Take Five With Jeanie Barton


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Meet Jeanie Barton: I am a singer/songwriter born in Nottingham, in the UK.

After moving to London I studied jazz harmony at Morley College and bebop improvisation with BBC jazz award winner Anita Wardell. Jazz became my career after being taken under the wing of legendary bebop drummer Laurie Morgan and his band, for whom I sing and compere. I gig regularly with my quartet as well as guesting in other ensembles at some great venues including the 606 club and Ronnie Scott's. I am lucky enough to work with some of the best musicians on the British jazz scene today.


Voice, piano.

Teachers and/or influences? Anita Wardell, Laurie Morgan, Marian McPartland, Annie Ross.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... My hobby started making me money and I thought, stuff the proper job.

Your sound and approach to music: I love a story so as a singer clarity is very important to me, also accuracy and agility of voice but most of all to perform with feeling.

Your teaching approach: To listen carefully to yourself and your accompaniment, I think choral experience for a singer is very helpful. Also to be efficient with your sound, warm up by "sirening" intervals to create the best timbre of voice—a relaxed and natural delivery, with the least effort.

I think it is very important, in jazz, for singers to listen to instrumental music and learn the jazz vocabulary from greats such as Charlie Parker and Wardell Gray.

Your dream band:

Most of my idols are very elderly or dead! I am lucky enough to work with musicians that I really do admire and learn from all the timeâ. I think it would be interesting to collaborate with Shane MacGowan, who is a friend of my partner, as he has a real love for and a vast knowledge of jazz and bebop.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: Every gig has its quirks but we did once play outside for a wedding where they put us in direct sunlight for three hours on a very hot day, resulting in severe sunburn down one side of our faces, which made us look like a tribute act from the Phantom of the Opera.

Favorite venue:

Well I have to go for the King's Head in Crouch End, North London. It has a knackered sound system and an out of tune piano but is the only place that has the atmosphere of the old jazz clubs; it's not constipated or snobbish and everyone gets up and dances and digs the music. It's full of crazies really, but can be magical.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? I love them all in different ways but I guess the acoustic duet that Chris and I did of "Missing You/My One and Only Love" is special. We did it in a single take over one microphone and it is the last song on my new album. It was a song that my dad loved and we used to sing it together; he died in 2004, and I really do miss him. It was emotional.

The first Jazz album I bought was: Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, The Hottest New Group in Jazz.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I guess it's providing new material. That and making new interpretations of old favorites. I want the listener to enjoy my music; for it to relax and/or energize them, and to move and/or comfort them. The audience is the most important thing. I hope they identify with what I do and enjoy my stories and my singing.

Did you know...

I drive a Riley 9 1933.

CDs you are listening to now: Peyoti for President, The Rising Tide of Conformity (Sordid Soup Records).

Desert Island picks: The Peddlers, How Cool is Cool (Columbia);

Ella Fitzgerald, For the Love of Ella (Polygram Records);

Shine, The Complete Classics/Philips;

Amy Winehouse, Frank (Universal Republic).

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Jazz is such a broad umbrella, I would say it is thriving. There are so many crossovers and subgenres. But I do think a lot of listeners are intimidated by the word jazz; that it is high brow or self indulgent of the musicians. I wish people could embrace again the carefree vibe of jazz as live music and really dig I; to feel included and not excluded as an audience.

I like to hear people responding and calling out "cool" or "cooking," and whooping like on the oldCount Basie recordings and such. I really object to venues like Ronnie Scott's putting instructions of "no talking" or "silence," while the artists are playing on the tables. If the act is good, people should not have to be told to pay attention.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? The audience! To share what we do, play it on the radios and in the streets. A pianist friend of mine just came back from New York and he said jazz bands were just playing in Central Park without any amplification. Why don't we see that more often, here in London and beyond? It sounds wicked.

What is in the near future? My album launch—it's all in the pipeline and should happen mid-May, 2010. I'm nervous...and excited.

By Day:

I still do some other stuff, like web work, and I help out in a local fashion boutique from time to time. I used to work in Fleet Management at New Scotland Yard; they keep trying to persuade me to come back.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: Fleet Manager in Special Operations for the Metropolitan Police!

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