Patricia Barber has been in the vanguard of the new school of female jazz vocalists who in the past several decades have been exploring intriguing improvisational terrain beyond classic balladry and bop-infused standards. She was born in a suburb of Chicago to a saxophone-playing father, Floyd "Shim" Barber, who had played with Glenn Miller. After studying classical piano and psychology at the University of Iowa, Barber moved back to Chicago to play jazz and in 1984 landed the gig that launched her career, playing five nights a week at the famed Gold Star Sardine Bar. Before long there were lines outside the door on weekends. Her following grew larger and more fanatical when, in 1994, she moved her base of operations to the Green Mill, the north side club that is the nerve center of the indigenous Chicago jazz scene.
Barber has recorded seven albums, including two previous full-length CDs for Blue Note/Premonition, modern cool (1998) and Nightclub (2000), and the Blue Note/Premonition six-track EP Companion (1999). Her major label debut was A Distortion Of Love, on Antilles, in 1992. But for most of her current audience, it all began with café blue, on Premonition (later Blue Note/Premonition), in 1994. It hit like something inexplicable, introducing a voice one critic described as "a pure dark whisper straight up from the soul" and a distinct onstage persona that has been characterized as "a beat musician and a bop intellectual." café blue led to Barber winning the "Female Vocalist/Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" category in the 1995 Down Beat International Critics Poll (an honor that she has since consistently claimed).