It’s been nearly 17 years and two weeks to the day since Barbara Jean last took the Amphitheater stage with country-rock group, Gotham Rose.
At 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amp, Jean will help close out the Chautauqua Institution season — this time with her jazz ensemble at her side.
Her journey began as a bassist and backup singer for Gotham Rose; eventually, she became a singer-songwriter who enjoys performing folk and jazz. The Lakewood native and Bemus Point resident had no doubts about returning to play for Chautauqua crowds.
“I think I’ve never ruled it out,” Jean said. “When you’re a singer, you always hope for the best.”
Jean has covered the musical spectrum, but she attributes her gravitation toward jazz music as homage to her upbringing and the relaxed feelings jazz brings to both performers and listeners.
“It’s the music I listened to when we we’re growing up — the music that my mom and dad really loved,” Jean said. “It’s really peaceful. It’s really grounded. There’s not a lot of trouble going on in the music, in the songs. It’s just a really wonderful, peaceful place to be every time you perform.”
Jean grew up in a musically inclined family, singing in a church choir and soloing as early as age 5. Her mother was a cellist in the municipal orchestra, her brother was in the high school band, and her sister is a pianist for a church outside Atlanta. For Jean, the thought of becoming a musician didn’t cross her mind because it was such a big part of her life.
“It was a natural thing,” Jean said. “I never really planned to make [music] a really big part of my life — it just always was a big part of my life.”
She promotes her music as the “everyman’s jazz” — toe-tapping and listenable songs — and those who are not jazz aficionados will not feel left out of her performances.
“Jazz, a lot of times, is very serious music, [with] people who are very dedicated to a life of a lot of practice,” Jean said. “It’s all taken very seriously. [With] me, not so much. Rock ‘n’ roll and country, along with doing this later in my life, jazz is just a whole lot of fun. It’s more lighthearted.”
Pianist Mike Jones, bassist Danny Ziemann, drummer Dan Hull, and saxophonist Bruce Johnstone will accompany Jean. The ensemble will perform tracks out of the Great American Songbook, a collection of jazz standards of the past century, as well original songs from Jean.
Her first album, Sweet, as well as her 2012 album, Cool, are Jean’s collection of jazz tracks she assembled with the help of other jazz performers, including her husband and son on the piano and vocals, respectively. Most recently, Jean has been taking a stab at different genres with The Great Escape, released in 2012, and Darker Than Blue, released in 2014.
Though the summer season will end with her jazz performance, she is excited for a return that is every bit as idyllic as she remembered.
“That stage is just comfortable and it’s like being home,” she said.