Showbiz mythology maintains that for every performer who earns fortune and fame there are 100,000 others who instead end up, as Burt Bacharach and Hal David once so eloquently put it, parking cars and pumping gas. Add “jazz” in front of the word “performer” and you can multiply such risky odds at least tenfold. So, when a jazz artist who has beaten the odds, and has done so without once compromising her lofty artistic standards, credits her success to having been “lucky enough to have been given such a blanket snub by the mainstream jazz community,” it’s tempting to suspect insincerity or false modesty or clever posturing.
But singer-pianist Patricia Barber, a plain-speaking Chicagoan if ever there was one, means precisely what she says. Despite nine albums that have gained her significant recognition, critical praise and better-than-average financial rewards across at least three continents, she considers herself an outsider, destined to remain disenfranchised, disconnected and, if need be, misunderstood.