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Barb Jungr: Smart, Sassy, Sexy

By Published: March 23, 2010
AAJ: What does it say on your passport?

BJ: I think it says "singer."

AAJ: Because your card says "singer writer," I notice.

BJ: I don't know why I did that. I think I was just being arsey. I do write, because I am writing The Fabulous Flutterbys [a children's story with music, to be staged at The Little Angel Puppet Theatre from May 2010] and I'm writing Mabel Stark [a musical theatre piece about a female tiger tamer] with Jonathan Cooper. Somebody said to me yesterday on [BBC Radio 4 programme] Woman's Hour I completely forgot that I've written kids' stuff before; I actually forgot my own life. That tells you a lot, doesn't it, really? It tells you all you need to know about what kind of person you're dealing with. I completely forgot that I'd written all of the music for three pantomimes. I completely forgot that I'd done the lyrics for Birmingham Stage Company's The Jungle Book. "Why are you doing children's theater?" "Because I just thought of it." I thought to myself today, "What? What were you thinking of?!" It is as if someone said to you, "Oh, and you can drive" and you went, "Yes, I know, isn't that amazing... Oh no, I've been driving for 25 years. What a surprise!" [Laughs] I can't believe that I'm such an idiot sometimes. Can't believe it.

AAJ: Over here [UK], you play jazz clubs, don't you?

BJ: Yes. The Vortex is pretty open-minded. I've played the 606 and Ronnie Scott's. I do the Dean Street Jazz Club and Boxford [Suffolk] and places like that. It is such a tricky thing this, isn't it—what is jazz?

AAJ: But over there [USA], you are "cabaret." Compare and contrast...

BJ: They're very different, they've got a different attitude. Over there, Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
1915 - 1998
is cabaret; over there, Ella Fitzgerald is cabaret; anybody who plays at Vegas is cabaret. So, there is a different kind of understanding of the word, for a start. Over here, "cabaret" is often used pejoratively.

AAJ: Over there, do you only get into a jazz club if you're a horn player?

BJ: Not necessarily, actually. I like the places I have played. Um, but the whole "what is jazz?" thing is very interesting. My records are racked in jazz, that actually tells you exactly how categories are made. Categories are made for people to rack things in.

AAJ: But racking is other people defining you. How do you define you?

BJ: I would say that I was "singing." I actually think it is a real shame that there isn't just a thing that says "singers," "saxophones," "flutes" ... Because what is the real difference except repertoire between Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
1925 - 2007
and Glenn Gould? They are piano players, they are playing the same instrument. Their repertoires are different. Then if it just about repertoire, what are we saying? That songs that actually came out of shows are jazz songs because that is the Great American Songbook; they were all written to be sung on Broadway in shows—that is what they were written for. So there is a very interesting thing that happens—with goalposts just swimming around according to how we want to use them. I don't really care anymore. What I care about for myself is that I try to get to as many people as I can, and I like as many people as possible to hear what I'm doing. That is what I like. But how you achieve achieve it by every possible means. I don't think it is any more or less jazz than all sorts of other things that call themselves jazz but, in the final analysis...

AAJ: ... we are splitting hairs or dancing on the head of a pin.

BJ: It is tricky stuff. Simon maintains that it is difficult to call anything that has got vocals in it "jazz," and that jazz is actually instrumental music. That is a pretty good argument. Then you go, "Where would you put Al Jarreau in that?" There are always things that make you have to reframe it. And finally it is just terminology. It is problematic. Like my hygienist said to me, "I can't stand soul music." I went, "You're not talking about Marvin Gaye?" She went, "No, no. I'm not talking about Marvin Gaye. No." "What are you talking about then?" "You know, soul music." I can't remember who else I said, and she went, "Oh no, I don't mean them." And people often do that with jazz: "Oh, I can't stand jazz." And you'll go, "Do you like Billie Holliday?" And they'll go, "I like that." And you go, "A lot of people call that jazz." And they go, "Do they?"

AAJ: "Singer" is probably a good one to stick with, because then you avoid all of that.

BJ: It is, isn't it, because it's what you are doing, actually. I suppose it would be too much trouble in HMV—not that there are too many of them left these days.

AAJ: You probably achieve something when you are in "jazz vocals" because then you're all over the place, really.

BJ: What you want to be into is "Easy Listening," because who wants to be "Hard Listening?" Because those are the people that most people seem to know. Doris Day
Doris Day
Doris Day
—easy listening. Great singer, Doris Day was a great singer. Dusty Springfield—easy listening. Great singer.

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