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Michael Feinstein Remembers Barbara Carroll

Singer/pianist pays tribute to jazz and cabaret legend (1.25.25 – 02.12.17)

Barbara Carroll
Barbara Carroll with bassist Clyde Lombardi (left) and guitarist Chuck Wayne in 1947 (photo by William P. Gottlieb, c/o the Library of Congress)

My earliest awareness of Barbara was when I was working for Ira Gershwin. I was hired in 1977 to catalog his phonograph records. Among them was Barbara’s Verve LP of songs from the 1957 movie Funny Face. Every day I would play some of the records for Ira, and when we listened to that recording he was very complimentary about her playing. It was fun to listen to her interpretations of Gershwin with one of the authors, and to experience his joy at the way she adapted the melodies for jazz yet still played with great respect for the bones of the work.

She played with such abandon and confidence, and with great personality, taste, style and theatricality. She would often play a sort of preamble or inventive introduction, then state the melody very simply and sparsely before she would go into her variations, building her renditions almost like the way someone would build a brick wall, brick by brick, with this growing intensity. It would creep up on you. She would build to an emotional pitch that I always found deeply satisfying and rich. I never heard her play a single song in which her interpretation didn’t give me an electric jolt. She could play songs that were done to death and make them evergreen, fresh as a daisy. And she wrote some beautiful melodies. On one of her later albums, with Ken Peplowski [2011’s How Long Has This Been Going On?], she wrote a song called “Too Soon,” a beautiful, gentle waltz.

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