When Lisa Fisher agreed to participate in a movie about backing vocalists, 20 Feet From Stardom, she had no idea that her life was about to change. But the 2013 film was an Oscar- and Grammy-winning hit, and suddenly, her profile rose dramatically.
“I was shocked,” says Fischer, who performs with the band Grand Baton at the Exit Zero Jazz Festival in Cape May on Friday. “When I think documentary, in my mind, I’m always thinking, you know, something in a smaller vein. I thought to myself, ‘How sweet: (the late record company executive and producer) Gil Friesen wants to do a documentary about background singers.’
“I just thought it was a beautiful and sweet idea, but I never thought about the possibilities of what it would mean, or could mean. The only thing I knew was that I was just going to be present in the moment, and try to be as helpful in the process as possible, along with the other background singers.
“It’s just been an amazing journey. It’s been a gift from heaven.”
Fischer, who lives in Hoboken (“though I live more in my suitcase than in my apartment,” she says), is one of the co-headliners of the Exit Zero fest, along with guitarist Pat Metheny and bassist Ron Carter, who will perform a rare duo set.
Other performers in the festival, which takes place April 22 to 24 at various Cape May venues, include the John Scofield/Joe Lovano Quartet, Joey Alexander, the High and Mighty Brass Band, Breckerville (a tribute to Michael and Randy Brecker) the Pedrito Martinez Group, Frank Bey, Ameranouche, Brother Joscephus and the Love Revolution, René Marie and the Amina Figarova Sextet. For information, visit ExitZeroJazzFestival.com.
Fischer is best known for her work with rock and R&B performers, including The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Chaka Khan and even Nine Inch Nails, and had a hit R&B single in 1991, “How Can I Ease the Pain.” But she has plenty of experience in jazz as well.
“I was working with Chris Botti for a while, so I got to do some jazz standards with him, which was amazing,” she said, adding that in Cape May, “I think we may add a couple of different songs. We do do a couple of things that are kind of jazz, but when I think of jazz, I just always think of the freedom of playfulness, and it just seems like there are so many different ways that jazz is expressed.
“Even if I sing the same song, from night to night, it always seems to be different. We tend to not stick to the script so much, which has been a lot of fun.”
Fischer has been working with Grand Baton for about two years. “I actually met J.C. Maillard, who’s the musical director, through my manager. And when I met him, I just fell in love with him. And then he introduced me to (drummer) Thierry Arpino and (bassist) Aidan Carroll, and it’s just been a lovefest for me ever since.”
Maillard, a native of Guadeloupe, is adept at Caribbean music, but the band can play anything. “I love that part,” says Fischer. “And they’re all just beautiful people to be around. That’s really an important part of it as well. You can have great musicians who are just such a bummer to be around (laughs). They’re just lovely souls, and good people. I adore being with them.”
Fischer has been a staple of Rolling Stones tours since 1989, but could not appear on the band’s South American dates in February and March due to her own touring commitments, and was replaced by Sasha Allen.
“I was in a really weird and uncomfortable place,” Fischer says, “because I was like, The Stones is my family, and I want to be there, but now I have this responsibility of making sure that (1) the band works and (2) that I don’t take the gift of the film … you know, that I respect this gift. So I had to make that decision.”
The Stones have no touring plans, at the moment. But when they do tour again, would she participate?
“I think it would be, first, up to them,” she says, “and then up to scheduling, really: If it’s something that can be worked out, scheduling-wise.”
Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton perform at 9 p.m. April 22 at the Schmidtchen Theater at Lower Cape Regional High School, as part of the Exit 0 Jazz Festival (named after Cape May’s Garden State Parkway exit).
For more information about the April 22-24 festival, and listings, visit ExitZeroJazzFestival.com.
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