Amy Barlow Liberatore… stories of lost years, wild times, mental variety, faith, and lots of jazz

Category Archives: Jazz

Swing, Sway, Pay the musicians!
(New Orleans)

“We flew down here to New OrLEENZ
Oh, that Berbin Street’s a racy scene
White people, black people
Al Hirt’s closed but I got
a real hurricane glass at Pete Fountain’s
And the music! There was a white singer
who did that gravelly voice on
‘What a Wonderful World,’
so authentic, he sounded just like
Lance Armstrong!


…‘cept she wouldn’t know real jazz
if it sashayed up
slithered along her inseam
and chomped down on her skinny butt

Buuuut… we love them, the tourists
in their Mardi Gras beads
They stay on Bourbon so’s not to
imperil themselves, and
sure as God’s name is on a dollar bill,
the Lord rains that green on our
Katrina-ravaged, race/grace savaged,
road-buckled, pothole-pimpled hometown

Tourists nurture the city, rain the green
on the parched heads of bartenders and servers,
taxi drivers, musicians – from our bevy of
audacious, bodacious singers to brass ensembles and
buskers to second-line bands – plus mule carriage men and
bicycle carters, all manner of trade here in N’Orleans
Hell, they take that bread and spread it all over town

Tourists don’t know the real goins-on
‘less they got good friends hostin, boastin on
their chicory-roasted tasty toasty town
The dark side streets pulsing late-night R&B,
roots jazz, Kid Ory’s ghost, all those
greasy good sounds after the Bourbon Street gigs
are done, the paddleboat is docked, long after people
who clap on the one and the three (bless ‘em) have retired to
their hotels…after the Top Five Louis Tunes go to bed

That’s when the hunger is sated, when gates open to
a positive, righteous flood no Army Corps of Engineers
could ever fuck up, this outpouring of soul
dredged in Creole hot sauce nasty goodness
It’s what they’ve been dyin to say, dyin to play all day
all the way down from The Land of the Green, source of
the rent and new shoes and toys for Christmas

Payin gigs ain’t even foreplay
The cab ride down steams every hungry body up
Jump out the door, slide into sensual surreal
so-real recesses of excessive compression
to achieve the blissful explosion
swaying sweaty bodies
contorted faces
building building to

The excruciating mindbending orgasm of
hot humid homegrown harmony

And to that I say, Laissez les bons temps rouler
“Let the good times roll!”

© 2014 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Yes, New Orleans was a treat. I will be recounting these stories for the next few posts. Thanks to Rickie Lee for inviting me down… to Lex for telling me I had to go… to Rose and Suzanne for their sweetness… to Alfred for being Alfred and trading the piano bench with me… to Amanda for hosting my Second Phase… to Brother Robert, and you best call him, I’ll give you his number later, if you need a cab… and to the wonderful assembly of artists, musicians, and just plain folk who made up our Second Line parade in celebration of Rickie’s birthday.

We will have words about Brother Robert, a smidge of the gorgeous art of Suzanne La Fleur, musings on my new friends and old ones as well. And yes, there will be clips once I get my Smart Phone hooked up to my hard drive. I am in love with NOLA, but my somke-sensitive lungs are glad to be back in Wisconsin!!

For ABC Wednesday, the letter was S.  Sweet sweaty salty swimmin in satisfaction.  Yeah.  Peace, Amy

All That And More
Voice like menthol
Balls of brass
Face like schoolgirl
Killer ass

Charmful armful
Singing sinner
Rings the bell for
raunchy dinner

All the makings
All the style
Shimmy, chanteuse
Make ‘em smile

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

You want a jazz poem, dverse? One from the heart, heels, and head of a vintage babe who sang in clubs for 35 years and never overstayed her welcome. .

Also on the sidebar at Imaginary Garden With Real Toads. Peace, Amy

First, watch this classic, short clip from “Sunset Boulevard,” with Wm. Holden and Gloria Swanson

Studio Blues (the session)

So we’re sittin around
We are, so far, not happy
It doesn’t sound like us at all

The urge to get it right
to project confidence and
unity in the band’s sound…
Technology can get in the way:

Today was a clusterfrack of
padded drums with five mikes
and 64 tracks on the sound board
and an OCD tech whose mantra is


(If he were a makeup artist,
a single smudge would be verboten)
Inquisitive as to our dissatisfaction
(this being an old-style jazz recording)

he joins us and digs into the
delicious coffee cake make by
the bass player’s girlfriend. I activate
the discussion: “It’s too clean.”

Tech gets defensive. “I’ve made
stellar recordings for (so-and-so)
It takes the master’s touch to clean up
the blips and merge all the tracks.”

“Look,” sez I, “let’s do a Sinatra session.
Strip the drums – Mike, use brushes
Jimmy, get your stand-up bass, no more electric
Screw the keyboard effects, Stu, just

tickle the baby grand in the corner. One
mike on that, and I’ll sing in the center,
Billie-style. Lower the lights and let’s
get the mood right.” Tech is instructed

to merge all tracks simultaneously and
create a single, live session. “But there
will be off notes and sometimes the
guitarist squeaks on the strings!” frets he.

“You need reverb, some sweetening…”
I honey/hotsauce him: “Listen, babe,
I’m a singer, not a vocal machine, and
we want soul, not squeaky-clean.

“Wanna know how we did it when
I started out? Watch this and
get schooled, learn from someone
who came up in smoky clubs.

“Dusty Springfield sang sitting on a toilet
because the sound was better in the bathroom.
We didn’t NEED reverb then…
We had voices.”

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Well, the Real Toads had a “come one, come all” today, so I thought I’d pick up a prompt from The Sunday Whirl. This comes from my “old school” background in music, where the singers whose catalogs I raided (Sinatra, Billie, Bennett, Satch, Nat “King” Cole, the early years of Barbra Streisand) all had one thing in common: They recorded live with their band or orchestras. No fiddling around with the sound post-session.

Once Madonna came on the scene, she was sued for using a second singer’s voice to give her own so-so voice that high-nasal feel (She lip-synched most of “Like A Virgin” at the Grammy Awards, but no one noticed because she was writhing on the floor). Studios full of baffles, drum rooms, and solo vocals recorded separately after the band, a jillion tracks they could add later, as well as reverb (the first vocal enhancement) and eventually the vocanizer, which not only “sweetens” a vocal flat note but was used by Cher on “Believe (In Life After Lov e)” – that “it takes ti-i-i-ime” computerized effect, used to create an interesting vibe.

MY PEOPLE SANG. Sinatra always had an audience (women had to remove all clinky jewelry); Billie sat in the middle of a circle, mike suspended from the ceiling; Streisand, accompanied by full orchestras in her 20s, had a knack for getting her emotional performances on the very first take. Nat live in sessions, playing his own piano? The livin’ end.

In other words, things change, but I don’t have to follow the trend. None of the recordings you have heard from me have ever had any monkey business, no sweetening, etc. Pure, simple jazz. Peace, Amy

Take Me Back

Click on link to play.  Amy on keys and vocals, Riley on drumset, Rob on tenor sax. Photo by Donna Dajnowski, used by permission of photographer.

Studio Meeting of Minds


Mother and daughter
Keyboardist and drummer
Our yearbooks diverged:
Mine said, “You are so weird,”
and her entries were all about
her coming out and being cool.

Years ago, the dissolution of
the marriage of her parents
put Riley in a tricky spot.
Years later, rarity of rarities:
Her dad, a great saxophonist,
joined us on a session.

Vintage jazz cut with
a medium beat, but
vintage Amy to the core.
We all felt vibes surfacing.
Felt the delirium of healing.
Created a legacy of friendship.

Sessions are not just for
the psychologist’s office.
Jams are not only spread
on whole wheat toasty bread.
Jazz has that knack of pushing back
what’s in the way; music, here to stay.

© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Jasmine Calyx, who printed an amazing list of words, including some of the above: Songwriter, surfacing, yearbook, drummer, keyboardist, rarities, delirium, legacy, dissolution, and vintage. She has a knack for highlighting the blogs of other poets… a truly selfless blogger. I dig her style – check her out! Also for Wonder Wednesday at Poets United (proud to be a member!), asking for poems about wonders of the world. I think that two exes and their daughter performing in one space, making great jazz, is a WONDER!

Riley, Rob Weinberger, and I did record this piece in a Binghamton, NY studio. Rob’s wonderful wife, Donna Dajnowski, took some pix. Lex was stuck upstate, but he thought it was a great idea. The cut needs some editing, but you get the idea. Peace, Amy

ABC Wednesday is on (puff, puff) the letter “Y,” and even though I wrote this song a while back, thought it would be a nice addition. This one has never been recorded, or I’d give you a link, sorry!

Also posted at the poets’ collective, Poets United. Give that link a try and scan down the right sidebar for some incredible poets. And now (drumroll, please, Riley)…

I’d Say Yes (bossa nova)

We share a noontime table
There’s curry and coffee and a lump in my throat
I tell him all I’m able
But stop short at the popular vote:
‘Cause my girlfriends say, “Just tell him”
But caution tells me, “Don’t”
Now I’m nervous that the truth will come out
And twice as scared it won’t

He treats me like a sister
We have a long history of talking things out
He says he couldn’t resist her
But now that she’s left him, she’s left him in doubt
Now my instinct is to comfort
And my arms say, “Cradle him”
But I’d hate to blow a friendship
on an odd, romantic whim

He asked me once, can’t remember when
But if I had to do it over again, I’d say yes
Yes, it’s true
Yes, I am
Yes, I will
Yes, I do

It’s funny, how a friendship
can turn into love if you lower your guard
But if the love’s a secret
it’s such an unnatural state of the heart
‘Cause half of me’s talking logic
While the other’s lost her sense
And I’d hate to miss the fireworks
Straddling the fence

I said “no” once, can’t remember when
But if I had to do it over again, I’d say yes
Yes, it’s true
Yes, I am
Yes, I will
Yes, I do

He asked me once, long ago
But if he asks me in a hour or so, I’ll say yes
Yes, it’s true
Yes, I am
Yes, I will
Yes, I do

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

And now for something completely different, song lyrics. You can hear the song at my music link below (sorry, can’t upload it here.)
Hope you like it! Amy

Tioga Moon (free listen at – my music site)

Tioga moon starts her song around eight
High above the maple, the color of marmalade
Spills on the rooftops and dances on the dewdrops
And drenches all the sumac in the glade…

Tioga moon, shining clear and bright
Tioga moon, shining on you tonight
When Cape Cod gets colder
and chills your shoulder,
that old Tioga moon will keep you in her sight

Oh, say…
when the gardenin’s done today
let’s escape the sun, and
run off to a place I know
where there’s shade
a little glade where the jack-in-the-pulpit grows

And then…
we’ll linger on ‘til after ten(derly you’ll call my name)
And then we’ll start to whisperin’ low
While the owls’ eyes and the fireflies
put on their show

Tioga moon, like a big brass bowl
Tioga moon shines like a prophet’s soul
When Buffalo winds blow
snow through your window
that old Tioga moon will make your insides glow
(repeat last chorus)

So stay well, sleep warm;
when the cold starts to bite,
that old Tioga moon will be your blanket tonight.

(Words and Music © 2009 Amy Barlow Liberatore)

Powerful Urge (For ABC Wednesday and Poets United)

Never one to linger backstage,
craving instead gelled red-hot spotlights overhead.

Sustaining me through sickness, divorce, and
freewheeling, full-tilt mania

Yet there lingers within that nauseating self-doubt:
Will I ever be good enough?

The first time house lights went up,
a chill raised the hairs on my neck,

and I gave out with
the best version of “Skylark” I ever sang.

So maybe the self-doubt is actually
my own spirit stirring me up to help me through.

I am the siren who makes sailors crash into rocks (or fall off barstools)
and I love that power.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Ignore the racist stereotypes and see true athleticism, artistry and energy. The incomparable Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and the poem follows. Watch the video first; I dare you not to be amazed. Band is Slim Galliard and Slam Stewart; Slam spent his last years in my hometown, Binghamton, NY. A gentle, sweet man who never lost his soulful voice and way with a bass.

Lindy Hoppers

Back when jazz was hot
When the drums meant dancin
jitterbuggin, Lindy Hoppin
shimmyin, shakin your sugar…

Lil, Grace, and Fancy
flounced and flirted in the finer clubs
Gracie, she was fine on the dance floor
Lil had more meat on her bones,
made lifting for the Lindy doubtful
Still, she clapped and hooted off on the side
beer in one hand, the other tucked in Slim’s front pocket

Now, Fancy was a flimsy-thin frail
made for stompin at the Savoy
When the band commenced to wailin
she’d be flyin over Jimmy’s head,
flung between his legs and back up again
She shined like a new penny,
bronze and easy rollin

Her real name was Flo
but once they saw her dance
hellzapoppin on that floor
they renamed her Fancy

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Three Word Wednesday: Thin, Jitter, Grace, blog

Something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time… ever since I saw a Confederate flag flying at the same height as an American flag in a redneck’s front yard – in upstate New York. Amy

Black History… Month?

Here’s the mystery:
Why only one month for Black history?
Relegated to February, one month
to cover an entire race that rose from
being imprisoned on slave ships, dragged ashore in shackles
to making indelible marks on all of American society

Who suffered their families broken first by
slave owners and later by well-intentioned
but fatally flawed Welfare, driving dads away

Whose call and response field songs, codes for escape
shaped a new tradition of gospel in churches
Who created jazz in all its magnificent manifestations
Who literally built the White House (ironically named)
Who built the South and suffered under the Confederate flag
Whose voices and actions loom large in the tapestry of our nation

The witness of Sojourner Truth (“Ain’t I a woman?”)
The poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Rita Dove, Maya Angelou
The voices of Billie, Bessie, Ma Rainey, Leontyne Price, Marian Anderson
The brass of Louis, the class of Duke
The shy brilliance of Strayhorn, the in-your-face of Miles
The Harlem Renaissance, producing unfathomable beauty and power

The perseverance of the Negro Leagues
The courage of Jackie Robinson, the sleekness of Jesse Owens
The contemporary finesse of Venus, Serena, Tai Babilonia, and yes, Tiger

Courage under fire.
The energy of Crispus Attucks, fighting British troops
The Buffalo Soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen
There was never a war fought by America
that didn’t include Black troops

Philosophy and social justice.
The words of Frederick O. Douglass
The wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The burden shouldered by Coretta after his burial
The grassroots activism of Rosa Parks (no, she didn’t just decide
she was tired – it was a planned act of nonviolent protest)
The battered, brutalized child Emmett Till whose death
shone a light on lynchings all over the South
Listen, can you hear it? “Southern trees bear a strange fruit…”

Our ancestors, for we all came from that continent, regardless of
how far our tribes were scattered around the globe
reduced to one month, when Sylvia’s Beans go on sale at the market
and kids hear about George Washington Carver and peanut butter
and a few lines about Rosa, Martin, and how “Lincoln freed the slaves”
A little blurb about Bill Cosby on TV, Louis Armstrong singing “Hello, Dolly”
And that’s that

Black history is OUR history.
From slavery to freed citizens
From abolitionists to suffragettes
The struggle, oppression
and one triumphant moment on an election day
(Indonesian, my ass)
The music, the invention, the philosophy, the art, the daring

One month? Really?

© 2010 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

Dallying on Writer’s Island is a pursuit every poet should indulge in. This week’s theme, “Improvise.” Yeah, like I’ve never done that! Amy

Fill In The Blank (Writer’s Island, “Improvise”)

So I arrive at my gig, hauling my rig all by myself.
I snag my stocking on a stack of speakers,
speaking in a pitch only a poodle could discern, “!!#*$!!”

Into the Ladies’ cause I don’t wanna start late,
I rummage through the rucksack that
passes for my purse.

On my thigh, one big hole in my black tights…
a dollop of whipped cream on an otherwise
dark-chocolate-frosted plane.

Dredging up a Sharpie, I fill in the blank, then
sketch in the run, the pen climbing
up and down a ladder.

I’ll deal with scrubbing it off tomorrow;
for now, it’s beg, borrow, or steal my way to the mic
with as much dignity as stinky ink can afford me.

© 2011 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil