Lisa Wahlandt: A German farm girl's wondrous way to Jazz
Intro: Daddy's accordion
If you'd ask Lisa Wahlandt - backstage, say, at one of her concerts in Berlin, New York, San Francisco or Singapore - how she actually developed from Bavarian country girl to international Jazz singer, the red-haired thirty-something would probably flash you her signature smile: ironical, a little melancholy, very charming. "Oh, you know," she might say, self-mockingly, "at my dad's little farm, aside from chickens, pigs and cows I grew up with Billie Holiday, Betty Carter, Peggy Lee, Astrud Gilberto and their records, and when I was only four years old my parents took me along into Munich for concerts with Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, and by the time I was five my mind was set: I'll become a Jazz singer...."
Oh yeah? Really? - No. Not really. That's just Lisa and her sense of irony. Her own amazement at the wondrous course her life has taken. True, she did grow up among farm animals, in Bavaria, two hours drive northeast of Munich, where hamlets hide in wooded valleys and farming is small scale, due to the hills - hardly worth it in times of globalization. As so many others, the Wahlandt family farm was doomed. So, young Lisa, having finished High School, became a secretary - assistant undersecretary, to be exact - at the Agency of Agriculture in Pfarrkirchen, the county capital. That seemed to be it, in terms of professional perspective.
Theme: A talent sings out
But - this office girl had a special talent since childhood: She sang, she sang all the time. At home, her father played the accordion a lot, "beautifully", as she fondly remembers, German folksongs and Christmas carols as well as local polkas and Swing tunes like "In the mood", which were quite popular in post-war Germany. Singing along to Daddy's accordion was natural for all members of the Wahlandt family. "To me", says Lisa, "singing has been second nature as long as I can remember. Singing was joy, was soothing, was help in lonely moments, simply part of my life. At home, I sang along to the radio all the time. I knew the Pop charts up and down, picking up the tunes fast, imitating the phrasing of Chaka Kahn, Beatles, Al Jarreau and the like. I guess I was good at it. But it never occurred to me that I might become a singer. Singing as a profession for myself was beyond my imagination."
As a hobby, though, her singing earned the teenage girl applaus early on. Wherever some boy with a guitar strummed Dylan or Neil Young hits at a party, Lisa stole the show with her already impressive voice. Consequently, her first band was bound to happen: At seventeen, she sang with Touchdown, an aspiring group of high school students. From there on one thing led to another. At one of Touchdown's local gigs the leader of a regional big band, on the lookout for a singer, heard and saw Lisa - and invited her on the spot to audition. She was barely eighteen. She had never sung Jazz tunes. But her ability to adapt and deliver them in front of the Christian Ortner-Big Band was amazing.
Chorus: From Linz to Vienna to New York
When the big band folded after a number of years, Lisa Wahlandt shortly joined the fusion group Sunny Side Up. Then, in 1990, she teamed up with another wunderkind of the area, the seventeen year old, highly talented guitarist Joni Heine. As it turned out, the duo Joni and Lisa, with its unusual, ambitiously arranged repertoire from Jazz standards to the Beatles, became a stepping stone in Lisa Wahlandt's professional life. At the time, she still lived in her parents' farm house, still held on to her office job. "I guess it was my conservative upbringing", she says, looking back. "But slowly, concert by concert, I started to trust my musical abilities." Encouraged by their duo's success, Lisa and Joni, the self-taught youngsters from the province, applied at the prestigious Bruckner Conservatory in Linz, Austria, and were accepted. A decisive moment indeed. At the Conservatory, serious musical studies - vocal training, piano lessons, sight reading, composition -, workshops with Jazz greats, plus numerous try-out concerts with fellow students formed the solid basis from which Lisa Wahlandt's career from now on takes off.
Soon the media, as well as agents and bookers, take notice. In 1994 Austrian Television airs a portrait of Lisa and Joni in its series Meister von morgen (masters of tomorrow). Both are invited to perform with the late but unforgotten Falco's Hallucination Company in Vienna. And in the same year, little Lisa from the Bavarian backwoods finds herself, much to her own amazement, in the very heart of that global phenomenon called Jazz music: Her outstanding talent is rewarded with a grant for the New School of Music in Manhattan, New York City. Lisa Wahlandt, German Jazz singer, performs at the Seaport Festival, in Bryant Park and at the Visiones Jazz club.
Variations: New band, new love
Back in Germany, Lisa does a string of stints in Musicals with the ensembles of Jesus Christ Superstar, Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors. She sings the sun in The Sun And the Moon at the Festival Theatre in Bregenz, Austria, she makes considerable money with gala and show bands. But all the while this young artist's heart and soul belong to Jazz. In 1996, Lisa Wahlandt finds Mind Games (and vice versa), the group around saxplayer Mulo Francel and bassist Didi Lowka (of Quadro Nuevo), which today enjoys a reputation all over Europe. What follows is a fruitful, still ongoing cooperation. 1996: Lisa's debut CD Mind Games live (with guest star Claudio Roditi, trumpet); a tour with Tanja Maria's bassplayer Leo Traversa. 1997: Lisa and Mind Games tour with William Gallison, one of the rare chromatic harmonica Jazz virtuosos. 1998: During her second U. S. trip, the singer cooperates with colleague Rhiannon of Bobby McFerrin's circle, in San Francisco. 1999: the release of Lisa Wahlandt's second CD. Its called Mind Games plays the music of Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto.
In Bossa Nova, and contemporary Brazilian music as well, Lisa finds a new love. "It's as if I'm discovering some personal roots in this foreign musical idiom", she says at the time. "The soft and mellow lyrics, the dancing rhythms, the melancholy..." Lisa gets invited to a party with Gilberto Gil, shares the stage with the famous singer-composer, sings in Brazilian Portuguese for her first time ever. Newly inspired, Lisa Wahlandt makes the millennium year 2000 with four new CD releases her most productive so far. March: Favorite Tunes with The Geff Gang. July: Brazileiro with the group of the same name, a band dedicated to modern Brazilian music. September: Mind Games Kind of Swing. Finally, in December, the birth of Lisa Wahlandt's very own musical baby: Gute Nacht Lieder (Good Night Songs), a collection of both traditional and contemporary German lullabys, interpreted by the singer in a strikingly personal manner.
Coda: Flying high, reaching far
So, in barely a decade the name Lisa Wahlandt has become a fixture among professional musicians, quite in demand for live gigs and studio work. In 2001, for instance, Lisa joins The Geff Gang and the Eddie Green Band, sings backup on numerous CD productions. In 2002 she experiences another first in her musical career: For a crossover project she shares the stage with professional classical musicians, invited by the the wellknown pianist Peter Ludwig and his philharmonic Orchestre Obscure. Also, TV and the movies knock on her door. Multi-talented Lisa is hired to interpret the distinct title song of The Nanny in the sitcom's synchronized German version, her singing is part of the movies Heinrich der Saeger and Der kleine Mann. Also in 2002, Lisa Wahlandt performs at the Jazz festival in Maribor, Slovenia, and is honored with the Newcomer Award of Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany's leading daily newspaper.
Another year, another CD: In 2003, the release of Marlene, in which Wahlandt boldly arranges the tunes of German pre-war diva Marlene Dietrich (Falling in love again...) to drum 'n' bass patterns. The same year sees Lisa honorably called into the staff of the Richard Strauss Conservatory in Munich: A conservatory student herself not so long ago, the accomplished Jazz singer now teaches her art to aspiring others. Then, in 2004, the artist reaches really far: With long time partner Mulo Francel she is invited to Singapore, where both have a solid fan base, where their music is played up and down on public radio, where Lisa, stunned, recognizes her own voice over the PA system while shopping at a mall. Two concerts in Esplanade Hall, Singapore's biggest auditorium. Tremendous feedback. Spontaneous invitation to come back in 2005.
Da capo: Projects, and a promising smile
Whew What a story, Lisa Wahlandt The lady is, well, not a tramp. But the lady has come a long way for sure. For a number of years now Lisa lives in Munich, enjoying a lovely little apartment with slanted ceilings in a quaint building near downtown, overlooking the patchwork of roofs and chimneys and balconies - almost as if the nearby river Isar was the Seine and the Eiffel tower might come into view at any moment. Sometimes, especially when visiting her parents out there at the rural home where she grew up, her life's course as an artist seems hard to believe even to herself. But then again, consistent just as well. "You know", she said recently, pondering the past, "music's always been the most beautiful thing to me, even back then. When I was little, that included many kinds of music. Later, I was drawn to Jazz because of its inherent space and freedom. That's just what I'm like myself, as a person and as an artist. I don't want to be tied down. I don't want to stagnate."
Sounds promising, Lisa, sounds as if new projects are to be expected? "Well, sure...", she admits reluctantely. Lately she thinks a lot about how music relates to languages, both native and foreign: "When I was little I sang German, of course. Then I picked up English from the radio charts, phonetically, mostly not knowing what I was singing. As an adult I added Brazilian Portuguese and French to my repertoire. These days, well, I have a feeling as if I'm coming back to my native German..." So how does this translate into your next CD, Lisa? "Wait and see", says Lisa Wahlandt, and gives us once again her sweet ironic smile.