Whether she’s jiving or crooning, jazz and blues legend Barbara Morrison glazes each song with her own special flavor.
In what is becoming an annual tradition for local jazz and blues enthusiasts, Morrison is returning to Merced for a special concert at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center on Thursday. “It is a great honor to have the opportunity to bring this level of performer to the area”, said operations director of the Merced Arts Center Joey Essig. “We are hoping to make this a yearly occurrence. This area has a huge love of jazz and blues, but rarely do we have a chance to bring in heavy hitters like Barabara Morrison.”
Often compared to Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James, Morrison has a sound that Essig says unveils “a style that is truly hers alone.
“She has dazzled fans with a wide array of genres from traditional jazz and blues to gospel and pop,” he said. “Her melodic voice, with its two-and-a-half-octave range, is known worldwide, as are her rich, unique, soulful and highly spirited interpretations of both, familiar jazz and blues classics.”
Morrison will again be backed up by Rod Harris and the 10-piece Columbia College Jazz Band. “Barbara is a magical entertainer,” Harris said. “Not just a great voice, but also with great showmanship, stage presence, spontaneity and humor. It’s always fun to see her work her magic.”
Morrison loves her work. “It proves that old cliche, ‘Find something you like, and you never have to work a day in your life,’” she said.
The moments just before she goes on stage are the most challenging of her profession. “Peeking from behind the curtain 20 minutes before showtime and reading the crowd,” she explained. “Trying to get an idea of what you think they would like.”
For Harris, it’s crucial to mesh all the background parts so they work well together. “When that happens correctly, then the music can soar,” he said. “It’s certainly made easier by the great musicians that we’ve assembled. Most of the group has been together since the early ’90s and performed many tours with the late Cornelius Bumpus.”
Morrison hopes that concert attendees will not only enjoy the music, but take away an appreciation of unique people, cultures and the beauty of musical communication.
“People will hear some of the energetic music to make them remember when they were young and vibrant and music that makes them glad they lived long enough to enjoy the music of their parents,” she said. “It’s healing and respectful music. Healing to the memories and respectful to the honesty of the times. “I will purposely remind the young that this is a job that can be done all over the world if you educate yourself. I will also remind people, in order to get along in this world of different cultures, to be able to communicate is golden.”