Not only is Danny Barrett talented, he's thoughtful too.
He's thoughtful in that he considers and respects the experiences and feelings of others. He incorporates these feelings and perspectives into the expanse of his music. On Live in New York City, Barrett dedicates "If I Had You" to his aunts, Gilda and Lee, who were in the audience to hear his emotional dedication.
Singer's Note: The release of Live in New York City, culminates a lifetime of music and will most likely be Danny's last recording. He has another album, as we say in the business, "in the can," which needs to be completed. But Danny states, "I doubt it will ever see "the light of day."
Barrett also is thoughtful in the sense that he thinks about the music he sings. He understands the overall meaning of a song and delivers it phrase by phrase with emotional power packed into each line of a lyric. Barrett absorbs the intent of the songwriter and converts into a nuance, individually expressed interpretation, honoring the composer and serving as the connection between the song and the audience.
But "thought" implies rationality, and Barrett, after he understands the core value of a song, moves into an emotional interpretation that overflows with all of the feelings suggested by the music: joy, contemplation, loss, uplift, sadness, regeneration, wariness, grace, surprise, serenity, despair and love. Perhaps Barrett's closeness to a song arises from his offhanded statement on his latest album that "each song is like a child to me."
Danny Barrett does wear his heart on his sleeve, and that's a good thing. There's no guessing about how he feels about a song; his listeners can feel it. In that respect, Barrett is similar to Jimmy Scott, an admirer of Barrett's singing. Both men throw their entire beings into their performances.
However, Barrett's rich baritone suggests not Scott so much as Johnny Hartman or perhaps Barrett's original inspiration, Dick Haymes. His distinctive phrasing, effortless projection to an audience and straightforward explication of the songwriters' intentions recall theirs. Those talents aren't as easy as they may sound. The music has to inhabit the singer, as it does Barrett, before it can convince an audience of the authenticity of emotion. Barrett's strength is that he feels the music and transcends mere words and notes to allow his listeners to feel it to, to remember a time or place where they heard the song, to recall an instance where they experienced the emotion described.
Before covering Barrett's latest recording, it should be noted, as it infrequently is, that Barrett cannily recruits some of New York City's finest musicians to work with him. On. Every. Recording.
Some of those musicians include the ever-eloquent and in-demand trumpeter Joe Magnarelli; John Hart, who has released a string of superlative CD's and backs up numerous New York groups with his respectful accompaniment; Steve LaSpina, who has performed with some of the top jazz icons like Stan Getz, Chet Baker and Marian McPartland; Linc Milliman, bassist to icons like Benny Goodman, Red Norvo, Bob Brookmeyer, Maynard Ferguson, Toots Thielemans, and Zoot Sims; Ronnie Zito, whose jazz career goes back to Woody Herman Band; Lew Soloff, who played the famous solo on Blood Sweat and Tears' "Spinning Wheel"; Billy Drummond, who has played a who's who of jazz like Horace Silver, J.J. Johnson and Sonny Rollins; Bill O'Connell, who arranges, composes and writes for jazz recordings and TV shows, not to mention performing with Conrad Herwig, Sonny Rollins and Randy Brecker. Not only does Barrett's contribute to the enjoyment of his recordings, but they reinforce his good taste.
Barrett's connection with his audience becomes real on Live in New York City, which was recorded in the late 200's at the Iridium and Danny's Skylight Room. Danny lights up the room with an immediate rapport, ingratiating himself with lyrics like, "can't think of anywhere I'd rather be" on "This is a Lovely Way to Spend an Evening." Hart's mood-setting introduction is joined seamlessly by Barrett's inviting voice and a relaxed, concise solo from Magnarelli. Barrett continues to draw in the audience with persuasive understatement embellished by LaSpina's bowed foundation on "Quietly There." The like-mindedness of Barrett and Magnarelli for melodic fascination becomes apparent with the song's peaceful melancholy. "If I Had You" starts quietly enough with Hart's relaxed strumming and Barrett's almost whispered first chorus, but in the second, trumpet enters and Barrett becomes conversational, as if words innately contain rhythm and pitch. "Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You" raises the energy with optimism. "We Kiss in the Shadow" reinforces the romanticism of Barrett's singing but not Barrett's phrasing. He separates each thought with full consideration before moving on to the next segment. Hart's accompaniment complements the way Barrett holds the word "free" for its full value, first constrained then free and open-throated.
"You Turned the Tables on Me," for fun, releases the musicians for piquant accompaniment and soloing as Barrett obviously enjoys the song's imagery, like "the sting of a bee." "Music, Maestro, Please," is a gem of a song and brings out emotions of both Barrett and his audience. Hear, listeners, please, Steve Laspina's virtuoso bass solo on "Music, Maestro, Please."
Hart's rubato, balladic intro to that song fakes out the listener and gives no hint of the finger-snapping, strolling song of "wise, droll perspective" that follows. "Stranger in Paradise" - infrequently heard today probably due to it's unabashed romantic sincerity, which is entirely in tune with Barret's spirit - involves careful attention to the intent of the lyrics, some once again in separate ponderable, digestible nuggets of phrases. "That Sunday, That Summer" evolves from Hart's empathetic first chorus back-up to a strong walking-bass-led tempo that sparks Barrett to extroverted joyfulness.
The medley of "You're My Everything" / "It Might As Well Be Spring" / "Indian Summer" rolls up into one the disparate, connected moods of Barrett, swinging one moment, racing with the high spirits the next, stopping for dramatic pause another moment, and decelerating into a largo sung reverie about unfulfilled dreams that the songwriter now realizes will remain unfulfilled. For an encore, there's "If I Had You," which rises from softness to a rousing ending, increasing in volume and excitement during layered turnarounds.
A true crowd-pleaser who's true to his emotions, expressed through songs that describe his own complex feelings validated by not just knowledge, but by wisdom, Danny Barrett once again has demonstrated that he's one of a kind: a talented, caring performer who without hesitation sings from the heart. As if proof were needed, Live in New York City captures his personal attention to, and devoted attention from, his audiences.