My Favorite Chicago Jazz Cats: Patricia Barber

My Favorite Chicago Jazz Cats: Patricia Barber

When I think of local jazz pianist and vocalist Patricia Barber one word comes to mind.


She takes a lot of chances with her work and rarely does it not payoff nor sound great. She definitely breaks the mold when you think of female jazz musicians especially vocalists. Though Patricia is a triple threat writing her own work, playing the piano and singing.

Yes Diana Krall does the same thing but Patricia makes you “feel” the music, no less talented or passionate but Patricia is not to be ignored and you always wonder what she will do next. She pushes herself and her music and does not play it safe. Its more than improvisation, she simply goes for “what’s next” and always “brings it”.

Yes she does sing and play standards and did a wonderful album of them (she said the CD was for her mother), called Nightclub.

But Patricia is at her best playing her songs (and her interpretation of songs), at the famed Green Mill Jazz Club Monday nights at 9 P.M.

Monday nights Broadway and Laurence are her streets, she owns that club. If you go to see one of her live shows you aren’t paying admission to the club, you are paying rent because that’s her room. She has released two CD’s of live music from those great shows there.

I first heard of Patricia in the late 1990’s when I got familiar with the Green Mill and the great artists (like Kurt Elling), whom had a weekly show there and when first hear her rendition of Jim Morrison’s “Light My Fire” I knew this was different. Good different.

There’s nothing wrong with playing jazz standards and not pushing the jazz envelope, sometimes you just want to hear traditional jazz or just need a ballad that sounds pretty.

But that’s not Patricia and don’t get me wrong her jazz isn’t pretty, it’s downright beautiful, her take on the standard “Aflie” is absolutely gorgeous. And when Patricia plays its attractive to see someone that in tune with their work, no pun intended.

And then you hear one of her early works like “Touch of Trash” and that hard bass line along with her precise piano and sharp words go right through you, but you want more.
Then she also has two CD’s dedicated to French work and they too are beautiful, creative and not what you usually get from just any jazz musician.

I mention all of these CD’s and she is the rare artist that is prolific in studio production but also plays a lot of live gigs and there is no doubting that her skills and band are tight.
You’d never mistaken her music for smooth meaning that its easy. Her first CD was titled “Modern Cool” and though that was 1998, it’s still cool and still sounds modern.

I don’t think there’s a more openly passionate jazz artist out there, the genre tends to gravitate towards to the cool, subtle and mellow.

Yet she reminds me of the “hard bop” sound of nearly 60 years ago, cats like the late Clifford “Brownie” Brown and “Saxophone Colossus” Sonny Rollins who played their hearts out on  stage. But were extremely creative, took chances and rarely missed. They were talented as much as they were passionate.

That’s Patricia Barber.

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