Noirfest wraps up festivities with Barbara Morrison

Santa Monica’s Noirfest is a celebration of noir culture and art noir. Participants paid homage to an era of art, music and film-making of the 1950s and 60s that portrayed a certain kind of darkness through striking black and white images and stylized drama, often accompanied by jazz music.

The festival, which has been ongoing since Jan 14, had its closing party on Wednesday, Mar 28 at the Casa Del Mar, with live jazz performed by renowned musician Barbara Morrison.

Proceeds from the event went to the Barbara Morrison Foundation. Morrison created the foundation as a means of preserving jazz in middle-and high-school curriculums. “It’s mainly to introduce, and make sure that young people know about jazz and the blues,” said Morrison.

Morrison has been wheelchair-bound since June 21, 2011, after undergoing a leg amputation due to diabetes complications. “I sure do miss it. I’m 62 years old and can still feel my toes when getting out of bed sometimes. I forget that I don’t have a leg anymore,” she said.

Morrison had the help of her nephew Ramsey Kemp, who accompanies her to all of her performances and helps with physical work. “I love to help out and do what I can; it means a lot to be there for my aunt,” said Kemp.

Diabetes complications may have made Morrison’s daily life more difficult, but while performing, she reigned supreme. During her set, the veteran vocalist captured and commanded the audience’s attention.  The audience, a combination of devout Morrison fans, casual jazz listeners, and noir-lovers were enthralled by the live music.

Morrison and her band, whom she affectionately called “the A-team,” played a variety of classic tunes from artists such as Al Green, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington.

Many of Morrison’s fans in attendance were accomplished musicians, crashing the show out of a sheer love for bebop and blues. Vocalist Madeleine Stires took time off the stage to celebrate her birthday and show support for Morrison.

Wearing bright red lipstick and a flowing black dress, Stires sat in a corner by a dim lamp as she intently watched Morrison perform. “I’ve been singing my entire life, but Morrison is amazing—she’s my favorite,” said Stires.

Throughout the performance, Morrison called upon her friends and audience members to come to the stage and showcase their own skills in an impromptu jam session. Reagae Clark, a percussionist for 35 years, performed a duet with Morrison.

“I respect her so much. She’s been all over the world and back—she’s a living legend,” Clark said.

Morrison’s voice carried an energy that infected the entire room; she infused her entire being into every line of each song, showcasing the essence of her talent.

“Noirfest is a celebration of noir culture, and jazz is a big part of that culture. This is the wrap-up party, and there’s no better way to end than with Barbara’s truly terrific singing,” said Terry Bochanty, a musician and long-time Santa Monica resident.