Cheryl Barnes is a real musician. She’s living the journey, forging a sustainable path and bringing enjoyable performances to audiences around the world. I had the pleasure of sampling her CD and interviewing her. Like James Lipton and his show “Inside the Actors Studio”, I too want to know what one’s favorite cuss word is. Although I was disappointed she didn’t give a specific word, her answer was delightful. With that being said, she has poignant and interesting responses to more relevant and real questions. So, please, read on.
Tell us about some of your performing highlights. What were some of your most enjoyable shows? Who are some of the more fun and insightful artists with whom you’ve made music?
I had the pleasure of co-hosting a TV magazine show in Denver called “The Other Side” where we featured some of the great musical artists, along with other notable people who were appearing in the area. I was able to sing with and interview Della Reese, Merry Clayton, Lou Rawls and Leslie Uggams, among others. Ms. Reese generously shared some of her thoughts on life in general and life in music which has stayed with me and that I have passed along. I received some meaningful insights from the great Saxophonist, Eddie Harris on improvisation.
I traveled throughout the Caribbean and South America for a while and had some of my most happy and satisfying experiences singing for the masses in free concerts which were sponsored by various government entities in the cities where I was appearing in Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, the Antilles, the Bahamas and Singapore. Music truly IS the language of the world and I was able to reach hearts and minds of people of all ages, races, creeds, colors, religions, you name it.
Having extensive experience in both the jazz and popular music worlds, can you compare and contrast the two in terms of business, the hustle, touring, recording, vibe, camaraderie, etc.?
There are certainly some differences in the handling of these two musical genres. However, it’s all about the people and the relationships. My experience has been that all the mechanical/technical/logistical/financial dealing gets done through working closely with the many people one encounters on the road from first writing or finding a song to record through all the steps in between to get that song onto somebody’s mp3 player. It’s all hard work. Jazz, pop, classical…you name it. There’s an army of folks involved in making live performances and recordings happen. I really enjoy the opportunity to interact with all these different personalities. So many bright….and sometimes not so much….minds and so much energy. I soak it up. I concentrate on the positive; deflect the negative and enjoy the vibes I get in return for being genuine and straightforward.
Who are some of your favorite jazz artists and why?
Of course I revere the wonderful artists who laid the foundation for what I do today. The depth of artistry of Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington among a long list of greats is inestimable. What “Jazz” singer is not influenced by these forebears? How could I not love Sarah Vaughn? The cello-like tones of her instrument… Betty Carter for being willing and more than able to innovate in ways that singers before her seldom tried. These artists opened my mind and voice to the knowledge that I could do anything I wanted to do. Learn the foundation, and then find your own way.
You referenced the tutelage of your producer Rahn Coleman in your biography and made this statement, “Rahn helped me understand the difference between being a live performer and a recording artist, about certain techniques I could use to achieve a certain feeling.” What are the differences in live performing and recording and explain further the specific techniques you employed to express yourself emotionally?
For me, performing live is like breathing. Each artist has his/her own interpretation of what live performance means and what it needs for success. I feel I have to be honest. My goal up there is to give you a part of me through the song I’m singing and I do that by being willing to bare my soul and trust that the audience will take me in. (So far, I’ve been thrilled be the acceptance and smile). I try to convey my words through physical and vocal techniques that will allow me to reach the listener’s mind and heart. (Dance movement, facial expressions, etc.) It’s visual and musical and spiritual. I choose material which I believe in. The theme can be light or funny or somber or angry or whatever mood. My goal is to bring you along with me. In recording, all of these same intentions are necessary. The difference is that there’s no spiritual/electrical feedback from and audience, so the artist has to be courageous enough to “throw the doors to my inner self wide open and do some super-serious trusting that the listener will hear the truth. Then, it’s out of my hands. It feels like jumping off a ledge and not being able to see what’s coming, but jumping anyway.
You include a song for Christmas on this album. This was a surprise to see. Why did you include it?
The selections on this CD each have some personal meaning for me and for my husband, Phillip Cabasso, who arranged this Christmas song. A few years ago, we were rehearsing for a holiday gig we had coming up and we wanted to do some different Christmas songs so we looked in a generic Christmas song book and found this song. The original feel of this song is regular 4/4 with a medium tempo. Pretty basic and boring. Soooo, we decided to spice it up, made a nice samba beat version and decided to include it on this cd because we liked it and it’s different and it fits the very eclectic mix of this CD.
Talk about the development, organizing and creation of your new release “Listen to This”. Did you choose all of the songs? Did you decide on the release’s song order?
Yes, Phillip and I chose everything. We’re the label and executive producers and this project was created to allow me to make a record of my more current singing style and work. That’s why the song selection is so across the map. All of the originals on the cd were written by dear friends. Phillip wrote the title song, “Listen To This” and Rahn Coleman, our producer, wrote What’s Fair in Love. The ‘covers’ are all songs which I/we have loved and arranged and performed over time and were delighted to be able to include here. The arrangement on Henry Purcell’s “When I Am Laid In Earth (Dido’s Lament)” came about because I had loved the original aria from when I sang that role in college. I’ve always been a believer that musical genres can be mixed, so I asked Rahn to help me figure out a way to include this aria in a more contemporary/jazz-leaning manner….and he obliged with this extraordinary arrangement, with Phillip on piano.
You state, “I REALLY APPRECIATE BEING RESPECTED BY INSTRUMENTALISTS BECAUSE I CONSIDER MYSELF A MUSICIAN.” In terms of practicing and performing, how might this differ from only being a vocalist or singer?
I think the statement may be a little stale now because a vast majority of singers these days, do their homework and learn their craft with great seriousness and purpose. The historic reputation of jazz singers…the greats notwithstanding, is that ‘she’s the horn player’s girlfriend and can’t find one’, and ‘can’t sing in tune’, and ‘doesn’t know her lyrics’, etc. Anyway, you get my drift. I must say though, I learned my keys and lyrics and how to count off/set my tempos for the band, etc. at an early stage in my career. 10 years of classical training didn’t hurt at all when I had to work with a 21-piece big band and knew every note of every horn part. There are still many instrumentalists who are not fond of playing with or for singers, but most of the reason for that mindset has passed. Vocalists these days are musical pros.
Do you work on scales, jazz theory and rhythmic and harmonic execution like a saxophonist might?
Yes. Not as rigorously as I used to, but I vocalize with very specific exercises and goals on an almost daily basis. This is to keep my instrument nimble and bright.
Do you give music lessons?
I give occasional individual workshops or private sessions.
What are some of your thoughts on music education?
Music education is necessary. Not only for those who wish to pursue music, but to ALL students. Music is a balm. It is a crime that public school systems do not offer the level of music education which used to be routine. We know there are many so-called good reasons for this, but our children and our society pays the price.
Have you considered teaching online via sites like www.intotheshed.com?
I really hadn’t, but seeing this intrigues me. I may check it out.
Are you performing in support of your latest release “Listen to This” and if so, how do you accomplish recreating the studio sound and orchestrations and layers of tracks in a live performance?
I’m very happy to say we’ve been able to present the music from the cd in a very satisfying-to-the-audience manner without all of the original ‘architecture’. Phillip plays two keyboards and we have extraordinarily talented and dedicated friends playing bass, (Leo Nobre); drums,(Quentin Dennard); and percussion,(Munyungo Jackson) who make the sounds full and lush.
You’ve experienced a lot in life and in music. Give us a life lesson thought.
My life lesson is whatever I choose to do, whenever I choose to do it, I’d better give it everything I have right then and there. I might not get another chance and I want no regrets.
No doubt you are a fine, upstanding lady, but tell us, what is your favorite cuss word and why?
I don’t have a favorite. Where appropriate, I like them all.
Any closing thoughts? This is your moment to share anything you’d like to be heard via thelevityball.com. Let it fly.
I LONG FOR PEACE IN THIS WORLD. WHAT IS WRONG WITH FOLKS? WE ARE RAMPAGING ALL OVER. WOULD WE ALL BE BORED TO DEATH IF THERE WERE PEACE AND EVERY PERSON HAD A ROOF OVER HIS/HER HEAD AND FOOD TO ENJOY? MARVIN GAYE SAID IT IN THE ‘70s….’WHAT’S GOING ON?’ Thank you so very much for inviting me. It’s been an honor.
Find out more about Cheryl and her CDs here: http://cheryldbarnes.com/
Find out about Mark Rapp here: http://markrapp.com
Find out about intotheShed here: https://intotheShed.com
Mark was named one of the “top emerging trumpeters” in 2008 by Downbeat Magazine, featured on a Travel Channel documentary and has played with such diverse artists as Branford Marsalis to Hootie and the Blowfish. He has played sold out shows at the Blue Note (NY), Joe’s Pub, Yoshi’s (San Fran) and such venues as Blues Alley (D.C.), the JVC Newport Jazz Festival, Dizzy’s at Jazz Lincoln Center, JazzTime Festival (Croatia), Jazzland (Vienna), Jazz Standard (New York) and more.
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