Cheryl Dyrithe Barnes is a classically trained jazz singer in possession of remarkable depth, range and technique. Beloved around the world as a captivating live performer, Cheryl shied away from making records for nearly a decade. Now in 2014, Ms. Barnes returns with her fourth and finest album to date, a studio recording entitled Listen to This for which every one of the twelve selections is a personally inspired gem. Produced by Rahn Coleman and also featuring the impassioned piano playing of her husband Phil Cabasso, Listen to This was patiently rendered over a 5-year period, prepared with tender loving care utilizing Los Angeles’ finest, including soloists saxophonists Rickey Woodard and Pete Christlieb, pianists John Hammond and Joel Scott, and trumpeter Nolan Shaheed.
Listen To This moves from two tunes penned by Mark Winkler (the sassy “Like Jazz” and the evocative nostalgia of “That Afternoon in Harlem” to inventive adaptations of “When I Am Laid In Earth” (from Henry Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas”) and Joni Mitchell’s epic “Come in From the Cold.” There’s even a Christmas song. “I love how varied the album is…because I’m varied,” Cheryl beams. “The complexity of jazz – of improvisation, expression and harmony - is clearly there. Rahn, Phil and our engineer Aaron Testerman spent hours – I’m talking marathon sessions – working,” Cheryl shares. “Phil would come home with his eyes like Xs! We didn’t have a deadline so we never rushed. A beautiful evolution blossomed through the process.”
From the hippest of contemporary faire like “Come With Me” and “What’s On Your Mind” to choice standards such as “I Wish You Love” (dedicated to the memory of Gloria Lynne) and “Why Did I Choose You” (inspired by Barbra Streisand’s rendition), Ms. Barnes brings a singular warmth and empathy to every line she sings, engaging listeners from a purr to a power belt. The title track “Listen To This” (composed and arranged by Cabasso), “What’s Fair in Love” (created and directed by Coleman) and “Baby’s Got Some Awful Kind of Blues” (crafted by John Hammond) are renderings of original pieces that are sure to go down as Cheryl Barnes classics. “This project solidifies within myself my view of myself as a true artist,” Cheryl poetically states.
Cleveland-native Cheryl Barnes harbors fond memories of music’s presence throughout her early life. “My father, Calvert Barnes, played music 24 hours a day in the house from his collection of old 78s and LPs – all the big bands, all the singers, all the jazz. Then on the radio he enjoyed the rich beautiful melodies of Mantovani and the 101 strings. No rock n’ roll allowed in the house!” Raised Catholic, Cheryl – unlike many Black singers - did not grow up in gospel yet sought and loved that and ALL music just the same.
Beginning at age 9 through college, Cheryl amassed 16 years of formal classical vocal training which led to appearances with symphony orchestras in Denver, Florida and Wisconsin. The rigorous programming reinforced her innate abilities and enabled her to move with ease between musical genres. Yet the road always led back to jazz. Cheryl confesses. “I have great respect for those that live the discipline of classical music like my cousin Thomas Young (the esteemed classical tenor and educator) who once told me, ‘Classical singing is an athletic event!’ I used the music that I learned from classical but never felt like if I sing that, I couldn’t sing this. I don’t sing like Leontyne Price or Rene Fleming, but I can sing that music. I sing jazz with strengthened abilities. And people have taken notice.”
The late iconic jazz critic Leonard Feather once wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Barnes' range leapt upward in unpredictable octave jumps to a pure register." Renowned concert and television Musical Director Rickey Minor marvels, “Cheryl’s voice is sultry and full of soul…you’ll be instantly transported to a place of warmth and serenity.” Singing legend Barbara Morrison testifies, “I don’t think there is a more immaculate professional singer in the jazz world today than Cheryl Barnes. She keeps it clean and swings to the point of no return.” And the aforementioned Mark Winkler swoons, “Cheryl Barnes is a songwriter’s dream. Each song becomes an emotional story that touches, moves or just plain makes you smile.”
Ms. Barnes is the quintessential performer, wowing audiences worldwide with her unerring sense for creating and sustaining a musical and personal rapport, be it within intimate club settings or commanding concert stages.
The lady has shared the stage with Quincy Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Lou Rawls, J.J. Johnson and Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. In Los Angeles, she has performed in acclaimed venues including the Parisian Room, Memory Lane, The Baked Potato, the Jazz Bakery and Catalina Bar & Grill. Backing her live and in the studio have been some of the finest in jazz, among them bassists James Hughart, Tony Dumas, David LeVray and Robert Russell, drummers Ralph Penland, Quentin Dennard and Kendall Kaye, pianist Bill Cunliffe, and trumpeter Carl Saunders.
“I really appreciate being respected by instrumentalists because I consider myself a musician,’ Cheryl concludes. “I sing because I must. I am compelled from within - the force sometimes ebbing…often flowing…the rhythm of it all out of my hands. I follow where it leads; it is an essential part of my being.”