[Dixielandjazz] Whatever happened Baby Jane?

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Dec 14 08:09:02 PST 2005

One of the great unknowns. Amazing how many there are. Is this what's known
as "paying ones dues"? I guess the music is where you find it, but then, you
have to look a little, and most surely on the outside.


Looking Back, Tenderly, at a Career With the Blues -
by Stephen Holden, NY Times, December 14, 2005

Abbey Lincoln's great folk-jazz song "Throw It Away" revolves around the
phrase "You can never lose a thing if it belongs to you." Those words go a
long way toward describing the spirit conveyed by Baby Jane Dexter, the
blues-oriented cabaret singer who performs the song in her new show, "Time
Travels," at Helen's.
For more than three decades, but with interruptions, Ms. Dexter, the leonine
singer with a rough, hefty contralto, has been toiling in the cabaret
vineyards for minimal reward. Songs like "Throw It Away" and "I Got
Thunder," another Abbey Lincoln song in her program, evoke the kind of
courage, independence and faith it takes to keep singing out while hanging
from a ledge by your fingernails.

In one amusing monologue, Ms. Dexter recalls her very first singing
engagement at an Italian nightclub in East Islip, N.Y., opening for a
stripper named Brigitte who wore a trick G-string out of which shot out a
rubber bat. (Ms. Dexter had expected the headliner to be someone like Vic
Damone.) Her pay then - $50 - was not much better than it is today, she

A large, blunt woman, Ms. Dexter may not be demure, but she is tasteful in a
smart, regal, big-mama way, and she gets better each year. Her choice of
well-made but often obscure soul, blues and jazz songs that play to her
contradictory mixture of the lusty and the philosophical is astute. And her
emphatic phrasing puts these songs across as life lessons offered in a tone
of good-humored authority. No matter how down and out a song's sentiments,
Ms. Dexter conveys the resilience of someone who looks for a silver lining
while still bracing for the worst.

By her side is her accompanist of 14 years, Ross Patterson, who does his
impressive best to turn the piano into a one-man blues and soul band.
Someday it would be a treat to hear that piano augmented by a bass and
drums, an addition that would give Ms. Dexter's singing the rhythmic kick it

Baby Jane Dexter performs Fridays and Saturdays through Jan. 28 at Helen's,
169 Eighth Avenue, at 19th Street, Chelsea; (212) 206-0609


Audiences may vary, surroundings may change, but if a cabaret performer is
honest and can communicate, it will usually work. Baby Jane Dexter is
honest. She communicates. Does she ever! She has been compared to Janis
Joplin, Sarah Vaughan, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith. "A spectacular voice,"
write critics, but more than sharing the vocal abilities of these legendary
singers, she connects with the same raw honesty.

This big, warm, curly-haired blonde's musical messages have been recorded on
CD's, and have resounded through the grandeur of Washington DC's Kennedy
Center and New York's Lincoln Center. 

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