Writing about Pam so soon after her sudden departure is a bit difficult however I felt that sharing my memories of Pam would be a healthy way of working through my grief and that those of you who wished to have known Pam better might appreciate my perspective on this wonderful artist and musician.
I first met Pam shortly after she arrived in the DC area in the late 80's and I remember being blown away by her singing. I had worked with a lot of good singers up till that time, including some famous ones, Michelle Hendricks, Mark Murphy, Roberta Flack and others, but none had the impact that Pam had on me. Her ease, both musically and personally on the stand and her near flawless intonation, rock solid time and fertile imagination quickly became the gold standard by which I judged others (and to which others have yet to measure up). We worked together sporadically until she asked me to take over for departing long time partner at the Henley Park Hotel, Rick Harris.
This gig proved to be one of the most satisfying musical experiences of my life and the opportunity to perform with Pam several nights a week in an artistically free environment quickly led me to forget the limitations of the substandard piano there (usually a deal killer for me) and to concentrate on the unique and rewarding partnership that developed. During this time, I also became personally close with her and was delighted to discover a witty, considerate, generous, highly intelligent and loving person whose positive personal traits were easily the match for her prodigious musical talent.
Over time, our music grew in scope and we started to develop a real ESP on the bandstand- eerily so in some cases. We took the opportunity to expand the traditional "Jazz Cabaret" repertoire and among the highlights of this extended repertoire for me were our renditions of Kenny Wheeler's "Sea Lady", Chick Corea's "Time's Lie" an English folk song arranged by Benjamin Britten, Bernstein's "Glitter and be Gay", John Mclaughlin's "A Lotus on Irish Streams", original songs by Pam and myself and even a couple of songs by Charles Ives. Sometimes our audiences may have been a bit bemused at the odd repertoire we tried out, but Pam had a way of selling everything she did and there were always appreciative smiles and accolades after nearly every one of our sets.
We might have stepped over the line a bit when we did some duets on clarinet (both of us had been serious students of the instrument in our past) as the people were really there to hear Pam sing and me to play the piano. But it was good for a laugh at least.
Pam's versatility was astounding. She was omnivorous in her tastes and could listen to virtually any style and incorporate it into her singing with seemingly little effort. She was comfortable in Jazz, Rock, Classical, Folk, Techno and probably others that I didn't even know about, as her work with me was only one small piece of the mosaic that was her expansive musical universe. Pam was a fantastic quick study- we tackled some complex stuff and she never seemed to be straining even when I was struggling within the same complexities. Our rehearsals were succinct and productive. Her ear was uncanny- she professed not to possess perfect pitch, but knew her own voice so well that she would always come in on the right note. Knowing that, I would sometimes make my intros harmonically ambiguous just to test her- and she never faltered despite my increasingly bizarre attempts to throw her- she relished the challenge! She was a musician's singer and a singer's musician and I rank her among the finest artists I've been lucky enough to work with.
As shy as I know she was, you would never know it from her relations with her fans and fellow musicians. Even on nights where she conceded to me that she was tired or not feeling well she would warmly greet all that came to see her and she was genuinely grateful to anyone who would listen. As good as she was, she never let that tricky bugbear of the performer, ego, get in her way. Artists often tend to be either too self-deprecating or overly enamored with themselves- Pam was neither-although she knew how good she was, she was possessed of an authentic humility that served her (and her audiences) very well indeed. Mostly her music was about Joy. She loved to sing and projected that joy with disarming directness to anyone that would open their ears in her direction. As I'm writing this, I realize that I could go on and on about her superb musicianship but if you're reading this then you probably already know. Suffice it to say, she's the best singer I ever worked with or heard. Period. I hope her death will allow her to receive the wider recognition that she deserved and that had inexplicably eluded her while alive.
After the Henley Park gig ended, Pam and I continued to work together. We played Blues Alley, the Nest, 219 club, Twins, One Step Down and others that I'm forgetting. We also taped two TV shows, one for Montgomery County Cable TV and one for BET network. If anyone has copies of those shows, I would love to see them (I didn't even see them the first time around!) After the One Step closed (which was almost like a death in the family) and our regular gig there came to an end, I withdrew from Jazz performance to concentrate on composing and family matters and I had less occasion to see Pam. We talked repeatedly about doing a long planned duo album but between being busy with other things and my temporary disillusionment with playing Jazz (I'm over it now), it didn't happen. Ironically, I spoke to Pam just a few weeks before her death and we finally nailed down a time in June when we were finally going to do it. The lack of documentation of our work together is yet another dagger in my heart in the wake of her passing.
As I'm sure all her friends and family are experiencing, I feel some personal responsibility for not being there for her when she may have needed my help the most. Although we now understand that she was battling with the serious illness known as depression and the hardest part is feeling that I could have possibly made a difference if I had only called more and listened to her problems non-judgementally and perhaps intervened on her behalf. Yes, I knew about her previous struggles with depression and the turbulence in her recent personal life, yet somehow I figured she was going to be OK. She sounded so upbeat in our last conversation and that lulled me into a false sense of security- a sense of security that I will struggle to forgive myself for succumbing to. I just couldn't concieve of a world without Pam and now that she's gone I'm going to have to learn to live in that world- a place that is now significantly emptier and sadder.
One thing we can all be grateful for is her recorded legacy. When I hear her sing now, her voice somehow lifts me out of the my pain and it's just like it was when we were at the Henley Park and I would have my eyes closed, my mind and ears basking in the warm, rich tones of her sumptuous voice and hearing all the things that were Pam somehow all summed up in that beautiful artistic expression. And it's like she's still here...
If there's a silver lining, it's that Pam's death has caused me to re-evaluate what's important in life and the lesson of Pam's life underscores the importance of love, family, friends, music, beauty and joy but especially, communication with those that you love. And for that I'm grateful, for even in death she's quietly showing me how to be a better person and musician- typical Pam!
My heartfelt condolences go out to Gareth, Blake, her friends and family.
Even though we didn't get to make our duo recording, I was happy to come across an old recording I had done with her in my living room while we were at the Henley Park. I'm not sure why we recorded this, but it remains the only record of our duo collaboration and I'm happy to share these few tracks:
Times Lie (mp3- 3.9MB)
Pannonica (mp3- 4.1 MB)
Unfortunately, I have no photos of Pam and me together- if someone does, I would love to get a copy.