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Take Five With Amy Barlow Liberatore

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Amy Barlow Liberatore: Born in Binghamton, raised among jazz musicians who mentored her from her first club appearance at 17, Amy Barlow Liberatore began her vocal/piano career (New York, Los Angeles, Bermuda, Puerto Rico) playing jazz standards. A lucky break put her on the road with Rickie Lee Jones' first national tour. She later began writing soulful jazz/blues and gospel and recently self-produced her first CD, Jazz Baby Hits Her Stride. She is a resident of the road.

Instrument(s): Vocals, piano.

Teachers and/or influences? Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Horn, June Christie, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Marian McPartland, Lou Rawls, Nat "King" Cole, Dusty Springfield, Barbra Streisand (but only pre-1968).

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I stood up at a jazz gathering in my mom's living room and sang with the band. I was five years old, and they say I haven't shut up since!

Your sound and approach to music: Read the lyrics like a poem—then learn the tune. That way, you phrase the song according to the dips and play of ordinary speech. Songwriting is the same; I rarely write the tune before having a pretty good idea of what the lyrics will be. Singing? Just let it flow, unafraid of channeling the spirit within.

Your teaching approach: I mentor young singers, not on a professional basis. I tell them to read the lyrics, to never listen to Ella when they are learning the song (Ella embeds), and to try to learn at least a little piano and theory. And don't scat if you aren't great at it. I never do.

Your dream band: They've mostly passed on... but wow, to sing backup with Bonnie Raitt, to sing once again with Rickie Lee Jones, to have Lou Rawl's rhythm section from his live album, Tommy Stoller, Herb Ellis... ouch. It hurts to think about it. Dena DeRose, there's a class act.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: Whitney Houston's husband, Bobby Brown, stopped by my piano bar in Bermuda. He waited with his entourage until I had played my "good night" song and packed up and then approached me wanting to sing. Well, I didn't know who the hell he was (other than rude). Finally he said, "I'm Bobby Brown."

"I'm Amy Barlow. Come back tomorrow night and know your keys, and maybe I'll let you sit in."

"But I have a Top Ten Hit!" said he.

"Then you should use the money to buy some charm," replied I, walking away as his friends rolled on the floor laughing.

Favorite venue: Oh, I hate to brag, but Carnegie Hall. First time I saw it was from the stage, on tour, and I looked up and thought it was like being inside a wedding cake. It was a shame that the band had so much sound equipment, because on that empty stage, you could snap your fingers and hear the reverberation.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? "The Day I Saw An Angel Fly." It was one take with me on the keyboard. A song about the last days of my friend Jeffery, who was losing a long battle with AIDS. I sing it every year on World AIDS Day. It's about loss and about hope.

The first Jazz album I bought was: Billie Holiday: Columbia, The Early Years.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I've been a jazz standard staple in the club scene for years, but songwriting opened up new doors. I'm a woman, a real woman who's been around the block. I cashed in my 401(k) to finance my CD. It's not enough to be good at the art—you have to take that leap of faith and go for it, no matter your age. Hope is my contribution.

Did you know... I'm an activist—LGBTQ ally; peace; racial, social, and economic justice; health care for all Americans; water for Darfur; fighting suppression of women's rights worldwide and the enslavement of children and women to the sex trades.

CDs you are listening to now:

Kate Bush, Never For Ever (EMI Music);

Billie Holiday, Lady Day (Columbia);

Bonnie Raitt, Souls Alike (Capitol);

Dusty Springfield, The Silver Collection (Mercury);

Eva Cassidy, Congbird (S & P Records).

Desert Island picks:

Barbra Streisand, The Second Album (Columbia);

Lou Rawls, Lou Rawls Live! (1966) (Capitol Jazz);

Tony Bennett, Greatest Hits (CBS);

Sinatra and Jobim, Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim (Reprise);

Billie Holiday, Columbia, The Early Years (Columbia).

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Cacophony. Diverse. Bliss. Savory gumbo. Too much scat, not enough attention to lyricists' intent. On the verge of extinction if audiences don't tend the garden.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Venues for live performance, and people to fill the seats. Audiences who don't act as though they are watching TV in their living room, jabbering through perfectly blissful music.


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