JACKI LYDEN, host:
Let's change keys now now to something a little more romantic.
(Soundbite of song "I Get A Kick Out Of You")
Ms. PATRICIA BARBER (Singer): (Singing) I get no kick from champagne. Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all.
LYDEN: We're with jazz singer, songwriter and composer Patricia Barber. Her cool, insinuating delivery sounds as if she's whispering in your ear over a very dry martini in a smoky dive on the bad side of town.
Ms. BARBER: (Singing) But I get a kick out of you.
LYDEN: Barber's new record, "The Cole Porter Mix," brings new interpretation of Porter standards together with three of her own compositions. We thought we'd wind up today's meditations on loss and love by asking Patricia Barber to sing us a few songs. And she joins me now at NPR Studio 4A. Patricia Barber, it's an honor to have you here.
Ms. BARBER: Thank you. It's an honor to be here. Thank you very much.
LYDEN: You know, when you think about Cole Porter, he is, of course, at the top, the apex, the iconic composer that every American jazz artist makes a run at eventually. Was it a challenge for you thinking about how to bring something new to this very familiar music?
Ms. BARBER: It wasn't a challenge bringing, I think, an individual approach to the standards because I've been doing them so long. So, it's a matter of simply survival. When I was 23 years old, I was doing Cole Porter because that's what you do. So, when you ask me now to do Cole Porter, you know, it's not going to be that different. And I know that for the most part, when I deliver a song, it tends to sound like me. I don't even know why anymore. But the original material, that was the tough part.
LYDEN: Let's talk about that because you do add...
Ms. BARBER: Mm-hmm. Right.
LYDEN: ...three of your own works here. And it is a bold move.
Ms. BARBER: Yes, it is. It's, you know, I tend to, I like that edge of the offensive in all artistic endeavors. You know, I like to be either right or wrong. Putting my own songs on here would be offensive to some sensibilities. It's arrogant. It's arrogant. Period. So, how could I, you know, not do this? It was just sitting there for me. It was like a cherry to pluck there.
LYDEN: I would like to hear you perform one of your new songs for us, one of your original compositions on this, please. "Snow."
Ms. BARBER: Great.
(Soundbite of song, "Snow")
Ms. BARBER: (Singing) Do you think of me like snow, cool slippery and white? Do you think of me like jazz, as hip as black as night? Do you think of me like linen, summer sheets on which you sleep? Do you think of me like ink, skinny words you want to keep? Do you think of me like fat, irresistible as cream? On your lips, on your hips, like chocolate, like a dream. Oh, to be the moon, a diamond you can't resist, the space between the stars, do you think of me like this? Do you think of me like crack, illegally refined? Sunglass for your eyes, do you think that love is blind? Do you think of me like salt, do you taste me in your tears? Do you think of me like oil, filthy rich, my dear?
LYDEN: I love that tune.
Ms. BARBER: Thank you.
LYDEN: It does - a real Cole Porter ring to it. Did you deliberately try to replicate his tone?
Ms. BARBER: I did something like that. Yes. I've been studying Cole Porter for years. I have notebooks and notebooks and notebooks of his, both his lyrics, counting syllables, marking down syllables, and his harmonic changes, the way he goes up to the bridge, this and that. So, within let's say, the classic song forms that he created, I made some variations. But I'm still very true to the absolute song form.
LYDEN: And Patricia Barber, since today is Valentine's Day, how about closing with an old standard, "My Funny Valentine." Not Cole Porter, I know, but still sublime. And I understand you dedicate your version of it to your own valentine.
Ms. BARBER: Yes. I would say that today my valentine is my mother who's waiting to hear this in La Crosse, Wisconsin, at 89 years old.
Ms. BARBER: So, here we go.
(Soundbite of song "My Funny Valentine")
Ms. BARBER: (Singing) My funny valentine, sweet comic valentine. You make me smile with my heart. Your looks are laughable, un-photographable, yet you're my favorite work of art.
LYDEN: Patricia Barber, performing her version of "My Funny Valentine" in NPR's Studio 4A.
You can hear more from Patricia Barber, including full-length versions of these songs, at our Web site, npr.org.
Ms. BARBER: (Singing) Is your mouth a little weak.