Barbara Rosene

By Eileen Katz

Barbara Rosene is a jazz vocalist who performs with The Harry James Orchestra, Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks, the late Les Paul at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club, and The Woody Allen Band at The Carlyle Hotel. Her passion is for the great music of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. And she’s a painter! Her current collection was inspired by jazz clubs in New York City. She’s a native of Ohio, but now claims the Upper West Side as home. You can check out her music at barbararosene.com and her artwork at barbararosenepaintings.com.

Why the West side, Barbara?

When my kids were 5 and 8, my then-husband’s work brought him to New York and this just felt like a real family neighborhood. It feels open. You know how it is when you go downtown, and it’s always fun and great and it seems so cute to be living in the Village or Soho but then I get off the subway at 72nd St and I can see the sky and I feel like I can breathe! Coming from a small town, that really mattered to me. Also, it was fun to be in a different culture.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 11.53.50 PMI grew up in a very white-bread town and when we moved here in ’97 it was, and still is, a very Jewish neighborhood and I thought that was the greatest thing in the world! In our first apartment here, we lived next to people who had known David Ben Gurion. It was really like Marjorie Morning Star. I imagined myself living at The Eldorado, riding a horse in the park, the whole package. I’m from Ohio and as a kid, I grew up watching “The Goodbye Girl” and they filmed that on 78th St. and I fancied myself Marcia Mason. Now I can’t believe I live a block away from the actual building!. There were so many things that I watched as a kid that were filmed in this neighborhood and maybe that’s part of why I ended up living here too.

What made you stay?

When we first moved up here, purely by chance, it turned out I was living right next door to the accompanist of the great Upper West Side lady, Barbara Cook, and I had a thing about her, I was such a huge fan. Wally Clark was his name and it turns out he was also from Ohio and we became best friends. And we were best friends until he passed away. That’s how I became friendly with Barbara and they then introduced me to my voice teacher and it just became my own kind of show-biz family neighborhood. I think at one time, when it was cheaper to live here, it was really a neighborhood filled with a lot of working and up-and-coming singers and other artists. It’s so easy to get to the theater district from here. When I was singing on Restaurant Row it was a great commute.

What’s the best part about living up here?

I still feel it has to do with the openness up here and how the buildings and brownstones look as opposed to the East side. And there is still such a strong sense of being neighborly up here. Do you know that place called La Vela? Well we’ve been going there since I moved here. And about a year ago, the deli that was next door to it closed. We used to call it the Dirty Deli because we loved the guy who worked there but it always looked like it could use just a bit more tidying.

It was open 24 hours a day, they had the keys to my apartment, it was so wonderful. But they closed and another Italian restaurant went in right next door to La Vela and I went in to talk to Francesca (who has worked there forever) and said: “I am outraged!” and she said: “You’re outraged, imagine how I feel?!?” And every time I would walk by the new place I would cross my fingers and say to myself: “Well, they’re not going to last.” I know it’s so terrible of me, but it’s just an example of the loyalty of this neighborhood. I’ve had the same postman for 12 years. His name is Ray and he helped me when my car got sideswiped. I park on the street and he saw it happen and ran around the corner to get the license plate of the car that hit me. He’s a Superhero. People are nice.

If you could change one thing about the Upper West Side what would it be?

I guess I’d want to slow down the change of buildings. The demolition of the older structures for the bigger luxury buildings. I love the pre-war buildings.

What are some of your favorite places to go up here?

Well, I mentioned La Vela, which we love. We always go to Bagel Talk. We finally figured out that the guy who works there isn’t mean, but just has a vicious sense of humor. It took a year, but it was worth it.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 11.56.12 PMI just love walking up and down Amsterdam. Who doesn’t love Chirping Chicken? I now like this place called Crave, that new fish restaurant. But I also like Burke & Wills on 79th. They had music there for a little while and I would sing there at the little speakeasy they had upstairs. It’s kind of become my office. It’s great to have meetings with people for drinks there and I love the Australian guy who runs it. We’ve become friends. And I have a regular New Year’s gig at Dovetail. I tour so much that I try to do things in my neighborhood when I’m home. Gosh, as I hear myself talk, it’s like I live my life within a 4 block radius! I like the West Side Market, Fairway and I sometimes go to Zabars.

Perfect transition for the big question: If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one thing from Zabar’s, what would it be?

I would just go right to the cheese aisle. I have to have the cheese. Baby needs the cheese! I always get a selection. Can I go to Sephora next to pick one cosmetic to bring? Is that an option too?

Any other places in the neighborhood you spend time at?

When my kids were little we lived at The Museum of Natural History. We were there ALL the time. I can’t tell you how many of those dinosaur-shaped chicken nugget things from that café we ate. Oh, and they loved that sort of secret tiny park on 71st (Septuagesimo Uno). It’s the coolest thing ever. We were walking our dog once and just walked by it and did like a double take. Of course we spent lots of time at the toy store on 72nd St. (Stationery and Toy World). They are the nicest people in the world there.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 11.58.29 PMMy kids used to love that ropes playground that used to be at 85th and Central Park West. They’ve updated it since, but then, it was like the scariest place they could imagine actually being able to go to and they loved it because it was like completely death-defying to them. They loved it. It felt real “street” to us, given we had just arrived from suburban Ohio.

Oh! And Cozy Cuts! My kids used to love getting their hair cut there and sitting in the little airplanes or cars. They’re older now, but still love walking by and remembering when they could actually fit in to those seats. My daughter works and lives up here now and it’s kind of this satisfyingly poignant experience where we can spend time here together re-visiting the old touchstones of the neighborhood and creating new ones. Like, for instance, the NYLO hotel has really nice outdoor space to have drinks and when she turned 21, that summer, we were up there a lot just sharing a cocktail together. It’s swanky, we would get dressed up. A new experience for us!

So pick your park: Riverside or Central?

Central, because I live closer to it but when I lived on 85th I would run in Riverside.

What’s surprised you about living up here?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence I chose this neighborhood. The warning before I moved here was, you know, people will be unfriendly, and I don’t feel that at all. People here are so conversational and friendly. But also very well aware of who they are and willing to say what they want. It was a good thing for me, as a midwesterner, to be around. I think people here are pretty direct about what they need and want. And I aspire to that more! It helps me focus on what direction I want to take next as opposed to some people I knew in the midwest who kind of just let things happen. I think it’s a very good quality.

Cafe Carlyle Best

Can you describe any quintessential Upper West Side moments you’ve experienced since living here?

I sometimes perform with many of the musicians in Woody Allen’s Jazz Band and I had just finished a painting of them but didn’t know when I would be able to get it to them. I realized it was a Monday night and I was home in my apartment, with nothing to do so I just figured I’d go over and give it a shot. I ended up having dinner with Woody’s manager, having a couple of drinks, seeing the guys in the band and it was a great night! And this is what you see happening when you’re a kid in films in Ohio. And you go: “Really? I want some of that!” And I actually am so lucky that I got some of that! It all started for me right here on the Upper West Side.


As this column’s first singer, could you declare the song that feels like the Upper West Side anthem to you?

Well, I do old music, you know? So I always think about the song “How About You?” and this neighborhood. You know the lyrics: “I like New York in June, how about you? I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?” Oh, this reminds me of this great story that happened right here in Riverside Park that I tell in my show that I love so much.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.00.48 AMJimmy McHugh was a songwriter and I do some of his songs in my act and his grandson got in touch with me to thank me and I was able to meet him and he told me this story. So Jimmy McHugh was walking through Riverside Park and he was a little down on his luck and he ran in to George Gershwin. Now this is 1929, not long after The Crash. I think they were both living in this neighborhood. And George Gershwin says: “How’s it going?” And Jimmy McHugh answers: “Well it’s not going very well. I barely have two nickels to rub together.” So George Gershwin says “Well, we’ll have to do something about that.” And literally days later, a piano was delivered to Jimmy McHugh courtesy of George Gershwin. And the family still has that piano. And that happened right here in Riverside Park!

And you’re this column’s first painter too! Anything in the neighborhood tempt you to capture it on canvas?

So far, I’ve really just been painting places that I’ve performed, but I did do a little watercolor of the view from 79th Street when we lived there looking south and the kids love it. It’s in my sons room in Ohio, where he lives now, but we always look at it and say: “That’s exactly what we looked at!” I would love to do The Museum of Natural History and that little Catholic Church on 82nd St. between Amsterdam and Broadway (Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church). I used to go to mass there sometimes. The Parish house is there…it’s really neat. Or maybe the Ansonia.

When Barbara Rosene Day is declared on the Upper West Side how would you like people to celebrate?

It would involve jazz in the park and I love all that street fair food so lots of jazz and people feasting on street fair food!

To read all of our “Why the West Side” columns, click here.

COLUMNS | 5 comments | permalink
    1. Luli says:

      I just love this series. So interesting and fun to learn more about our neighbors in the arts. Thank you, WSR.

      Incidentally, Barbara, Holy Trinity is my parish and I’ve been working in that neat parish house for more than 14 years. We’d be honored if you’d paint it! Your work is wonderful! And, if you’d ever like to stop by and have a tour, let me know.

    2. Cheesyguy says:

      I agree — love this series. All that and she loves cheese, too? Who knew! Keep them coming.

    3. Jocelyn jacobs says:

      I find it so eye opening to read about the range of experiences and talents that bring people to our neighborhood. Thank you Barbara for sharing your story

    4. Joanne says:

      I love this series and the range of people it reflects in our neighborhood! I will be looking for you at the cheese counter at Zabar’s for sure, Barbara!!