We celebrate Motown founder Berry Gordy’s upcoming Kennedy Center Honor recognition with new versions of songs from Motown’s first teenager, Stevie Wonder this Labor Day Weekend. For decades, performers including Stevie Wonder shared their talent with television viewers on the MDA Labor Day Telethon, from Las Vegas hosted by Jerry Lewis. In this two-part article, we share new music which captures the jazz and vocal styles traditionally heard on that successful fundraising series.
PART ONE – PATRICIA BARBER
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on Clique being Amazon’s No. 1 vocal jazz album. It is a classy recording with a wonderful sound. Let’s begin with “All in Love is Fair.” I shared your version of this Stevie Wonder composition with the Los Angeles singer Laura Pursell, who enjoyed it so much that she listened to it three times in a row and told me, “Patricia’s wistful, plaintive vocals float right above her spare accompaniment, giving the lyrics their impact. This is a beautiful interpretation.”
PATRICIA BARBER: That’s so nice. This is one of those songs that I heard somewhere and tucked it away in my brain to do at some point. In doing a Monday night house gig at Green Mill, here in Chicago, and trying to keep things fresh for customers, every now and then I sift through my music library and put on something older like a Nancy Wilson recording, looking for something older and different. In this case I looked at the sheet music because I wanted to see Stevie Wonder’s original score. It’s surprisingly a traditional 32 bar song, which is so interesting to me, and explains why it doesn’t sound like a normal Stevie Wonder song. It is very hard to sing emotionally and vocally. He has the melody and harmony climbing to an apex and then it is supposed to stay there, which for anyone but an opera singer, is tricky. If you cheat in any way, the audience will hear it. So, the point is to stay there with whatever you have, be honest, and the song will work its magic for you.
Flip side: All in Love is Fair (in The Netherlands versus “Blame It on the Sun” in the U.S.)
A side: Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing
Dutch debut: May 1974
Tamla Motown 5C 006-95360
GM: On your website you have sheet music of your compositions on sale. Comparing that to Stevie Wonder’s sheet music of this 32 bar song, would a 32 bar song be short in length?
PB: No. A 32 bar song form is the American classic songbook form. It is the Rodgers and Hart form and originally the Cole Porter form before he started to get very fancy. It is the George Gershwin form and is really the standard song form. You have an A section with 8 bars, followed by another A section with 8 bars, then a B section bridge of 8 bars, then another A section of 8 bars. This became the dominant song form everywhere, after that group of songwriters in the 1930s and 1940s created their popular classics. So, seeing Stevie Wonder go back to era and style was really great to discover.
GM: You mentioned the jazz singer Nancy Wilson, versus the Heart sister. Let’s go back to the late 1960s on Capitol Records, with Nancy Wilson’s “Face It Girl, It’s Over.” I bought that Top 40 single in 1968. Then the following year on Capitol, Peggy Lee had her final Top 40 hit with the Leiber and Stoller composition “Is That All There Is.” You have chosen a Peggy Lee song which is decades older than that, “Trouble is a Man,” with a sophisticated delivery that I can certainly picture in a nightclub setting.
PB: Definitely. All of these remind me of nightclub songs for our Monday nights. “Trouble is a Man” is fun for me, about all the trouble that women have with men. That might happen to me because I’m a lesbian, ha ha, but I find it fun and stylish to sing it. I can certainly understand it, but what I can’t understand and don’t try to do are the really tough ones, where the guy abuses the woman. I don’t sing those songs, because that would not be authentic for any singer unless you have been there.
GM: You chose Frank Sinatra’s “This Town,” from his album The World We Knew, which includes that title song, which I love, and “Somethin’ Stupid,” as a duet with Nancy Sinatra. She recorded multiple duets with Lee Hazelwood in the 1960s after she recorded his composition “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” “This Town” is Frank Sinatra’s only charting single written by Lee Hazelwood, from 1967, with a theme similar to The Vogues’ “Magic Town” from the prior year. You have given this song a great vocal and piano interpretation.
PB: I have introduced this one in concerts saying that I have spent literally thousands of hours of my life struggling over lyrics, making rhymes work as a poetic device and not make it so obvious. One thing I didn’t think of was using the same word over and over, as Lee Hazelwood did with “town” in “This Town” because, boy, that will rhyme.
GM: “This Town” deals with trying to make it in a town. How long did it take for you to be embraced in Chicago?
PB: It took about three years. It was very hard in the beginning, but now, looking back, three years isn’t really that long. In 1979, when we had the biggest snowstorm in Chicago, so it wasn’t easy getting work, then I began playing in the suburbs, all the way out to Hammond, Indiana, and slowly I worked my way into the city, at the Westin Hotel in 1982 with our trio, including a bass player and a drummer, and we stayed there for a long time, and then went on to other places.
GM: I was there in 1979, walking in the city on the snow and I tripped on a car antenna. I was walking on top of cars that the snowplows had covered, and I didn’t realize it. Let’s go back to the prior decade in the city, with Ramsey Lewis and “The ‘In’ Crowd.” You bring a nice combination of his jazz piano version and Dobie Gray’s vocal version to the song.
PB: I have played concerts with Ramsey Lewis on the same bill as him. His old Chicago trio versions of songs are great, and you can’t help but to think of those in your head, when you are doing that kind of song like “The ‘In’ Crowd.” I have sat backstage with Ramsey a lot, playing concerts and festivals.
GM: Continuing with jazz pianists, you perform Thelonious Monk’s classic “Straight No Chaser.”
PB: Playing Thelonious Monk’s music gives the pianist a license to be wacky. His piano playing was as quirky as the songs he wrote, and his songs almost demand that you be quirky. Playing a straight ahead solo on his songs would sound dumb. You would be wasting Thelonious Monk’s legacy if you do that, so I took full advantage of that and appreciate him for that.
GM: There are great bass parts on it too from Patrick Mulcahy.
PB: He is something and I miss him now. He has moved back to Australia, where he has family, and is quite happy there.
GM: In addition to Thelonious Monk, who we lost almost forty years ago, are there other jazz pianists who inspire you?
PB: Certainly. There are many. Oscar Peterson comes to mind immediately. I had dinner with him, and he was such a gentleman and was such an amazing, swinging piano player. Everyone will say Bill Evans and what he did for piano, making it a single note instrument, able to carry a melody. Keith Jarrett does this as well.
GM: “Mashup” is a piano instrumental original, with a nice blend of drama and lightheartedness. The original 1960 black and white film version of The Little Shop of Horrors contains piano instrumentals in supposedly scary but campy scenes, and “Mashup” put a smile on my face just like that soundtrack. I hear one sound or style, then something else, so it is truly a mashup.
PB: I wrote that tune so that the band could have fun. I have learned over the years how to write an instrumental tune that is extremely flexible, fun for the band and hopefully fun for the audience as well.
GM: Jon Deitemyer’s drums really come through on that.
PB: Yes. I am very proud of this band. We have been touring together for years and did a long tour in 2019 with my prior album Higher and introduced these songs as well.
GM: Was it difficult for you to sing in a foreign language on “Samba de Uma Nota So (One Note Samba)?”
PB: Fortunately, I learned that language. I fell in love with Brazilian Portuguese years ago, so I took an immersive course in the language, which at the time I think it was around $1000 a week, to have someone with me each day speaking Brazilian Portuguese for a couple months. So, I did learn enough to understand it and sing in it, and I went to Brazil, but it is one of those things that if you don’t keep it up, you can lose it. For the song I deviated from the prescribed rhythm in the opening and then returned to how it was written.
GM: The sound quality is excellent. In 1973, there was the Chicago record company named Ovation with a focus on quadrophonic sound, and I am reminded of that era with the sound quality on this album, which is outstanding.
PB: That is Jim Anderson and his wife Ulrike Schwarz at Chicago Recording Company, Studio 5 for Impex Records. They have a commitment to audiophile sound. Jim has been my longtime recording engineer.
GM: When you and attended the online session with Joseph Whip’s Philadelphia Audio Group, I was amazed to learn how much detail went into the sound on Clique with Ulrike talking about replacing the recording studio’s cables with MusicCord Power Cables. In addition to learning that Jim has eleven Grammys, I loved it when he quoted you about performing and recording song interpretations of classic recordings with your desire to, “Make it special” and how that has become the goal with each song of yours he has recorded. Clique is certainly a special album and I am pleased to see it do so well. Congratulations.
PB: Thank you. We are thrilled and thank you for making our session together so comfortable and enjoyable.
Patricia Barber’s Clique also includes show tunes classics “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Shall We Dance?” To learn about all of her recordings go to patriciabarber.com.
PART TWO – CHRIS RUGGIERO
GOLDMINE: Let’s start with your thoughts on Patricia Barber’s new version of Stevie Wonder’s “All in Love is Fair.”
CHRIS RUGGIERO: Sure. It's appropriate that a song like this is performed so intimately. It's about revelation, and Patricia delivers an incredibly convincing telling of the story. When she sings, "I should have never left your side," it's filled with such regret that I believe she's been there, that moment when you realize you've made a terrible mistake and you can't go back. By stripping away the tempo, she was able to phrase it in a way that brought new life to the lyrics. I aspire, and I think every singer who's interpreting someone else's lyrics should aspire to this kind of authenticity, when delivering a tune like this.
GM: I am glad that you enjoyed it. It’s my favorite song on her new album. Now let’s talk about your new album I Am. Your version of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David composition, “Anyone Who Had a Heart” is my favorite. The piano and orchestra are wonderful, as is the guitar break. My wife Donna and I heard Dionne Warwick’s original version on the radio recently, which I had loved for years, but I must say that your recording is so crisp in comparison. I think people will embrace this. Your version of Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over” is another favorite, which I first learned from a 1977 Gene Pitney cover single. The high vocal note you hit on “One,” was such a wonderful surprise, a song that millions of people know from Three Dog Night, and there is an Al Kooper cover that I also enjoy. Joseph Mirrione’s concept of turning The Beatles “And I Love Her” and The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” into a medley is certainly a unique concept that works well, blending these compositions by a pair of England’s most famous rock and roll bassists. Then, like Patricia, you also added your style to a Stevie Wonder song.
CR: Yes, “My Cherie Amour.” This song is for anyone, like me, who has a habit of falling in love with people who don't even know you exist. The idea for this album was to update songs that have timeless lyrics and, like all of the songs on my new album, it was originally conceived as a concert arrangement. So, if it sounds a little flashy and splashy, it's because it was born in Las Vegas, crafted for the stage and orchestrated, specifically for me, by Charles Calello. Charles knew that I loved his work on songs like "Native New Yorker" and you can hear the influence of those records underscoring my vocals on it. Of course, the instrumental break is a killer piece of work, and I was lucky enough to get Ed Calle to play that blistering sax solo that you hear on it.
GM: By contrast, the original flip side of Stevie Wonder’s version of “My Cherie Amour” was the soulfully bluesy “I Don’t Know Why,” the only flip side of his to also make it to the Top 40. You mentioned Charlie Calello. In the same mid-1970s era as “Native New Yorker,” I was loving his arrangement on Engelbert Humperdinck’s “After the Lovin’” and “The Last of the Romantics,” two songs we highlight in next week’s interview article. I met Engelbert in 2019 here in Daytona Beach at the venue where you will be performing next February with Herman’s Hermits, The Cyrkle, The Music Explosion, The Ohio Express and The Brooklyn Bridge. Donna and I are looking forward to the show.
CR: Me too. See you there and thank you for interest in my music.
Flip side: I Don’t Know Why
A side: My Cherie Amour
Debut: May 31, 1969
Peak position: No. 4 for A side / No. 39 for flip side
Chris Ruggiero’s I Am also includes his versions of “Run to Me,” “Betcha By Golly Wow,” “California Dreamin’,” “The More I See You,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and “This Magic Moment.” To learn about all of his recordings go to chrisruggierosings.com.