By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY (AP)
NEW YORK — When Barbra Streisand was a 19-year-old ingenue, she never had a problem performing in front of small crowds — it was her livelihood. The Brooklyn girl could only get gigs in clubs that sat a few dozen people.
As she got more famous she abandoned tiny clubs for grand stages. After a while, it got to the point where she couldn’t perform for a small crowd, even if was an intimate gathering of friends and family.
“I can’t get up and sing when I see faces, I just don’t know how to react — I need blackness to go into my own kind of world,” the 67-year-old said in an interview last week. “It’s disturbing to see people, because if they’re not totally enthralled I’m heartbroken, and I get sad and I go, ‘Oh god, what am I doing wrong?'”
Streisand didn’t have to worry about that kind of reaction during a weekend performance at the famed Village Vanguard, a tiny but historic jazz club in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village where greats like Miles Davis performed (and where she tried, unsuccessfully, to perform nearly four decades ago).
She wowed a crowd that represented a fraction of her regular audiences, as about 90 fans, including VIPs like former President Bill Clinton, crammed the club.
But Streisand admitted she was a bit nervous in the days leading up to the event. So why do it?
“It’s an adventure — and yet it’s nostalgic, isn’t it? It’s going back to where I began,” Streisand said.
The same can be said for her new CD, “Love is the Answer,” which was released Tuesday — her first in four years. The album features Streisand singing classics like “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”
But while the material may have been familiar to Streisand, the recording process was not.
For the first time, she worked with jazz artist Diana Krall as producer, and did it Krall’s way. She performed with Krall’s quartet of musicians first, then added orchestration later, instead of her usual practice of performing with an orchestra at the outset (the deluxe edition of the CD features both the quartet performances and the orchestra versions).
But even though Krall was the producer, Streisand — the album’s executive producer — was clear about what she wanted.
“She’s the director — she’s Barbra Streisand,” Krall said in an interview earlier this year. “She knows what she wants … (and) it’s been really fun to see her work with the band that I’ve worked with.”
The album is Streisand’s first studio production since 2005’s “One Voice” with Barry Gibb. Streisand fretted that her voice might not be up to it. Construction on a house left her hoarse as she shouted over the din of the noise and giving directions.
“When I tried to sing I just couldn’t make any of the notes,” she said, as she recalled her voice before she started recording. “(But) for some reason …. all of the sudden I had a voice — what was exciting was that my voice was there.”
Though Streisand recently toured Europe and famously returned to the stage for a tour in 2006 after a 12-year hiatus, she has no plans to tour for her new CD. She recalled a recent dinner with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, where the rock singer told her his group tour their records for two years.
Streisand said she couldn’t imagine doing that: “I get bored singing the same songs.”
In fact, if she had her way, she wouldn’t do much to promote her latest CD. She had only done a handful of interviews. This one took place not at her record label but at the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual event started by the former president that focuses on solving problems including climate change, poverty, health and education.
Yet Streisand took special satisfaction in her Vanguard gig. Despite some reports, Streisand says she never officially performed there decades ago but only auditioned briefly for the club’s then owner, Max Gordon, when her good friend, Rick Edelstein, asked him to listen to Streisand (and got Miles Davis’ band to stand in as backup).
When Gordon told Edelstein she was “too undisciplined” to hire, Edelstein replied: “But she’s gonna really be big someday, you’re gonna have to pay her big money.”
Gordon’s reply? “What do you know? You’re a waiter.”
The story still brings a smile to Streisand’s face nearly 40 years later.
“At least I did audition there, and didn’t get the job,” she says. “Now I got the job.”