Performing together for what they thought was a one-off show, Micah Barnes and Jackie Richardson found there was more than a little chemistry. That was some eight years ago, and the two are now regular collaborators, as will be seen tomorrow night (Oct. 18) in The Duet Concert on stage at The Registry Theatre.
“I invited Jackie to sing at a Valentine’s show. Jackie and I just fell in love singing together,” says Barnes on the line from his Toronto home, calling the partnership “a special magic.”
“Once Jackie and I got singing, that other thing happened: we both just got inspired.”
It’s fitting that they first worked together for a Valentine’s show, as Friday’s concert will explore the world of love and romance through some of the enduring standards of the Great American Songbook made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington.
With such a huge collection of songs to choose from, the two had their work cut out for them as they began performing together after discovery they were “lightning in a bottle” together.
“That’s our biggest challenge – we want to sing everything,” he laughs. “We do love to explore, to try all kinds of material.”
His love for music, particularly jazz standards, came at an early age. His grandmother was a classical pianist, his father a composer. Both his brothers are in the industry. It’s why he refers to his career as being in the “family business.”
It’s a direction that started early. In fact, he formed a jazz trio with his brother by the time he wrapped up high school. Later, he arrived on the Queen Street scene in Toronto at the time of Jane Siberry, The Parachute Club and Molly Johnson – it was a vibrant, musical experience. Eventually got a big break when he was asked to join The Nylons, one of the world’s most acclaimed a cappella groups, in 1990. Setting out on a European tour right off the hop proved to be a major learning experience for working in the business, he said.
The post-Nylons period has seen Barnes launch a busy solo career touring the U.S.A. with his number-one international club hit “Welcome To My Head” and a return to a jazz-oriented style of his earlier years resulting in a series of critically acclaimed recordings including his most recent chart topping “New York Stories.”
Richardson, of course, is no stranger to the business. Born near Pittsburgh before coming to Toronto with her family as a child, Richardson grew up with gospel and jazz music – her father was a singer – and enjoyed the offerings of Motown in her teenage years. Richardson made her professional singing debut at age 16 when she joined the Toronto-based R&B group The Tiaras along with her sister Betty.
The musical career led to acting on stage, films and television, for which Richardson has numerous credits. She’s long been considered Canada’s first lady of jazz, gospel and blues, singing songs that are reflected in the musical choices for shows with Barnes.
“This show allows us to explore all the musical genres. We really have a lot of fun up there. If we’re having fun, then the audience is having fun,” he said.
“Jackie is simply one of the greatest performers Canada has ever produced.”
Their willingness to experiment means they’re always adding new material into the show. Along with standards from the Great American Songbook, there’s the likes of tunes by Leonard Cohen, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.
“We take the time in rehearsal to really explore the music and see what we can bring to that song.”
For Friday night’s show, the pair will showcase songs of love, though it’s not all sappy: the repertoire covers the good, the bad and the otherwise, Barnes laughs.
“We’re not stuck on any one emotional state.”
For the Registry performance, Barnes and Richardson will be joined by pianist and arranger Diane Leah (Broadsway, with Julie Michels and Heather Bambrick), and bassist Russ Boswell (Sting’s The Last Ship).
The Duet Concert is set for October 18 at The Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are $35, available by calling 519-578-1570, online or at the door.