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Jazz concert series celebrates Valentine’s Day

Jackie Richardson and Michah Barnes

Jazz singer Micah Barnes will sing duets with three of Canada’s top vocalists – Jackie Richardson, Shakura S’aida and Alex Pangman – in a series of concerts celebrating Valentine’s Day.

Barnes and Richardson have performed as a duo at popular Valentine’s Day concerts at Toronto’s Hugh’s Room for the past six years. This year, they’ve invited guest performers and expanded the show to a three-night series at the Jazz Bistro on Victoria in Toronto.

Accompanied by Barnes’ trio, the four singers, alone and in duets, will explore “all the aspects of love,” Barnes said. “So we won’t stick to just happy and falling-in-love songs. We’re exploring the different moods of romantic relationships, including disappointments, disagreements and disharmony.”

Toronto-based blues powerhouse Shakura S’Aida joins Barnes for a blues standard on Feb. 10. An international artist, she’s one of the great Canadian exports to Europe and the world of jazz and blues, Barnes said. “It’s an opportunity for me to dig into that bluesy side of things that I love so much,” he said.


“My dad, [composer and jazz drummer] Milton Barnes, gave me a Ray Charles record when I was a kid, and that  got me into the blues.”

Canada’s “Sweetheart of Swing,” Alex Pangman steps onto the stage with Barnes on Feb. 11. Pangman is known for her authentic interpretations of jazz from the late 1920s and ’30s. Barnes and Pangman plan to “bring that romantic ’30s era to life,” he said.

Richardson, a jazz and blues singer, appears with Barnes on Valentine’s Day. He said singing with her is “pure heaven,” adding that few other singers can tell a story through song lyrics as well as Richardson does.

“Every time I work with her, it deepens my own approach. Plus, there’s that incredible voice of hers that is such a huge, beautiful instrument and so emotionally available.”

Barnes, a voice coach whose clients have included cast members of Canadian and Broadway musicals, said in order for a duet to succeed, the song should suit the personalities of both singers.

“We have to believe that the singers could be in a romantic relationship if it’s a Valentine’s song,” he said. “I’m having fun with all three of my guests, Jackie included, choosing songs that would be appropriate for us to sing.”

He said the two singers have to be in love with the song they’re singing, and it’s important that the song is in the right key for both of them. “I’m a guy and these are ladies I’m singing with, so I try always to be a gentleman and make sure the songs are in the correct key for my guests,” he said.

“If you’re inviting someone onto your stage, you want to make them as comfortable as possible and showcase what they’re great at.”

Barnes and Richardson’s duet New York Story, a version of the title song from Barnes’ No. 1 album, New York Stories, landed them on top of the jazz charts last year.

“We love the same kind of songs and it wasn’t a surprise to me that we would enjoy singing together. The surprise was that our voices worked on the recording so well,” Barnes said.

Since New York Stories was released in the spring of 2015, Barnes and his band have toured Canada. He wrote the songs on the album while he was in New York City wooing his romantic partner.

“It’s a very personal record, a very romantic record,” he said. “The songs detail a relationship, but they also describe a relationship with New York City. I’m happily surprised that audiences across the country are really, truly embracing the material.”n

Micah Barnes will sing some new original romantic songs with his trio – Michael Shand on keyboard, Russ Boswell on bass and Al Cross on drums – at the Jazz Bistro’s Valentine’s series. His guests include Shakura S’Aida (Feb. 10), Alex Pangman (Feb. 11) and Jackie Richardson (Feb. 14). For more information, visit jazzbistro.ca