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Patricia Barber brings her smart, able combo to D.C. this weekend



Patricia Barber, jazz, music, gay news, Washington Blade
Patricia Barber, jazz, music, gay news, Washington Blade

Patricia Barber wondered early on if coming out would affect her career. She says in the jazz clubs of her native Chicago, it was a non-issue. (Photo by Jimmy Katz)

Patricia Barber Trio
Blues Alley
1073 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.
Friday 8 and 10 p.m.
Saturday 8 and 10 p.m.
Sunday 8 and 10 p.m.

Jazz iconoclast Patricia Barber has a six-show run at Blues Alley slated for this weekend. She’s touring behind her newest album “Smash” (Concord), which was released in January. We spoke with the 57-year-old Chicago resident (and native) by phone last week from her summer home in Michigan. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: The iPad seems to be increasingly replacing printed scores and lead sheets and I know you use one when you perform. Have you ever had it freeze up or die on you when you’re playing?

PATRICIA BARBER: No, it never has. I always carry a back-up flash drive with all my sheet music on it so at any hotel I could print out anything I needed, but I’ve never had any problem. It saves me a lot of weight. I don’t have to carry all those charts around.


BLADE: Jazz is, of course, more improvisatory than pop. To what degree do you think through your vocal inflections or piano variations before you go on stage versus what happens in the moment?

BARBER: I’ve never given any thought to that. It’s just part of improv. I never give any thought to trying to make it sound like the record. That’s for pop musicians to do. I just have a good sense of harmony and good technique. I practice a lot.


BLADE: Do you spend a lot of time in Michigan?

BARBER: Well, a lot in the summer. I stopped touring in the summer quite a few years ago. It’s just too hot and crowded. I have a big organic garden here. So we feed people, swim in the lake. It’s just wonderful. (Partner) Martha (Feldman) is an academic so she has summers off.


BLADE: Do you hate to leave for your upcoming dates?

BARBER: I get nostalgic but not right now. I’m feeling pretty good. Things have slowed down so it’s not the usual sense of dread I usually feel this time of year.

BLADE: Do you tour with your own piano?

BARBER: No. Most jazz musicians don’t unless it’s some kind of electronic.


BLADE: How do you ensure the quality is going to be where you need it to be?

BARBER: It’s all in the contracts. It’s all very finicky, that it has to be a certain quality type and tuning.


BLADE: How many of the players who travel with you played on “Smash”?

BARBER: Two out of the four. We’re sort of mixing it up. It doesn’t mean they weren’t good.


BLADE: Obviously you love music but I also sense some ambivalence about your musical career in other interviews you’ve given. Is that fair to say? You seem to have a love-hate relationship with the whole thing.

BARBER: My recording career, no. That’s fun and easy. Touring is very difficult so yeah, I think you hit it right on the head. Well, let me re-phrase that. Certainly not this sweet little tour to D.C. or a 10-day tour to Europe. But I’m pretty much done with the grueling 12-hour spans getting to a city.


BLADE: Now that “Smash” has been out for a while and had time to gestate, how do you feel about it? Is it hard to assess how well something worked when you’re still close to it? Has it been hard to find a way for it to live in a live setting?

BARBER: I still love it. I don’t know that my feelings have changed at all. I’m still finding ways to transpose, as you put it, to the stage. With jazz, you can’t stick to one performance so I’m purposefully trying not to sound like the recording. It’s interesting what you can do with a quartet vs. a trio. It’s slightly different each time. But I’m still in love with it.


BLADE: Is “Devil’s Food” a political statement?

BARBER: It’s my first gay song … It’s definitely coming from the DOMA political situation. That whole court case was coming up and my feelings about it. It isn’t obviously gay until you’re listening to it. It’s fun to watch people’s faces because it turns into a disco song. Jazz is usually very serious but this is just gay fun.


BLADE: Do you feel the press has focused too much on your sexual orientation throughout your career?

BARBER: Yes. It’s the first thing on Wikipedia. I’m a lesbian jazz musician. To me, that’s not a category but OK. I’m hoping as we’ve all grown older that being gay continues becoming just part of the normal fabric of everything and people will focus on the music more but you have to remember years ago, we weren’t anywhere close to where we are now on that.


BLADE: You were out pretty early on though. Were you just pretty much organically out or was it a conscious decision at some point to be out?

BARBER: I had a whole issue with that. I was working at a pretty famous club in Chicago that was very popular. We had lines around the block and I worked there six nights a week with a trio. And yeah, at the beginning — this was many, many years ago — I wondered if they would have hired me if I’d been out. It was such a hetero scene there so I definitely worried about it but then I came out to my boss and … he thought it was sexy and kind of cool in a sort of perverted way. But it hasn’t ended up affecting my audience at all. They’ve always been mixed — straight, gay, black, white, young, old.


BLADE: You’re playing six shows in D.C. Is it designed to be something people can see over a few nights or is it pretty much the same show?

BARBER: I don’t expect that people would see it twice. That would be unusual. It will pretty much be the same set.


BLADE: Do jazz fans bring expectations with them the way people expect pop acts to always do certain hits?

BARBER: I think they want to hear stuff from “Smash” and they sometimes have old favorites they want to hear. Sometimes they send me notes. If it’s easy to do, sure, I’ll do it. I have a huge repertoire by now. I’m happy to try it if I can or if I just want to sit and play “Autumn Leaves” for an hour and a half, I’ll do that.



New book explores why we categorize sports according to gender

You can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think



‘Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates’
By Katie Barnes
c.2023, St. Martin’s Press
$29/304 pages

The jump shot happened so quickly, so perfectly.

Your favorite player was in the air in a heartbeat, basketball in hand, wrist cocked. One flick and it was all swish, three points, just like that, and your team was ahead. So are you watching men’s basketball or women’s basketball? Or, as in the new book, “Fair Play” by Katie Barnes, should it really matter?

For sports fans, this may come as a surprise: we categorize sports according to gender.

Football, baseball, wresting: male sports. Gymnastics, volleyball: women’s sports. And yet, one weekend spent cruising around television shows you that those sports are enjoyed by both men and women – but we question the sexuality of athletes who dare (gasp!) to cross invisible lines for a sport they love.

How did sports “become a flash point for a broader conversation?”

Barnes takes readers back first to 1967, when Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb both ran in the Boston Marathon. It was the first time women had audaciously done so and while both finished the race, their efforts didn’t sit well with the men who made the rules.

“Thirty-seven words” changed the country in 1972 when Title IX was signed, which guaranteed there’d be no discrimination in extracurricular events, as long as “federal financial assistance” was taken. It guaranteed availability for sports participation for millions of girls in schools and colleges. It also “enshrine[d] protections for queer and transgender youth to access school sports.”

So why the debate about competition across gender lines?

First, says Barnes, we can’t change biology, or human bodies that contain both testosterone and estrogen, or that some athletes naturally have more of one or the other – all of which factor into the debate. We shouldn’t forget that women can and do compete with men in some sports, and they sometimes win. We shouldn’t ignore the presence of transgender men in sports.

What we should do, Barnes says, is to “write a new story. One that works better.”

Here are two facts: Nobody likes change. And everybody has an opinion.

Keep those two statements in mind when you read “Fair Play.” They’ll keep you calm in this debate, as will author Katie Barnes’ lack of flame fanning.

As a sports fan, an athlete, and someone who’s binary, Barnes makes things relatively even-keel in this book, which is a breath of fresh air in what’s generally ferociously contentious. There’s a good balance of science and social commentary here, and the many, many stories that Barnes shares are entertaining and informative, as well as illustrative. Readers will come away with a good understanding of where the debate lies.

But will this book make a difference?

Maybe. Much will depend on who reads and absorbs it. Barnes offers plenty to ponder but alas, you can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think. Still, if you’ve got skin in this particular bunch of games, find “Fair Play” and jump on it.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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An exciting revival of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre

Out actor Caesar Samayoa on portraying iconic role of President Perón



Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company. (Photo by DJ Corey Photography) 

Through Oct. 15
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W.

When Eva Perón died of cancer at 33 in 1952, the people’s reaction was so intense that Argentina literally ran out of cut flowers. Mourners were forced to fly in stems from neighboring countries, explains out actor Caesar Samayoa. 

For Samayoa, playing President Perón to Shireen Pimental’s First Lady Eva in director Sammi Cannold’s exciting revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” at Shakespeare Theatre Company is a dream fulfilled. 

As a Guatemalan-American kid, he had a foot in two worlds. Samayoa lived and went to school in suburban Emerson, N.J. But he spent evenings working at his parents’ botanica in Spanish Harlem. 

During the drives back and forth in the family station wagon, he remembers listening to “Evita” on his cassette player: “It’s the first cast album I remember really hearing and understanding. I longed to be in the show.”

As an undergrad, he transferred from Bucknell University where he studied Japanese international relations to a drama major at Ithica College. His first professional gig was in 1997 playing Juliet in Joe Calarco’s off-Broadway “Shakespeare’s R&J.” Lots of Broadway work followed including “Sister Act,” “The Pee-Wee Herman Show,” and most significantly, Samayoa says, “Come From Away,” a musical telling of the true story of airline passengers stranded in Gander, Newfoundland during 9/11. He played Kevin J. (one half of a gay couple) and Ali, a Muslim chef.  

He adds “Evita” has proved a powerful experience too: “We’re portraying a populist power couple that changed the trajectory of a country in a way most Americans can’t fully understand. And doing it in Washington surrounded by government and politics is extra exciting.” 

WASHINGTON BLADE: How do you tap into a real-life character like Perón?

CAESAR SAMAYOA: Fortunately, Sammi [Connald] and I work similarly. With real persons and situations, I immerse myself into history, almost to a ridiculous extent. 

First day in the rehearsal room, we were inundated with artifacts. Sammi has been to Argentina several times and interviewed heavily with people involved in Eva and Peron’s lives. Throughout the process we’d sit and talk about the real history that happened. We went down the rabbit hole.

Sammi’s interviews included time with Eva’s nurse who was at her bedside when she died. We watched videos of those interviews. They’ve been an integral part of our production. 

BLADE: Were you surprised by anything you learned?

SAMAYOA: Usually, Eva and Perón’s relationship is portrayed as purely transactional.  They wrote love letters and I had access to those. At their country home, they’d be in pajamas and walk on the beach; that part of their life was playful and informal. They were a political couple but they were deeply in love too. I latched on to that. 

BLADE: And anything about the man specifically? 

SAMAYOA:  Perón’s charisma was brought to the forefront. In shows I’ve done, some big names have attended. Obama. Clinton. Justin Trudeau came to “Come From Away.” Within seconds, the charisma makes you give into that person. I’ve tried to use that.  

BLADE: And the part? 

SAMAYOA: Perón is said to be underwritten. But I love his power and the songs he sings [“The Art of the Possible,” “She is a Diamond,” etc.]. I’m fully a baritone and to find that kind of role in a modern musical is nearly impossible. And in this rock opera, I can use it to the full extent and feel great about it.

BLADE: “Evita” is a co-production with A.R.T. Has it changed since premiering in Boston? 

SAMAYOA: Yes, it has. In fact, 48 hours before opening night in Washington, we made some changes and they’ve really landed. Without giving too much away, we gave it more gravity in reality of time as well as Eva’s sickness and the rapid deterioration. It’s given our second act a huge kind of engine that it didn’t have. 

BLADE: You’re married to talent agent Christopher Freer and you’re very open. Was it always that way for you?

SAMAYOA: When I started acting professionally, it was a very different industry. We were encouraged to stay in the closet or it will cast only in a certain part. There was truth in that. There still is some truth in that, but I refuse to go down that road. I can’t reach what I need to reach unless I’m my most honest self. I can’t do it any other way.

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Out & About

HRC’s National Dinner is back

LGBTQ rights organization’s annual gala features Rhimes, Waithe, Bomer



Actor Matt Bomer will be honored at the HRC National Dinner.

The Human Rights Campaign will host its annual National Dinner on Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The dinner’s honorees include world-famous producers, actors and entertainers whose work spotlights the fight for civil rights and social justice, including Shonda Rhimes, Lena Waithe and Matt Bomer.

A new event, as part of the weekend, — the Equality Convention — will take place the night before the dinner on Friday, Oct. 13. The convention will showcase the power of the LGBTQ equality movement, feature influential political and cultural voices, and bring together volunteer and movement leaders from across the country to talk about the path ahead.
For more details about the weekend, visit HRC’s website.

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