My fa­vorite liv­ing jazz mu­si­cian, and some­times my fa­vorite liv­ing mu­si­cian, is Pa­tri­cia Bar­ber, a Chicagoan song­writer, singer, pi­ano play­er, and ban­dlead­er. She’s re­al­ly good at all four of those things, and an evening with her band is one of the most in­tense mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ences you can track down at this point in the twenty-first cen­tu­ry. Modern jazz­bos don’t have “greatest hits” as such, but if they did, Perse­phone would prob­a­bly be her­s.

Dis­clo­sure: Here’s how de­ranged a fan I am. Once a year or so, I spend some sur­plus air­line points and sneak off for a Mon­day evening in Chicago, where Ms Bar­ber plays at The Green Mill (once Al Capone’s fa­vorite bar) and you can go see her for some ab­surd­ly small amount of mon­ey; the crowd con­sists of about half lo­cals and half devo­tees from around the world; I’ve sat next to peo­ple from Tai­wan and from Slove­ni­a. When I say “sneak” I mean I don’t tell any­body, I just fly down there, book some ran­dom ho­tel that has a deal, spend an evening at the Green Mill and a day walk­ing around look­ing at sight­s, then come home. Be­cause I’m not there to hang out with peo­ple, I’m there to lis­ten.

Patricia Barber at the Green Mill

ProTip: If you go see Pa­tri­cia at the Green Mil­l, you need to sit ei­ther at the bar or in one of the booths along the side. The lit­tle ta­bles at the front will get you closer, but they have cheap fold­ing chair that will wreck the low­er spine of any­one who’s not an elite twenty-something ath­lete be­fore the end of the first set.

Perse­phone is from Mytholo­gies, a fine 2006 al­bum that ex­plic­it­ly ad­dress­es the kinds of things its ti­tle might make you think it does. She’s re­leased some fine record­ings; I’m not sure Mytholo­gies is the finest, but I can’t think of a bet­ter Bar­ber song than Perse­phone.

It is to­tal­ly 100% about sex: In this soft cir­cle, Reason's slave to de­sire / This feels like fun / This feels like fire … As fine fine fab­ric slip­ping over your skin / This feels like silk / This feels like sin. On top of which the tune and the ar­range­ment and the play­ing are all mar­velous. One time in 2015 I was sit­ting up close at the Green Mill and in the first set the band played Perse­phone, which at the time I’d nev­er heard. After they’d stopped, I spoke up and asked Pa­tri­cia what that song was, and was it new? (the Green Mill is that kind of place). She laughed and said, no it was from Mytholo­gies; I said I had lots of her records but not that one, but what a great song; she smiled and said “Thanks”. Then halfway through the sec­ond set, be­tween songs, she said to the band: “You know, we got a nice com­pli­ment on Perse­phone, let’s play it again” and they did.

I’ve seen her play a big hall in a jazz-festival set­ting, and she was great, more pol­ish and high­er im­pact. But I pre­fer the Green Mill be­cause you can see she feels more free, and will take the band down some very strange path­s, and stretch out the solos, and take a vo­cal im­prov up over the moon. Some­times it doesn’t work and some­times you’ll for­get to breathe.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. This tune on Ama­zon, iTunes, Spo­ti­fy. As for live video, here’s Perse­phone on a big stage with a big band. And it’s big, fine per­for­mance. The on­ly prob­lem is that while there’s quite a bit of Ms Bar­ber on YouTube, I have yet to find any­thing in which she stretch­es out on pi­ano or even on vo­cal; which are the main rea­sons I get a plane across North Amer­i­ca to see her.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Thomas Claburn (Mar 19 2018, at 15:51)

Since you're on the subject of jazz vocalists, I'm going to go ahead and recommend a favorite of mine, Andrea Claburn.

(Disclosure: We're married.)


From: Bob Haugen (Mar 20 2018, at 09:06)

Patricia Barber at the Green Mill is a wondrous experience. I found a couple of youtubes from Humberto Luna Tirado recorded from the far side of the room that are musically delicious but you can't see Patricia, which is no fun.

This is fun, although not at the Green Mill, and displays her piano chops:

And lots of other lovely live performances.


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March 19, 2018
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