15 February 2001
Jazz and blues are enduring parts of the American heritage, and the two musical forms have common roots. Barbara Morrison has been a versatile jazz and blues singer who celebrates both traditions.
Barbara Morrison has been part of the West Coast music scene for 30 years. When she is not performing on tour, she sings at local nightclubs and teaches in the music program at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The artist celebrates the roots of her music, which stems from the chants of African slaves in American cotton fields, and African-American convicts who worked in labor gangs.
"For instance," she said, "if one man would run away from the chain gang or the cotton fields, people would try to cover for him and work his position, so the master wouldn't know that he was gone until he had got way out of town. So they made a song so they could get the message to each other that this guy was gone and cover his area so it won't be noticed that he's gone. So they sing the lyrics and say 'Another man done gone, I'm going to work his load. Another man done gone, I'm going to work his load.' You would never know what I was singing about. I would be passing a message along. And pretty soon a structure formed, and there it was."
As that music developed in one direction, it became the blues. Barbara Morrison demonstrates the genre through a song called "I Know How to Do It" from her album of the same name.
She said, "It tells a great story. It just says "You better take care of your man, honey, or I'm going to take him from you." That's basically what it says -- 'cause I know how to do it."
If you love your man,
As African-American music developed in another direction, it became jazz, which Barbara Morrison describes as a more upbeat.
Ms. Morrison said, "Mostly in jazz, you talk about good things. You can sing blues lyrics to jazz chords and improvisation, of course. (But) In jazz it's more "you left me and I found someone else and look how happy I am."
I've got some sounds that will drive you right out of your mind,
Ms. Morrison says her song "Visit Me" is an example of modern jazz.
Barbara Morrison often appears at international venues that highlight blues and jazz, including the annual Playboy Festival in Los Angeles. She will perform in the city later this month with fellow artists Ernestine Anderson, Rebecca Parris and Marlena Shaw in a musical show called "The Ladies Sing the Blues." The event February 19 is part of a month-long celebration during February sponsored by the music industry's Grammy Awards.