Jeannie Pawlowski, Freelance Journalist
Most recently published in NewYorkNatives.com
Interviews Super Musician Lisa Brigantino
Photo By Lori Brigantino
I first saw stellar musician Lisa Brigantino performing at May Pang’s blowout birthday party at the Cutting Room, October 2015. Editor’s note*: May Pang, best known as being an important member of the Beatles inner circle, longtime love interest and companion of John Lennon, music business expert, and author of ‘Loving John’, continues to hold court with her legion of celebrated followers amongst them, some of the top musicians in the world who perform at her exclusive parties.
Acknowledged in the industry as one of the top working musicians, Brigantino was given her first bass by cousin Felix Pappalardi (Mountain bassist/producer; Cream producer). She now plays an astonishing 14 instruments and performs on ALL OF THEM! Watching her share the stage with Mike Fornatale/The Left Banke, Vince Martell/Vanilla Fudge, Simon Kirke/Bad Company, Carmine Appice/Vanilla Fudge, amongst other influential artists at that unforgettable party, proves her enormous artistic talent and has earned her the complete respect of her peers.
Brigantino was an original member of Lez Zeppelin, the world’s first all-girl, all Led Zeppelin tribute band, and toured internationally with the band, playing bass, bass pedals, keys, mandolin and doing backup vocals. The band played such A-list venues and festivals as Download Festival (UK,) Rock am Ring/Rock am Park, (Germany,) and Bonnaroo (USA.) Lez Zeppelin was the first all-girl tribute band to play these festivals, which was a major industry breakthrough for women. In 2009 she left the band to pursue her original music.
Say’s John Sobel of Blog Critics “Lisa Brigantino is what you’d call a complete musician – a superb multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, and not least, ROCKER! Brigantino brings to her songwriting that real sense of melody that so many putative writers lack...”
As one of the busiest working musicians in NYC, Lisa performs regularly playing many of the 14 instruments she has mastered at a variety of venues and, has appeared at many music festivals including Florida Music Festival, MapleWoodstock, the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival, and others. Brigantino’s sister Lori often joins her when she performs her original songs live, and Lori also performs with Lisa in “The Vickie and Nickie Show”- a wacky, self contained theatrical, musical comedy act created, written and performed by the Brigantino sisters.
At what age did you begin your musical studies and when did you decide that music was what you wanted to do with your life?
I come from a very musical family and there was always music making and singing (4 part harmony) at family gatherings and holidays. I started playing music at a very young age. My grandmother and mother taught my sister Lori and I to play ukulele when we were about 4 and 5 years old. When I was 5 we got a piano and I can remember starting to pick out tunes by ear before I really understood what was going on. I started private piano lessons at age 6, violin lessons in school at age 7, some upright bass lessons in high school and college and voice and violin lessons in college. I’m self taught on the rest of the instruments I play. I started writing songs when I was about 10 and pretty much knew I wanted to pursue a musical life when I was in high school. I went on to study music at the School of Music at the State University of New York College at Fredonia. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in music theory from SUNY Fredonia and stayed on there to get my Master of Music degree in music theory/music composition.
MusicRealms: How many instruments do you play (list) and do you prefer one instrument over another? Do you have any special preferences with instruments you perform on?
Below is a list of the instruments I play. It’s hard to say if I have a preference of one over another - I really enjoy playing all of them and love the diversity they afford me. That being said, I do really love to play electric bass. In fact, I got my first electric bass at the age of 15 from my cousin Felix Pappalardi (producer of Cream, bassist/producer of Mountain). At the time, I was asked by our high school jazz band director if I played electric bass. Up to that point, I had only played upright bass in the school orchestra, but I wanted to get into the jazz band and I told the band director that I could get one. I went home and called up my cousin Felix and asked him his advice on buying an electric bass. He said “Buy one? I have 20 here - I’ll send you one!” and that’s how I got my first electric bass - a gift from my cousin Felix - a beautiful Ampeg with a cut-away body and a scroll top headstock. Of course, I still have it and treasure it.
*Various electric keyboards (which is different than an acoustic “piano” per se, as the feel is a whole different ballgame and there are a variety of styles and genres that lend themselves to keyboards as opposed to an acoustic piano.)
(played with feet - learned to play these when I was touring with Lez Zeppelin and would play bass parts with my feet while playing keyboards)
Banjo - 5 string
Drum kit and various percussion instruments:
(funny story: I used to play bass drum in our high school marching band and actually tripped and fell in the middle of our hometown Memorial Day parade when I was a junior in HS. The drum was strapped to my stomach and it was so heavy that I couldn’t get up by myself - 2 guys from the crowd had to come over and put me on my feet!)
I learned to play concert harp with foot pedals in college but now have a small laptop Troubadour harp that uses small levers to change the pitch of the strings by hand (to raise or lower the strings by a half step) instead of changing the pitch with foot pedals, like a concert harp does.
Extras: Recorder, Penny whistle
This question is in regards to whom you played with the night of May Pangs party, do you know the names of the other musicians and the names of the songs you played, I would like to work that in.
Some of the folks I played electric bass with that night were my friend Matty Amendola on drums (musician and producer), Pete and Maura Kennedy (Matty and I joined The Kennedys on "Eight Days A Week" and "A Day In The Life” along with Mike Fornatale (The Left Banke) on vocals and guitar).
I really enjoyed playing with my friend Roberta Fabiano and Valerie Romanoff (whom I had just met that night) - two amazing electric guitarists and vocalists who both perform with high level event orchestras. There were two drum kits set up and Matty was on drums and so was his dad, Billy Amendola (Associate Editor of Modern Drummer magazine). We all played “Superstition" and "Play That Funky Music White Boy” together. Also playing guitar on those tunes was the wonderful Vince Martell from Vanilla Fudge. I’m pretty sure Benny Harrison was playing B3 organ on those tunes, too.
Although I was not onstage at the time, another great “drum duet” that happened that night was when Simon Kirke (Bad Company) and Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge) played together. :)
How did you come to know May Pang?
May Pang and I first met when she and I were the new board members added to the board of Women In Music, Inc. in 1999. Women In Music, Inc., is a non-profit educational, networking and support organization for women (and men) in the music industry that just celebrated its 30th anniversary (www.womeninmusic.org). May and I had the opportunity to travel together on behalf of WIM when they sent us to Seattle for the ROCKRGRL Conference in 2000. We now both serve on the advisory board of Women In Music. May is a wonderful soul and we’ve become good friends. My husband Tom and I have also made so many terrific friends with folks we’ve met through May over the years.
What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
I guess it might depend on their personal aspirations… but generally speaking, in this world where we are pulled this way and that by so many potentially distracting things we now have to do to keep up with the Joneses (i.e. social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to YouTube, etc.), I’d say that it’s incredibly important to schedule time every day to work on your craft. Whether it’s writing music or practicing your instrument(s), you have to schedule it like anything else. Having lots of followers on Twitter can actually work against you if you don’t keep your craft up and have something substantial to offer.
In addition to being a writer and musician, I've worked in the business side of the industry for many years doing music supervision, licensing, custom music scoring and consulting (www.hiddenpondproductions.com). This has given me particular insight into how important it is for musicians and songwriters to know about the business of music. I think that old adages like “I’m creative, I don’t have to know the business,” or “I’m not business minded,” don't hold water these days, especially if you are DIY. Knowing about the business can help you stay in it long enough to do your best work. The upside of the information explosion we all have to feed with our music is that there’s plenty of information out there about how the business side works. Educating yourself has never been more important; it’s also never been so easy. The information is at your fingertips - you just have to search for it. Being informed will lessen the chances that you’ll be taken advantage of and also provide you more opportunities. Knowledge is power.
Lastly, treat people as you’d like to be treated. Be kind. Respond quickly to emails and phone calls. Be on time. The music business is smaller than you think and word gets around with regards to how easy or difficult it is to work with people. If you follow this advice, you will develop long term relationships and friendships that will keep you working a long time.
What inspires you?
I find inspiration in many things. With regards to songwriting - Lyrically, I often pull images from childhood, family, people I’ve met, stories I’ve read or heard about, people I observe every day, nature - just about anything - if it catches my attention and strikes a chord in my gut. Musically speaking, I’m all over the map. I’m classically trained and read music, yet have a really good ear. I’ve performed in many different ensembles - from choirs, choruses and orchestras to jazz bands, rock bands, etc. I don’t care to be pigeon-holed. I’m inspired by and play many different genres of music and write in many genres as well including Rock, Folk, Pop, Country, Old-Time, instrumental scoring and more. My album "Wonder Wheel" is a good example of the variety of what I do. I had airplay of a number of songs from that album on stations with all kinds of formats because of the different genres the album contains. I’ll be releasing a new album in 2016 and it will also have a variety of genres on it.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? And what does that word mean to you?
Yes, I do consider myself a feminist. I’ve always liked this quote by Gloria Steinem and it rings true to what I believe. It’s pretty simple, really: “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”
Performs all over – all the time - playing all styles of music on the 14 instruments she has mastered!
Lisa Brigantino is proud to be a Kurzweil Endorsed Artist.
Lisa was an original member of Lez Zeppelin, the world’s first all-girl, all Led Zeppelin tribute band.
The band’s self-titled debut CD was released in 2007.
Lisa performs with her sister Lori in a wacky, self-contained theatrical musical/comedy act called
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You can Also Visit Her Atlisabrigantino.com