Patty Waters: Sings

Trevor MacLaren By

Sign in to view read count
Patty Waters

Independent labels like Bernard Stollmann's ESP-Disk lacked sufficient funds to lend much of a push behind their roster. Because of this fact, much of the label's talent has been neglected or left to a cult following. It seems hard to believe today—with a roster boasting artists like Paul Bley, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, hippie folk cult icons Pearls Before Swine, and The Fugs—that the label didn't become successful like Impulse! did. Among the ESP canon of great forgotten artists are Henry Grimes, Burton Greene, and Patty Waters. One release that demands immediate re-evaluation is Patty Waters' debut, Sings.

Patty Waters herself seems almost as mysterious as her debut record. Her birthplace and date do not usually appear in any articles written about her. All that is known is she moved to Denver, then to LA, where she came to the attention of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. She began voice lessons and Davis helped annotate her compositions. After doing her time through the ranks, she landed in New York. Albert Ayler spotted her at a gig, was impressed, and brought her to the attention of ESP. She recorded Sings and a few months later the live College Tour. Waters recorded with the Marzette Watts Ensemble, then by the end of the '60s had relocated to the west coast and raised a son, only sporadically doing shows until 1996's Love Songs. Despite her lack of output—two records in '65 and '66—she managed to leave an impact on the future of vocal jazz.

Sings is one of the truly great "lost" jazz records, a haunting and daring disc that brings to mind the Colpix and Philips records of Nina Simone. Though her work has a taste of Simone, Waters had a unique sound all her own. The first side of the record contains seven short tracks where she accompanies herself on piano. These tracks are dark, beautiful, and ominous pieces, akin to what would be later known as goth music. Goth itself lacks the melancholy beauty of these songs, adopting a more morbid nihilist view born out of late-'70s post-punk. The pieces do, however, work inside an ideology comparable to the poetry of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. The tracks feature sparse accompaniment with lyrics of pain and loss like those on "Moon Don't Come Out Tonight," which opens the record. This theme is repeated throughout the seven tracks that make up the first side. Waters left behind a work of art that shows beauty veiled behind darkness.

The second side of the album features only one track, a thirteen-plus-minute cover of the old folk standard "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair." This solitary track is the opus that has made Patty Waters a cult icon. She uses a variety of vocal calisthenics that helped set the foundation of avant-garde vocals within many musical genres, influencing artists as disparate as Yoko Ono, Diamanda Galás, and Lydia Lunch. (Galás has often cited Waters as her primary influence.) Backed by fellow ESP pianist Burton Greene, along with bassist Steve Tintweiss and drummer Tom Priceon, Waters' vocals on the track vary from whisper to shriek.

Some may be quick to condemn the record. The thirteen-minute track repeats the word "black" over and over again in a variety of ways, while a trio thrashes through some ESP-style free jazz. But it's a mistake to dismiss Sings, because a potent beauty lies inside this record. Waters certainly proves herself a strong composer and visionary vocalist whose work was thirty years ahead of its time. The pain encapsulated in this record, along with its avant-garde leanings, would find a suitable place along some of today's underground bands and their fans. It is time for a generation of music fans to (re)discover the magic of Patty Waters and give her the praise she has so long deserved.

Suggested Spins:
Patty Waters - College Tour - ESP 1966
Tim Buckley - Starsailor - Bizarre 1970
Diamanda Galás - Plague Mass (1984 End of the Epidemic) - Mute 1991
Diamanda Galás - Litanies of Satan - Y Records 1982
Yoko Ono - Plastic Ono Band - Apple 1970
Yoko Ono - Fly - Apple 1971
Yoko Ono - Season of Glass - Geffen 1981


More Articles

Read Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli: Skol Reassessing Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli: Skol
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 10, 2013
Read Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy’s Big 4 Reassessing Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy’s Big 4
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: September 26, 2013
Read Art Tatum: Solo Masterpieces, Volume One Reassessing Art Tatum: Solo Masterpieces, Volume One
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: September 24, 2013
Read Zoot Sims And The Gershwin Brothers Reassessing Zoot Sims And The Gershwin Brothers
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: September 23, 2013
Read John Coltrane: Afro Blue Impressions Reassessing John Coltrane: Afro Blue Impressions
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: August 29, 2013
Read "Lee Morgan On Music Matters" Multiple Reviews Lee Morgan On Music Matters
by Greg Simmons
Published: March 6, 2017
Read "Artistry in Rhythm: Afro-Cuban Epiphany to Haitian Voodoo" From the Inside Out Artistry in Rhythm: Afro-Cuban Epiphany to Haitian Voodoo
by Chris M. Slawecki
Published: July 29, 2016
Read "Fahir Atakoglu: Istanbul Blues" Profiles Fahir Atakoglu: Istanbul Blues
by Duncan Heining
Published: May 3, 2016
Read "Take Five with Michael Joseph Harris" Take Five With... Take Five with Michael Joseph Harris
by Michael Joseph Harris
Published: May 2, 2016
Read "Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty" DVD/Film Reviews Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty
by Doug Collette
Published: June 11, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus


Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!