Listening Session: Patricia Barber

Listening Session: Patricia Barber

By Larry Appelbaum




I was scheduled to do a Before & After piece for JazzTimes with the Chicago pianist, vocalist and songwriter Patricia Barber at the Portland Jazz Festival in Feb. of 2009. At the last minute, she told me that she wanted to save her voice for her performance and asked if she could give her responses to the recordings on her laptop instead of speaking. We tried but it didn’t quite work for the magazine, so this piece never ran. As with her music, Barber’s responses are clever, unguarded and insightful.  She had recently released her Cole Porter record, which is one reason I sprinkled some Porter songs throughout.


1. Shirley Horn

“You Won’t Forget Me” (from You Won’t Forget Me, Verve). Horn, vocal; Miles Davis, trumpet; Charles Ables, bass; Steve Williams, drums. Recorded in 1990.

Before: It sounds like Miles,…it IS Miles but with Shirley Horn. I think they did a session together.  It’s beautiful . The drum stick on the snare sounds like maybe a producer’s decision.  Who’s the drummer?  Who produced this CD?

After: Shirley Horn is one of my biggest influences so I know her voice well. I’ve also traded sets with her at the North Seat Jazz Festival many, many times and I would go out into the audience to listen.  I love her economy of phrasing, her confidence.  Its a piano player’s confidence…..the singer-pianists don’t sing too much.


2 Cole Porter

“Anything Goes” (from It’s Delovely: The Authentic Cole Porter Collection). Porter, vocal. Recorded in 1934.

Before: Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes.” It’s an old recording…I love the ‘verse’ as a contrivance. I’ve tried to recreate the genre. Cole Porter was a genius.  This is very old,  maybe the early 30s. ??????? It strikes me as more cabaret than jazz.

After: It’s campy. I like Cole Porter’s very intimate singing.

3 Kate McGarry

“You don’t Have To Cry” (from Nothing Is Everything, Palmetto). McGarry,  Jo Lawry, Peter Eldridge, vocals; James Shipp, percussion. Recorded in 2007.

Before: Its a contemporary ‘girl group’…lots of harmony…accappella…reminds me of the stuff that comes on at the end of hospital tv shows. No idea who is singing.  Scatting is good as scatting goes. It reminds me of something a very good college vocal group director put together.  That or tv.

After: Ok, so its Kate McGarry and I’ve always wanted to hear her cause I’ve heard she’s good, but this sounds a bit overproduced to me.

4 Elis  Regina & Antonio Carlos Jobim

“Brigas Nunca Mais”(from Elis & Tom, Verve). Regina, vocal; Cesar Camrgo Mariano, piano; Luizao Maia, bass; Helio Delmiro, guitar; Paulo Braga, drums; Oscar Castro Neves, acoustic guitar. Recorded in 1974.

Elis Regina…..great rhythm section  kicks….brilliant.  There’s a touching vulnerability in Regina’s voice that can’t be reproduced.  There are certain ways of singing that Brazilian singers all have but theres nobody like her.  The arrangement is great……must be Jobim or Claire Fischer.

5 J.D. Walter

“I’ll Be Seeing You” (from 2 Bass, A Face and a Little Skin, Dreambox Media). Walter, vocal; Tony Marino, bass; Steve Marin, bass. Recorded in 2002.

Before: A cabaret singer going jazz ?   lots of influences.. a young singer with a lot of promise.  so many influences i can’t decide who to name.  Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau, Kurt Elling…he’s done his homework.  good.  will be better with time. actually i hear a lot of Betty Carter.  maybe that’s the biggest influence.

6 Norma Winstone

“Every Time We Say Goodbye” (from Distances, ECM). Winstone, vocal; Glauco Venier, piano; Klaus Gesing, saxophone. Recorded in 2007.

Before: love the soprano sax played this way… easy for a soprano sax to sound ‘cheap.’ singer sounds like somebody i should know, maybe do know. The song is “Everytime We Say Goodbye”. its an interesting arrangement, but Cole Porter might not need so much trifling with….cabaret singer….they have more time to play around with arrangements than jazz musicians do and they make a great point of the arrangements as theres not much improvisation. they get to employ so this is their ‘statement.’  i like the singer.  the arrangement is a little fussy.

7 Jo Stafford

“Always True To You Darling “ (from Spotlight On Jo Stafford, Capitol). Stafford, vocal; Paul Weston Orchestra. Recorded in 1949.

Another Cole Porter song.  “I’m always true to you darling in my fashion”….love this song…wish i had had time to record it. i’ve certainly used the line in my life a few times.  the singer is a US classic singer….Jo Stafford?  this is a recording from Cole Porter’s time.  It’s a “wartime” sound……partly throaty, partly lilting….its a white girl’s sound.  the pinup girl’s sound.  Julie London, Chris Connor, Doris Day…the biggest and best of all was Jo Stafford.

8 Nancy King

“By Myself” (from Impending Bloom, Justice Records). King, vocal. Recorded in 1991.

Before: so interesting how often i can’t tell right away whether its a man or a woman…that’s jazz.  i like that….’Dietz and Schwartz’s “By Myself”….great song. done totally accapella…..great.  very brave.  good singer.  i would gladly sit down in a club and listen to two sets of this singer….in tune, confident….vocal cords aged slightly (used to great use)…great pitch control…way better than mine. a female Kurl Elling.  shades of Carmen McRae who i think more and more was the greatest jazz singer of all.

After: not surprised to find out its Nancy King but i’ve never heard her alone like this…….always with a bass player or a band.  fabulous.  from Portland.  absolutely tops.

9 Brad Mehldau

“From This Moment On” (from Live in Tokyo, Nonesuch). Mehldau, piano. Recorded in 2004.

“From This Moment On.” Piano intro more Cole Porter…..what an American genius. is he reocgnized enough?  was the fact that he was gay a hindrance to his recognition?  riches, yes, but historical recognition?  this is interesting…..a piano rendition….switching the left and right hands……putting the strong melody in the left hand by virtue of crossing hands. It has to be Brad Melhdau.  he’s always strong.  he’s one of my ‘most-listened-to’ on my iPod…great, great artist.

10 Susanna and the Magical Orchestra

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” (from Melody Mountain, Rune Gramofone).  Susanna Wallumrod, vocal; Morten Qvenild, keyboard.

this is the tv ending of “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Private Practice.”  this voice is the voice of the tv these days. not that i don’t like it.. i do…but it has a folksy, Norah Jones clipped voice box quality.  i like pop.  i love Sarah McLaughlin….but i don’t know who this is.  its so much like every poignant plinky piano/vocal ending to a death in the emergency room…..its very good…just overused.

11 Sheila Jordan

“Tribute/Quasimodo” (from Old Time Feeling, Muse Records). Jordan, vocal; Harvie Swartz, bass. Recorded in 1982.

Sheila Jordan….fabulous.  unafraid, unique, unto herself….in front of the beat, behind the beat. funny, poignant.  a lot of her phrases dive down at the end…theres also a lot of  fun in this song.  lots of confidence.  up high, down low.  one can’t speak enough about ‘self-possession’ from such a young age.. thats a personality trait.  hard to teach that.

Who am I listening to these days?

Sofia Gubaidulina, Daivd Rakowski, composer, Amy Briggs, Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau.


2 comments on “Listening Session: Patricia Barber

  1. Carol says:

    Pleease can you help with this long quest– Heard on car radio in late ’60’s to early ’70’s on NYC Jonathan Schwartz Jazz Show-so unbelievably great I had to pull over–raspy voiced, slowed-down version of Cole Porter song, “Everytime We Say Goodbye”–(NOT Ray Charles Duet with Betty Carter)–Did Jim Croce, or anyone who sounds like him, ever record “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”–And of so, on What Album???

  2. I’m not aware that Jim Croce ever recorded Everytime We Say Goodbye. Lots of possibilities, though. You might go the the All Music Guide ( and enter the song title in the search field. You’ll get many hits of people who’ve recorded this song. You can then narrow it down to male singers and that will give you a better idea.

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