Interview with Patricia Barber

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AE: Tell me about your beginnings as a musician. How did you start out?
PB: Well, I started out playing the piano at home with my father; he taught me, he was a jazz musician. So I started out with jazz and pop and then, junior year in high school I decided that if I was going to get into a university I had to start being serious, so I started taking from a college professor — classical music — toward that end.

AE: Has that influenced the way you approach jazz?
PB: It certainly gives you a technique — a technical facility and a harmonic knowledge.

AE: Who were some of your early inspirations when you were just starting out?
PB: Chick Corea; Return to Forever was one of my favorite groups, was one of the groups that made me realize I wanted to spend my life in this music. Certainly Miles Davis is huge — continues to be maybe the biggest influence overall. And then Bill Evans in a big way.

AE: What do you think about the state of jazz today?
PB: I think it’s going through kind of a narrow passageway right now. It will emerge but it’s trying to find its way.

AE: What do you mean by “narrow passageway”?
PB: In my mind, if I were a DJ, a jazz DJ, I would be having trouble finding the material that would speak to our time, and also is interesting and nice to listen to. So I think the combination of forces — economic forces, the digital downloading, the record companies all jumping onto a pop bandwagon — I think have made it a little bit difficult for jazz, but I do think it will emerge. But it certainly needs individual artists to be cutting a swath.

AE: So who are you listening to these days?
PB: That’s a tough one. Let’s see, Dave Holland, Chris Potter’s group, Dave Douglas, I love. Leny Andrade is fabulous; she’s probably the best singer left on the planet and nobody in the United States knows about her — she’s in Brazil.

AE: You’re one of the few out jazz musicians right now; do you think that being out has had any impact on your acceptance in the jazz music scene?
PB:
I don’t think it has to this point. Now with this anti-gay backlash going on in the culture I wonder if it will at some point have an effect on me, but I have never felt up to this point — which is pretty astounding — I have never felt that I have been discriminated against in any way. I think because jazz is marginalized anyway, that it makes it easier for people not to, I guess, get angry at me for taking up a legitimate position; I’m illegitimate anyway.

What has been your philosophy on being openly gay; have you ever really given it a thought or have you always been open about it?
PB:
Yeah, there was a time when I had to decide I was going to step out, and I did, but that was many many years ago. Times were a little bit different. I was never one of those people who suffered. My mother, I guess, taught me from the minute I was born that I was where the party was, and I didn’t cry, I didn’t suffer, I didn’t feel discriminated against. I just felt like the whole thing was fun. It was fabulous, in fact (laughing). So then that’s part of my being out. Every now and then I see people’s faces, and I treat my relationship with my partner Martha as everybody else at the table treats their relationship with their wife or husband. I mention it, just normally. I don’t emphasize it, I just say, you know, Martha never sets the alarm clock or something, and that seems to work. Sometimes, with very conservative people, it takes them a couple of seconds and then they’re fine with it.

Do you have a preference for performing covers versus your own original material?
PB:
I like to do both. I’m able to do all of it, I really mix it up and that makes everything interesting.

AE: Do you have a favorite song out of your own material?
PB: No, I don’t. I have a favorite song of this song cycle I just wrote, but not in general.

AE: What’s the favorite song out of this song cycle?
PB: Morpheus. It’s a song I wrote about sleep — you know, Morpheus, and sleep is an issue for me. I studied Schubert; I studied harmonic movement before I wrote it, and I just like the way it turned out.

AE: What’s next for you in terms of recording and touring?
PB: Right now I’m arranging, and I’m still finishing up the song cycle; I actually have another song to write. Right now what I’m doing is arranging, figuring out how to get the material from my head onto the band stand. Some of it’s done and a lot of it needs to be done.

AE: Will you be releasing all of the song cycle on one album?
PB:
Yeah, it’s gonna take me a while to get this together, and it will all come out on one recording.

To find out more about Patricia Barber, including tour dates,
visit patriciabarber.com

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