We miss Barbara Lea, and the gently loving memorial service held last night at St. Peter’s Church didn’t make our loss any smaller.
She gave us so much music for nearly fifty years that it seemed only proper that her friends and musical colleagues (one and the same) crowded the room to do her honor in words and music.
What Daryl Sherman — the evening’s most empathic, witty host — called Barbara’s “extended family” was there both in substance and in spirit.
For those who weren’t there, a thirty-two bar synopsis.
For words: Jan Wallman spoke of having Barbara perform at her club countless times, shaping her program to the individuals in the audience; George Wein remembered her as that remarkable creature in 1951, a “Wellesley girl who sang jazz”: Roger Shore told us how “the song came first” for Barbara; Jack Kleinsinger recalled a memorable “Highlights in Jazz” concert and surprised me by saying that the cornetist Johnny Windhurst had been his first mentor in jazz; Loren Schoenberg’s tribute had him thinking “WHAT WOULD BARBARA LEA DO?” in every situation, so fine was her critical vision; Nat Hentoff’s remarks focused on Barbara’s recordings; David Hadju recalled not only Barbara but the late Roy Hemmings; Lewis Chambers reminded us that what looked easy for her was the result of hard work; Frannie Huxley’s story of Barbara at college brought us a girl we hadn’t known; Peter Wagenaar’s story of falling hard for Barbara and her music from a distance was more than touching, as was Annie Dinerman’s reading of Barbara’s lyric for MOTHER, MAY I GO OUT TO SWIM.
For music: Ronny Whyte sang and played THANKS FOR THE MEMORY with lyrics I had not known; Joyce Breach offered Alec Wilder’s BLACKBERRY WINTER, which George Wein followed by singing and playing SUGAR (in memory of Lee Wiley as well as Barbara). Marlene VerPlanck tenderly created IS IT RAINING IN NEW YORK? holding spellbound a New York audience on a cloudless night; Sue Matsuki made us laugh with FRASIER (THE SENSUOUS LION) and Karen Oberlin made BITTERSWEET resonate for Barbara and Billy Strayhorn. Daryl Sherman wickedly delivered the naughty LORELEI, all of the laughs intact; Dick Miller played a strong medley of LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON; Steve Ross slowed down YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO for voice and piano; Bob Dorough emphasized HOW LITTLE WE KNOW; Melissa Hamilton caressed I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU. Throughout, lovely support and solos were floated by us from pianist Tedd Firth, bassist Boots Maleson, guitarist James Chirillo, and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen — all great singers of melodies.
But the stage belonged to Barbara — in a photo montage over our heads that showed her with Duke Ellington and Morey Amsterdam, with Johnny Windhurst, Cutty Cutshall and Eddie Barefield, with Dick Sudhalter, Daryl Sherman, Harry Allen, and Keith Ingham; Bob Haggart, Larry Eanet, James Chirillo — and many of Barbara and her dearest friend Jeanie Wilson, the two of them grinning like mad, fashionable or down-home.
And the musical interlude of videos by Barbara had great power — singing Bix and Hoagy, in front of a late Benny Goodman band, having herself a time, pacing through Noel Coward and a dramatically slowed-down BEGIN THE BEGUINE.
All of us send thanks to the people who made Barbara’s life better — Jeanie and her husband Bill, their friend and Barbara’s, Robert “Junk” Ussery, and the diligent, gracious Daryl and Melissa Hamilton . . .
In her last years, Barbara didn’t speak. But her voice still rings: