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Patty's Bio








w/ Jessica Williams


Live in San Francisco

PATTY WATERS must be acknowledged as a vocalist who has tested the limits of the human voice’s capabilities. Since her brief recording career in the mid-6O’s, she has come to be appreciated as a vocal innovator not just in jazz but in contemporary music as a whole. Much of her repertoire was given over to hushed piano solo ballads in which her voice could fade to a whisper that was barely audible, but what really attracted attention were her avant-garde outings and rare performances where she used her voice as an instrument conveying an incredible range of emotions. 


Waters was heard in a nightclub in the mid-6O’s by Albert Ayler, who recommended her to the ESP label; the first side of her 1965 debut recording, (“Sings”) was given over entirely to self-composed solo piano miniatures, leaving listeners somewhat unprepared for the second side, which consisted solely of her 13-minute interpretation of “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” Building into hair-raising screams and vocal improvisations, it remains the performance for which she is most noted. Sadly, she only recorded one more album, the live “College Tour,” just a few months later; a more determinedly avant-garde effort than her debut, it featured entirely different, mostly self-composed songs.

Ms. Waters often eschewed words altogether for wordless moan-scats and wails, and opted for a fuller band backing, including appearances by pianists Ran Blake and Burton Greene. Aside from a subsequent appearance with Marzette Watts’s ensemble on a 1968 LP, nothing further was heard from her on record until 1996, as she withdrew to California and Hawaii to raise her son (born in 1969) and sang in public sporadically for many years. She sang at the Monterey Jazz Festival of 1999 and in 2003 at New York City’s Vision Festival and the Le Weekend Tolbooth Festival in Scotland, and in 2006 she toured in Belgium and Paris with the great bassist Henry Grimes. Patty's mystique has been enhanced over the decades by the rarity of her two ESP discs, recently reissued on CD in Germany. Diamanda Galas names Patty Waters as her biggest influence, and she is also publicly revered by Christina Carter and Patti Smith. Patty Waters now lives in Santa Cruz, California.

Patty Waters recorded two fantastic records for New York’s original avant-garde label ESP-Disk in the mid-60s. “College Tour” was her second for ESP and her final album, period, before fading into obscurity. Since that time however, her stature as innovator has continued to grow. She was one of the first female singers to explore extended vocal technique in a purely experimental setting, before Yoko Ono, Diamanda Galas, et al. She was recommended to the label by none other than Albert Ayler himself. For these recordings she had fully embraced the prevailing underground aesthetic towards spontaneous improvisation.  With a reputation based on her two 1960s ESP Disk recordings, “Patty Waters Sings” and “Patty Waters College Tour,” she’s often referred to as “legendary.”  Her recording of “Black is The Color of My True Love’s Hair” was, and still is, considered a historic event in jazz.  Jazz critics were excited, calling it “unique” and “a must hear.” Rolling Stone wrote: “One really ought to hip oneself to the art of Patty Waters,” “haunting melancholia”, and “the best fucking singer alive.” The Village Voice wrote: “A sound contour never before heard in American music and poetry.” Woodstock News wrote: “Integrity of a sort few performers attain.” Downbeat Magazine critics in the 60s and 70s voted for her in both “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” and “Established Singer” categories. In Downbeat's “International Jazz Critics Poll” of 1967, she'd have won first place with one more vote. And "Patty Waters College Tour,” in 1970, won 2nd place vocal recording in Jazz and Pop Magazine.

She has received favorable mention in various books on jazz including “Stormy Weather, A century of Jazz Women” and “Music and Politics.” Her recording of “Black is the Color...” was used in a French film in 1970.

ESP Disk has been available through Tower Records worldwide since 1965, selling primarily in Europe, Japan, Canada, and the USA coasts. While traveling in Europe in 1968, she noticed her albums on display in record store windows in both Amsterdam and London. For awhile, in the late 70s, while her albums were “out of print,” they were selling in New York City for $50 and $75.  BASE Record in Milan, Italy reissued her vinyl albums from 1981 through 1985. The vinyl have been again reissued by Get Back of Italy.  CDs of the ESP catalog were issued in 1992 by ZYX out of Germany, and critics again responded enthusiastically. When her two albums were reissued as CDs, Tower Records in Tokyo, Japan, devoted an entire window to her. In 1993, in San Francisco, a CD and album signing was held for her. The crowd were jazz fans, record collectors, writers, poets, and alternative music fans. Calibre in the Netherlands briefly reissued the Patty Waters Sings CD.

From her childhood In Iowa, singing and traveling in her teens, to living In Denver, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, then moving to New York City in late 1964, Patty's focus was on music. She's traveled throughout Europe and Morocco and lived a summer in Montreal, Canada. While in New York, she was invited to sing as a guest with Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard, with Chick Corea at Minton's, with Walter Davis Jr. at Slug's, with John Hicks at the Five Spot, with Jaki Byard, Sir Roland Hanna, Ben Webster and Charles Mingus at various times at the Five Spot, and sang with Herbie Hancock at his home.  She worked in an Upper East Side supper club with Richard Wyands and George Joyner, made a Jax beer commercial with Joe Newman, and performed with the big band of Warren Smith. Then Albert Ayler took her to ESP Disk. She recorded “Sings” in December 1965 and “College Tour” in May 1966, performed with the Burton Greene Trio at the Woodstock Playhouse, with Ran Blake at the Fillmore East, with the Marion Brown Group at the Cellars in Montreal, with Guiseppi Logan and Mazette Watts groups in Tompkins Square Park, and recorded “Lonely Woman” on the Savoy label with the Marzette Watts Ensemble produced by Bill Dixon.


When her son was born in 1969, she moved to Mill Valley, California. She has since performed only occasionally with musicians such as Art Lande, Steve Swallow, and Elliott Zigmund at the Berkeley Museum of Modern Art and at the old Keystone Korner in San Francisco. In 1996, Patty recorded a CD of jazz standards with Jessica Williams for Jazz Focus Records in Canada receiving critical acclaim. Patty has since appeared with Jessica at the Jazz Store in Carmel, California.


She performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1999 and a garden party in Palo Alto.  In 2003, she sang at the Vision Festival in New York City and at Le Weekend Jazz Festival in Stirling, Scotland, with Burton Greene and Tjitze Vogel.  A CD titled,“You Thrill Me” was released by Water Records in 2003.  DBK Works released "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” in 2004, which was a live recording in San Francisco.  In March 2006, Patty sang with bassist Henry Grimes at the Kraak Jazz Festival in Hassalt, Belgium and at Two Art Galleries in Paris, France, Les 7 Lezards and L'Atelier Tampen-Ramier.

On November 8th 2015, she was invited by ArtFreq to sing at The JazzHouse in Copenhagen.  The audience was receptive, the sound was excellent. Burton Greene, piano, Tjitze Vogel, bass, and Barry Altschul, drums. 

Again, on November 13, 2016, she performed with the same musicians to another enthusiastic audience at Le Guess Who? Festival in Utrecht, The Netherlands.  On December 2, 2017 in Umea, Sweden, she performed at the Norrlands Opera for the MADE Festival and on December 6th & 7th, in London for a two night residency at Cafe OTO. Cafe OTO recorded the evening of Dec 6th digitally and sells on their own OTOROKU label.

On April 5th, 2018, she appeared in Brooklyn Heights, NY, for Blank Forms. This concert was recorded and became the Patty Waters "Live" LP/CD.  And on April 9th, 2018 her Houston, Texas concert was also recorded and became "An Evening in Houston" CD.  The musicians for both concerts were Burton Greene, piano, Mario Pavonne, bass, and Barry Altschul, drums.  Then in Los Angeles, Blank Forms held a release party for the Patty Waters "Live" LP/CD on Sept 26th, 2019 held at Zebulon Cafe which was recorded and also filmed that night.  The musicians were Burton Greene, piano, Mark Dresser, bass, and Corey Fogel, drums.   For the October Revolution October 26th, 2019 in Philadelphia, she again appeared in concert.  The musicians were Burton Greene, piano, Adam Lane, bass, and Igal Foni, drums.  

All Photos

Christian Ducasse

Paris, 2006

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