Barbara Carroll, a jazz pianist, vocalist and composer who elegantly mixed swing, bebop and classical impressionism, and whose career extended over seven decades, died on Feb. 12 at age 92. She was a regular performer at various clubs in New York City for many years, and had released a new live recording, Barbara Carroll Plays at Birdland, last December.
As a teenager, she played local dances, eventually saving enough money to enroll at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music. By 1947 she had ventured to NYC, initially seeking work as “Bobbie Carroll” to sidestep the existing prejudice against women musicians at many clubs. Her musicianship quickly made the obfuscation unnecessary, impressing the crowd at her first gig—playing after Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra at the Downbeat Club. The next year, Carroll formed her first trio which at first included Chuck Wayne and then Charlie Byrd on guitar. She finally settled on the classic piano-bass-drums format, and recorded several albums in the ’50s with the Barbara Carroll Trio for Atlantic, RCA and Verve.
But after the death of her husband (and trio bassist) Joe Shulman in 1957, and subsequent remarriage, Carroll performed infrequently until the mid-1970s, when she reinvented herself as a cabaret singer with still-impeccable piano skills. In 1990 she performed as a guest on the NPR radio program, Piano Jazz, and received the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award in 2003.