Patty Waters is a jazz vocalist, best known for her free jazz recordings in the 1960s for the ESP Disk label. Although she has rarely recorded since then, she is more and more recognized as a vocal innovator whose influence extends beyond jazz. Fellow female vocalist pioneers Yoko Ono and Diamanda Galás, as well as rock singer-songwriter Patti Smith, have all named Patty Waters as an influence, while Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth has stated to be an admirer.
Patty Waters was born March 11, 1946 in Iowa. She started singing semi-professionally in high school. After school she sang for the Jerry Gray Hotel Jazz Band. Her family moved to Denver, Colorado where she started listening to Billie Holiday, whose life and singing had a profound influence on her.
In the early 1960s she followed the recommendation of friends to move to New York. While in New York, she was invited to sing as a guest with Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard, with Chic Corea at Minton's, with Walter Davis Jr. at Slug's, with John Hicks at the Five Spot, with Jaki Byard, Sir Roland Hanna, Ben Webster and Charles Mingus at various times at the Five Spot, and sang with Herbie Hancock at his home. She worked in an Upper East Side supper club with Richard Wyands and George Joyner and made a Jax beer commercial with Joe Newman, and performed with the big band of Warren Smith. Albert Ayler heard her in a dining club and introduced her to Bernard Stollman, the owner of the experimental jazz label ESP Disk. Her most influential albums, Sings (1965) and College Tour (1966) were both released on ESP Disk. The first side of her 1965 debut (Sings) was given over entirely to self-composed solo piano miniatures, leaving listeners somewhat unprepared for the second side, which consisted solely of her 13-minute interpretation of "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair." Building into hair-raising screams and vocal improvisations, augmented by a small, free jazz combo, it remains the performance for which she is most noted
Only a few months after the recording of Sings, a recording from Waters' college tour was made druing April of 1966. The release was titled College Tour. This recording featured a completely different set of songs; all Waters' originals with the exception of the Rodgers and Hart standard "It Never Entered My Mind". The recording featured dates with backing by pianist Dave Burrell, and fellow ESP Disk artists Giuseppi Logan on flute and Ran Blake and Burton Greene on piano.
In the late 1960s, she spent some time in Europe and then left the music world to bring up her son (born in 1969) in Mill Valley, California. She has since performed only occasionally with musicians such as Art Lande, Steve Swallow, and Elliott Zigmund at the Berkeley Museum of Modern Art and at the old Keystone Korner in San Francisco.
Aside from a subsequent appearance as a member of the Marzette Watts Ensemble on a 1968 LP, nothing else was heard from Waters on record until 1996 when she released Love Songs on the Jazz Focus label, a compilation of standards accompanied by pianist Jessica Williams. Patty has since appeared with Jessica at the Jazz Store in Carmel, California, she has performed in concert in Palo Alto, California, in San Francisco, California, at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1999, at the Vision Festival in New York City in 2003, at the Le Weekend Jazz Festival in Stirling, Scotland, with Burton Greene.
In 2004 she released a compilation of previously unreleased material, titled You Thrill Me: A Musical Odyssey 1962-1979 on the Water label, and a year later released Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe: Live in San Francisco 2002. Esp Disk also released a
Downbeat Magazine critics in the 60s and 70s voted for her in both “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” and “Established Singer” categories. In Downbeat's “International Jazz Critics Poll” of 1967, she'd have won first place with one more vote. And "Patty Waters College Tour,” in 1970, won 2nd place vocal recording in Jazz and Pop Magazine.
She has received favorable mention in various books on jazz including “Stormy Weather, A century of Jazz Women” and “Music and Politics.” Her recording of “Black is the Color…” was used in a French film in 1970.
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