As some people under 30 are no doubt tired of hearing, the 1960s was a time of innovation and upheaval. The ‘60s produced the Beatles and Albert Ayler, the Velvet Underground and Motown, Tim Hardin and Tiny Tim. The spheres of pop music, jazz, classical, blues, and the avant-garde clashed, mingled, and cross-pollinated. There were some powerful and iconic female voices then: Janis Joplin, Tammy Wynette, Aretha Franklin, and Patty Waters. The latter did not achieve chart success - many have never heard of her. But the few that DID hear Patty Waters have never forgotten her, and her legacy and influence glows/grows even now.
Singer and pianist Patty Waters emerged from the underground/free/avant-garde jazz scene in New York in the mid-‘60s. She was inspired by Billie Holiday and no doubt the free players of that era -- in a roundabout way, Waters is to jazz singing what Albert Ayler was/is to the saxophone. Both expressed raw emotion in a manner that, depending on the listener (and the listener’s mood), was harrowing, naïve, cathartic, joyous, and unbearably alive. (To some, merely unbearable.) Her 1965 album Sings features eight tracks, most written by Waters, featuring just her voice and piano, and one track the fabulous pianist Burton Greene (still active!), drummer Tom Price, and bassist Steve Tintweiss. The latter is an unbelievable version of the Anglo-American folk standard "Black Is The Color of My True Love’s Hair." Her solo originals feel like ghostly fragments, the voice dry and autumnal, evoking Holiday and Helen Merrill, the melancholia severe and full of bittersweet ache. "Black Is.... " finds Waters reaching down into places in her soul, heart, and/or mind that few singers will ever approach, pushing her voice into a sort of sublime, feral hysteria. It’s as unsettling and amazing in the way Jimi Hendrix embraced "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, along with Albert Ayler's "Ghosts" and the Velvet Underground's "I Heard Her Call My Name." Casual listening, this is mos def not. Avant-goddess Diamanda Galas acknowledges her as an inspiration - if the sounds of Linda Sharrock, Jeanne Lee, Yoko Ono, Joan La Barbara, Meredith Monk, Gisberg, Shelley Hirsch, etc. truly reach you, then you owe it to yourself to hear Patty Waters' Sings.