Pianist and vocalist Patricia Barber has boldly blurred the otherworldly lines between poetry, jazz, and art song. By combining literate integrity with powerful musical inventiveness, she’s created a consistently brilliant and original new music, one that defies easy classification and exudes what’s implied in the title of one of her best-known albums, a distinctly “modern cool.”
Of Barber’s alluring, uncompromising art Downbeat magazine enthused: “Barber braids wrenching, elemental poetry into a private musical language fashioned from the yearning ache of Bill Evans’ piano, Joni Mitchell’s zigzag introspections, Jobim’s winking mix of high end philosophy and pastel melody and an occasional explosion of skronk and funk.”
As the first non-classical songwriter ever to be awarded a year-long fellowship for composition from the Guggenheim Foundation, in 2003, Barber has recently been referred to as an American Composer, an honor and a title she takes very seriously.
Born in the Chicago suburbs, Barber came by music naturally. Her father was Floyd “Shim” Barber, a saxophonist who had worked with Glenn Miller’s orchestra, and the instrument beguiled young Patricia: “When he played the saxophone around the house, I’d put my hand in the bell to feel the music.” She began playing piano at the age of six, but by the time she had graduated from high school – in South Sioux City, Nebraska, where the family had moved in the mid-60s, following her father’s death – Barber had forsworn jazz entirely.
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