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Particia Barber :: Interview
by Beatrice S. Richardson

Both of your parents were musicians. Did you mostly listen to records, or did you see jazz artists in clubs? How were you encouraged to start a jazz musician career?

I mostly listened to recordings while growing up. There weren't any jazz clubs in Nebraska, which is where I was after age of 9 until college. The legend of my father being a jazz musician stayed with me through my studies in classical piano at the University of Iowa and in the end, becoming a jazz musician was something I didn't choose, but couldn't avoid.

Once you've described yourself, you were just a good singer. Nowadays you're a vocalist, a pianist, a composer, a lyricist, an arranger and a producer. Can you describe your personal evolution in jazz during the last 20 years?

I've tenaciously clung to the jazz artist label. At the very beginning the vocalist kept the pianist working while I took that time to hone my skills as a jazz pianist. Then later, I felt frustrated with the jazz vocal repertoire so decided to try my hand at composition with lyrics. It seemed that I had had a facility for it, perhaps because I had been singing the great songs all along. As for the arranger, that happens because I was always the leader on the gigs one naturally becomes an arranger.

Who were the original sources of inspiration and influence as far as improvisation etc. and do you take it as a "route" or as a "direction"?

Of course for any pianist, Bill Evans looms large. He is the original inspiration for anybody in the post-Bill Evans age. Keith Jarrett has now become another innovator that we all steal from. Of course, the ideal is to create your own voice from within the tradition of the art form, but that is a lofty goal and very hard to achieve as an instrumentalist. Few ever accomplish it. With singing,, because the sound of your voice is unique to begin with, if one stays away from obvious influences, one can create one's own style of singing and vocal sound.

New album, Verse, is your first recording of all original material. Do you prefer to perform your own music or you still plan to record jazz standards in your own vision?

I will probably always do both. It takes time to write original material and I also love stretching out on the standards.

Inviting new musicians for a new album recording do you choose a particular musician according to his/her ability to perform your own ideas or it's an adventure to play with new musicians and you don't mind them bringing unexpected influence to the recording?

On Verse, I choose a guitarist, Neal Alger, who had the ability to absorb my musical desires while still maintaining his own identity. We worked hard to create a sound for Verse. He uses a Stratocaster at my request and we carefully prepared for the recording. I had recorded with Dave Douglas before and knew to expect the same silvery brilliance as always.

You recorded and mixed "Verse" in less than a week. It's unusually fast for an album with completely original material, as it seems to me. Do you think that the result is exactly what you have planned or you don't care too much about minor details and think: "a better is a spoiled good"?

We had prepared the material well, both in rehearsals in Chicago and touring. I am a control freak in the studio and usually have my band extremely prepared for the session. The spark comes from the improvisational sections where each artist can stretch out.

Some people say "Cross Diana Krall with Susan Sontag, and you will get Patricia Barber" but one can say "Divide Patricia Barber, and you will get Diana Krall and Susan Sontag" Do you think it's correct and what is your opinion about jazz critics' "cooking" of the sort?

I am flattered by both of those references. You have to be thrilled when any critic likes you and you have to try to forget it if they don't.

Do you see any danger in "success" from which you'll need to protect yourself and after much success in your career, do you find it difficult to continue this activity??

I protect myself very well from the agents, managers, promoters who want to take my time. If there is a balance between performing and taking time at home to regenerate and compose, I will find it.

You've been touring a lot. What kind of performance do you prefer: tiny jazz clubs or big audience of major festivals? Can you compare for me the audiences in South America, Europe, Japan and other countries?

If the band has a good sound man, like we do (Jay Tenhove)it makes no difference if the venue is big or small. I like both venues. I find there is no substantial difference between the audiences in Europe and the U.S. sometimes their reaction depends on how well you play.

Recent releases of top jazz musicians show a strong influence of alternative pop music on jazz as well as we face a growing invasion of electro-pop, rock and even heavy metal musicians into jazz charts. What is your opinion about a difference between the Contemporary jazz and the Babylon tower?

It"s inevitable that popular idioms will find their way into jazz. If the music retains a level of sophistication that jazz audiences demand, then there is no problem with any kind of music being used by jazz musicians as repertoire.

Do you have any ideas about where you'd like to be as an artist in the foreseen future?

I'd like to do exactly what I'm doing.

If you were not a musician what would you be?

A spy.

published 23.04.2005 2005 jazz news :: home page

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