highwire (the latter was finally released in 2019), are full of gems as the singer made Clare Fischer’s Morning,” “Pensativa,” Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time,” and such Chick Corea songs as “Time’s Lie,” “Bud Powell” and “Highwire” sound as if they were written for her. She performed historic concerts in China, sang in India, was featured at the Kennedy Center, was an artist in residence at the Smithsonian Institution, and was heard many times on NPR and Voice of America.

When her health problems ended her performing career, Lisa Rich became a well-respected and influential vocal teacher. But she always dreamt of returning. A few years ago she sang in public for the first time since her forced retirement. “I spoke at my mother’s funeral and I thought to myself, ‘if I can do this, why can’t I do a gig?’ It hit me that I still had a voice and it became my dream to record and perform again.”

Lisa had studied briefly with the great jazz singer and educator Jay Clayton decades before and they had become close friends. “When the pandemic began, I called Jay and she said that I could be her first new student as she was now teaching online. We started doing that twice a week. It was very informal, really both a lesson and a hangout. She shared a lot of information and always encouraged me. Jay said that if I can really picture myself accomplishing my dream, I will get it. But if I only picture my dream in a vague way, then it will just stay my hope.”

Against all odds, Lisa overcame her vocal atrophy and gradually she got her singing voice back. She took singing lessons, had speech therapy, overcame her frustrations and fears and, with Jay Clayton’s guidance and support, she performed two live concerts on You Tube and Facebook. “The pandemic allowed me to study with a lot of people who might not have been available, get close to many different singers and musicians, and to do interviews and concerts on Zoom.” Lisa also began to plan her new recording.

Long As You’re Living, which was produced by Jay Clayton (who passed away on Dec. 31, 2023), is dedicated to the innovative singer. “I saw around ten of Jay’s performances during her 80th year. She was a true artist and very inspiring, never letting what other people might think from detracting from what she wanted to accomplish.”

Lisa contacted pianist Marc Copland and bassist Drew Gress, both of whom were on her Highwire album in 1987. On one of the two sessions, they were joined by trumpeter Dave Ballou.

“Jay and I put together a repertoire that went very well with the instrumentation and everyone came from New York City. We recorded at Bias Recording Studios where I recorded Listen Here and Highwire, in Virginia . We created the entire album during two days, a pair of six-hour sessions after having a rehearsal the day before. When the musicians played the intro to the first song, I didn’t come in at first because I felt tears welling up in my eyes.  I never thought that this recording would ever happen. It was like a fantasy coming true.”

Listeners who might think that, after all of these years, Lisa’s singing would only be a shadow of her earlier self are in for a major surprise. She begins the album with two Abbey Lincoln songs (“Long As You’re Living” and “Throw It Away”) that let everyone know that Lisa Rich is back! She sings the lyrics of the title cut with confidence, contributes some inventive scat-singing, leaves space for fine trumpet and piano solos, and interacts with Ballou over the closing section. The philosophy behind “Throw It Away” resonates with her. “Throw it at the wall and if it doesn’t come back to you, then it’s not supposed to be yours.” The sensitive playing of Copland and Gress perfectly fits the mood that Lisa sets. She digs into the lyrics of the love song “When I Look Into Your Eyes,” singing the slow ballad with quiet intensity and plenty of understated feeling while including some beautiful long notes.

There is a lot of variety in the music that the intimate trio/quartet performs. Jay Clayton’s “New Morning Blues,” a medium-tempo piece with a sly melody, features scat-singing from Lisa that is quite inventive, swinging and fearless. Having recorded Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” on Highwire, this time around she sings Horace Silver’s “Lonely Woman,” an atmospheric piece with an unusual structure that she takes as a heartfelt ballad, making every note and sound count. Here, as throughout the album, Marc Copland’s playing is sensitive, perfectly accentuating the mood that Lisa sets. Joe Henderson’s “Isotope” is rarely ever sung. Lisa not only does the tricky melody justice but she sings a boppish lyric (a little reminiscent of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross) that she was given by pianist Steve Kuhn years ago.

Of “A Timeless Place” (Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” with the lyrics of Norma Winstone), Lisa admits, “This is the hardest song that I’ve ever sung!” Despite its complexity and wide intervals including an almost impossible to sing bridge, Lisa hits each note perfectly during her definitive version. Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” is more light-hearted and includes Ballou’s most rewarding solo of the set plus fine spots for Copland and bassist Gress. “Close Your Eyes” is normally a ballad but Lisa and her musicians decided to swing it. The beauty of her voice and her creative scatting share honors with some typically unpredictable playing by Copland and Gress. Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now” has Lisa putting plenty of feeling into the words and somehow sounding relaxed while singing the difficult melody. Her colorful version of “Bye Bye Blackbird” includes the rarely heard verse.  

To wrap up As Long As You’re Living, Jay Clayton’s “Haperchance Gymnopedie #1” is a performance that has Lisa and her musicians improvising freely in different combinations before the music resolves into Satie’s “Gymnopedie #1.” “I had never recorded anything like this before but I loved the challenge.”

In summing up this historic album, Lisa pays tribute to Jay Clayton: “What Jay did for me is that she showed me how humble one can be while being a phenomenal artist. She believed so much in authenticity, saying that your songs are your story. My songs have some humor, some sadness, a lot of years of experience, some suffering and a lot of joy.” For the future, Lisa Rich looks forward to CD release concerts and more recordings. “I would love to sing as much as possible and let people know that I can still sing. A lot of things could happen but, if this is it, I would be happy. My dream came true.”

“You will find excellence on many levels. Pitch, tone, improvisation song selection and arrangement-sheer talent, too”
Mark Murphy


“… the complaint has often been lodged that no young jazz singers are coming up to take over from the Fitzgeralds and Vaughans. Every once in a while a singer such as Lisa Rich will come along and give the lie to this theory."
Leonard Feather

Los Angeles Times

“Lisa’s voice is strong, elastic, and capable of conveying a wide range of emotions”
W. Royal Stokes

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