Totally Jazzed

Article excerpt

Jazz singer Patricia Barber tells it like it is, both offstage and on her new CD, Nightclub

"My mother, who's 81 and the love of my life, has waited patiently for 20 years for this record," says jazz singer-pianist Patricia Barber, talking about the 12 vintage song classics on her new CD, Nightclub (Blue Note/ Premonition). "But I didn't feel I could do anything like this until I'd created an identity that was stronger than this material."

At 44, she has identity to spare. Based in Chicago--where she lives with her partner of more than two years, musicologist Martha Feldman--the classically trained Barber has been playing her own brand of jazz for over two decades. Over six feet tall and strikingly attractive, Barber is known for taking audiences on an eclectic ride that might include anything from "Ode to Billie Joe" to her own sophisticated compositions.

With Nightclub, though, Barber goes back to the basics. The collection spans several decades of the American songbook, from the Roaring '20s gem "Bye Bye Blackbird" to "All or Nothing at All" from the swing era to Butt Bacharach's late-'60s classic "Alfie." Barber comes naturally to these standards. First taught piano at age 6 by her late father, a sax player who played a few time's with the legendary Glenn Miller band, Barber calls these songwriters "my role models. I'm very respectful of these songs and always have been."

She feels the same way about the vocalists who first performed those songs. "Singing I really didn't do seriously until college," she muses. "Before then, I was drawn strongly to classic vocal singers--Sinatra, Peggy Lee. Judy Garland was my biggest thing."

Garland? That's an unexpected choice from someone whose own style is so quintessentially modern. But mention Judy, and Barber's sensual presence--like an even more laid-back Lauren Bacall--melts into almost girlish delight. …