PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Patricia Barber (Watermill and Pizza Dean Street – Apr 11-13)

Patricia Barber. Photo credit: Valerie Booth

Chicago-based composer/songwriter,  jazz singer/pianist PATRICIA BARBER is making a rare visit to the UK in April, with three gigs to round off a European tour, appearing with her trio at the Watermill in Dorking and Pizza Dean Street. Interview by Kathryn Shackleton:

LondonJazz NewsWhat is your earliest musical memory?

Patricia Barber: My father Floyd Barber was playing the saxophone (he was an alto saxophone player who had his own band in Chicago in 1929 and also played as a sub for Glenn Miller) and I wanted to “feel” the music, so he let me put my hand inside the bell while he played.  Pretty amazing.  

LJN: Which events and people have influenced you in your musical career?

PB: There are many moments, but one artist who had an enormous influence on me is Shirley Horn. I traded sets with her 3 nights in a row at the North Sea Jazz Festival.  I sat out in the audience to listen to her instead of staying backstage. Her self-restraint was the key to her success.  The audience would let out a collective sigh if/when she bent a note.  It was a lesson I never forgot.  She was a master of control. 

LJN: How do you practise?

PB: I practise every day. Sometimes I play jazz, sometimes I play classical music and of course sometimes I combine that with composition and/or arranging.  I try to get in Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier every day.  It is a bit of a physical and mental hardship to go on the road where I can’t have the privacy I need to practice this music (which I don’t play well enough to let anybody hear). 

LJN: You can fill theatres and festivals with thousands of people. What keeps you playing your regular Monday night gig at the Green Mill Club in Chicago?

PB: It is a laboratory for my composition and attendant arranging. I need to perform in front of an audience to understand what works and what doesn’t.  I listen to their laughter, applause, or lack thereof and make adjustments.  It is also one of the hippest jazz clubs in the world so on many levels it is a pleasure to play at the Green Mill.  Dave, the owner, has been wonderful to me as well as the staff.  Performance can be nerve-wracking for me so it is nice to have a place to call ‘home.’  Also, there is so much to be learned playing very crowded large venues but also playing smaller clubs on slow nights.  Risk-taking is often done on nights when the club is slow for one reason or another (like a snowstorm, for instance).  This risk-taking is the thing you really want to hear as an audience member and this is where I as the musician find revelation — in this extreme risk-taking. 

LJN: Many musicians are able to take their instruments with them to gigs, but you must meet many different pianos for one-night concerts all over the world. How do you approach a new instrument and get the best out of it?

PB: We have a contract-rider that asks for a certain brand and type of piano and tuning schedule.  It is rare I run into a very bad piano these days.  I did recently in Toronto, though, and it was one of the most painful performances I have ever had to give. 

LJN: If you could put together your dream band of musicians from any era, who would be in the band?

PB: I’d love to play with some of the legends on bass and drums, of course.  So many to name.  Philly Joe Jones, Victor Lewis, Jack De Johnette, Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, John Patitucci, Terri Lyne Carrington who I run into a lot but cannot afford to hire.

 LJN : Which book, exhibition, music or other art form has made an impression on you recently?

PB: Recently, and for a couple of years now, Gabriel Fauré – both his composition for piano and his songs. Debussy and Ravel songs (harmony),  the movie Moonlight,  the book Euphoria by Lily King. The poem Making Peace by Denise Levertov – I cannot read it enough.  

LJN: What are your musical plans for the future?

PB: I will publish a book of my artsongs.  These are the songs that can be sung (and are being and have been sung) by classical singers as well as jazz singers.  I am in the process of writing piano accompaniment for the classical singers and their pianists.   And I would simply like to carry on.  

Kathryn Shackleton is programmer at the Watermill

LINKS: 5-star review from 2015 Montreal Jazz Festival
Patricia Barber website
The most recent release is Monday Night Live At The Green Mill Volume 3 (digital only)

Patricia Barber will be appearing with her trio at:

Watermill Jazz, Dorking on 11th April (BOOKINGS
Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean St., London on 12th and 13th April (BOOKINGS)

Categories: miscellaneous

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