Indie Jazz Soul
Patricia Barber (GMu96), a talented jazz musician, resisted commercialization
and still ended up with a successful career.
For three years, Patricia Barber (GMu96) lived on rice and beans in a
low-rent apartment on the West Side of Chicago. She was willing to endure
anything if it meant saving her musical soul.
"I had a lot of faith that if I just worried about the music, then
everything else would follow," says Barber.
In concert the dark-haired jazz musicians brows furrow in concentration,
her eyes glow with intensity, her long fingers caress the piano keys and
her unique voice transmits true passion. Barber, who still lives in Chicago,
is the model that all musicians strive for a true keeper of her
Barbers music is best known for its eclecticism and sophistication.
Respected by jazz aficionados, Barber is an exceptional vocalist, pianist,
composer, lyricist and arranger. She has released six albums so far, the
latest of which is Nightclub (Blue Note Records/Premonition Records,
But none of it was easy, especially since Barber was ardent about maintaining
her musical independence. She persistently refused offers from major labels
because their concepts for her work were too confined.
"I wasnt career driven," explains Barber. "[The big
labels] wouldve tried to steer the music."
However, Barbers insistence on staying with a small label, Premonition,
left her to bear the experience of the struggling musician. "I was
starving and didnt have any money," she says. "Because
I needed the work, there were a lot of times when [club or bar] owners
paid me less than they should have. I got fired a lot because I didnt
play the game the way they wanted."
Squeezing by with gigs at hotels and bars (she still performs regularly
at Chicagos Green Mill Tavern), Barber decided to enhance her musical
knowledge. She enrolled in Northwesterns graduate music school,
where she studied jazz pedagogy. "I learned a lot about postmodernism
and 20th-century music," says Barber. "It had a direct effect
on my next album, Modern Cool."
Her breakthrough came with that 1998 album, which hit Billboards
Top 10 jazz list and received rave reviews. She launched into tours around
the nation and around the world. Barber had been right: By concentrating
on the music, the rest eventually followed.
The daughter of saxophonist Floyd "Shim" Barber who played
with Glenn Miller Barber had music pumping through her veins from
the very beginning. Her father died when Barber was only 9 years old,
but his influence was still strong. "My father left a legacy with
music," says Barber.
Although she was born in a Chicago suburb, Barber was raised in Sioux
City, Iowa. After graduating from the University of Iowa in 1979, she
returned to Chicago to officially launch her career.
"As difficult as it can be, its a great gift to be a musician,"
says Barber. "Its one of the most special arenas that humankind
has created. Its soft, protective and lyrical a great refuge
from the ugliness in the world."
In addition to her performance career, Barber also teaches applied music
and jazz at Roosevelt University in Chicago. "Its a good balance
for me," she explains. "Ill teach one day, and then at
night Ill fly somewhere and give concerts. Teachings kind
of a grounding for me."
In the future, she wants to engage in some "crazy and strange"
art projects. But mostly she just wishes to live, breathe and move with
"I really love what I do," says Barber. "I want to keep
my family, friends, dogs and home. I want to stay healthy and happy. Besides
music, thats all I want."
Christina Ko (J03)
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