The musician is an oak tree.
The seedling of a passion, she weathers the storms of professional uncertainty, growing stronger. She cycles through the seasons, experiencing the loves of a first collaboration, the pain of band members falling away, the vulnerability of exposing her work to the harsh ears of critics -- and finally, the frequent creative rebirths that start the circle over.
(Photo by Kevin Tyson)
But through all the tribulations of musical development, it’s the roots that have kept this musician – former Boston resident Rajdulari Barnes -- standing.
Barnes, lead singer of the jazz ensemble, The Rajdulari Project relocated to New York City after a dozen years immersed in Boston’s jazz scene. Now, her roots call her back: Less than a year after her move down the I-95 corridor, she is on the bill for Saturday’s Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival on Columbus Avenue.
"I think it’s time to bring it home,” said the former Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory student. “Boston is the birthplace of my career, so it’s important that I come back and show the people who supported me for so long what I’ve been working on.”
Barnes first gained notice as a performer at just 17, when a local jazz drummer asked her to try her vocal chops at the Cambridge-based Ryles Jazz Club.
“I was able to get up there and act it all out on stage,” Barnes said of the experience. “It was great to feel the arts in progress.”
The teenaged Barnes used her Ryles experience as a musical jumping-off point, enrolling in the prestigious Conservatory, with a focus on jazz performance, shortly after graduating from East Boston High School. She began expanding her reach in the Boston jazz scene, outside of the classroom, with performances at Regattabar, Scullers, the Emerson Majestic Center and several other well-known Boston venues.
“Jazz is a language,” she explained. “You’re trying to communicate with people, and I think, for me, that’s reflected through music.”
After graduating from the Conservatory, she headed down the street to Berklee to pursue vocal performance studies. It was there that she met Professor David Zoffer and continued to blossom.
“She had a great energy,” recalled Zoffer, a professor at both Berklee and the New England Conservatory. “She was so thorough that she’d sit with me for hours and go through [songs] taking them piece by piece.”
Barnes ended her studies in 2008, but stayed on with Zoffer as an assistant in his continuing studies program. Zoffer, a renowned jazz pianist himself, continued to help, even offering up a spot in his band, the David Zoffer Differential.
Zoffer said Barnes was more of a boost than he imagined.
“She taught me a lot as a writer, going over the poetry and lyrics of my songs,” he said. “She’d really take them to heart and help me out. She had a big impact on my music.”
Barnes moved to New York last year to increase her exposure and pursue new projects. There, she teamed up with fellow Berklee alums Sagit Zilberman (saxophone), Patriq Moody (trumpet), Giancarlo DeTrizio (drums), Enrico DeTrizio (keyboard) and Sam JC Lee (bass) to form The Rajdulari Project.
Playing a fusion of jazz, R&B and funk, the group expanded its repertoire and fan base around New York before getting the opportunity to play at the BeanTown Jazz Fest.
“It’s amazing because I’ve always been a huge fan [of the festival], but was always on the outside,” said Barnes. “Now we’re on the inside, and on the main stage.”
The BeanTown Jazz Festival is the brainchild of Darryl Settles, local entrepreneur and real estate developer. Noting the deep jazz history of Roxbury, the South End and surrounding area, Settles wanted to find a way to re-establish that tradition, using the abundance of local and regional talent.
After attending the Montreal Jazz Festival in Canada, Settles decided Boston needed its own jazz event.
“We’re fortunate to have musicians here who have entertainment in their hearts,” said Settles. “What better way to showcase that -- and what more excitement can they get -- than performing in front of a large crowd that loves their music?”
Settles launched the festival in September 2000, with help from area businesses. Since then, the event -- which takes place along the stretch of Columbus Avenue between Mass. Ave. and Burke Street -- has swelled to over 80,000 attendees. In 2007, Berklee took over the festival, which offers a variety of musical acts and vendors.
The Rajdulari Project is among more than 20 ensembles that will perform across three stages on Saturday, starting at noon. The group performs at 1:05 p.m. on the Berklee Stage.
With her album on the way in early October, Barnes’ return has created a “definite buzz,” said Zoffer.
“She’s a great artist and someone to keep your eye out for,” he said. “She’s always hungry and always growing.”
Barnes may have grown and extended her reach into the New York music scene, but part of her is firmly planted in Boston, she said.
“It’s important for us to entertain, to soothe and to help the communities that helped us,” she said.
This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Kade Krichko, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel (firstname.lastname@example.org), as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.