Remembering an extraordinary islander, whose music lives on

Jack Barbash lived a life filled with enough talent, joy, commitment, and pure love for three men.

Long ago, in a theater far far away, my Substack platform’s name — “Hot Flashes Cold Showers” — was an embryonic one-woman performance.

I’d been writing essays about my life for years under the radar of my professional life as a PR hack. Encouraged by my spouse’s staging of his musical compositions – a major concert with multiple musicians and a set – I decided it was time to share my personal views on life, onstage, with the rest of the world.

I knew I’d need lots of help.

I immediately contacted a friend who had actually pulled off a one-person show. As luck would have it, the woman who directed his successful performance, Charlotte Tiencken, had just moved to our community.

Fate, I thought, was on my side. I engaged Charlotte as fast as her schedule allowed and that launched a lifelong friendship — not to mention nearly a year’s worth of rehearsal.

Who knew how hard it would be to memorize 90 minutes’ worth of my own material? Shockingly, with Charlotte’s directorial help, I not only memorized my own work, I learned how to perform it in a way that made sense to other people.

But it needed something more. Music! The performance needed music, and that’s where Jack Barbash came in.

Jack played with my spouse in their exceptionally good band, and he was the best piano player I’d ever seen in person. When he agreed to be my musical director for the show I was floored and totally intimidated.

You see, Jack was a Ph.D. hydrogeologist and environmental engineer educated at Harvard and Stanford. And he was such a good musician that Harvard invited him back every year to lead their marching band for Homecoming. Because he was so committed to living lightly on the Earth, though, Jack refused to fly to Harvard from our home on the West Coast; he always took a train.

So, when he agreed to give me some of his precious time, I was elated. And I knew his contributions to my show would make it exceptional.

C and I carefully selected musical interludes to accompany each of my chosen essays so I could slip behind a screen onstage, change my “costumes” and get my head on straight for the next monologue.

There was no song Jack couldn’t play, and we dumped ten on him. He never flinched. In fact, there were three I had to sing.

Jack rearranged those three tunes to fit my puny voice and limited vocal range, then he coached me not only on singing the songs but also on how to strut my stuff in the process. As C would note, the movement was a good distraction from the singing.

Jack and his piano didn’t fade into the background of the show — no, no. Jack and his piano became my co-stars onstage. He never left me hanging in my performance. Jack vamped with me, dropped musical stings, and even submitted to being a prop when I threw my feather boa around his neck and kissed the top of his head.

With the support from Jack, C, and my spouse, creating, rehearsing, and delivering that show was the most fun I’d ever had or maybe ever will have. Thanks to them, we sold out both performances and got rave reviews.

Jack was generous with his talent.

He spent at least one night a week at Vashon Community Care playing old standards by request and with joy that infected and uplifted his audience. He was always playing keys in two or three bands, and always with his right foot bouncing energetically to the beat of whatever rock, fusion, jazz, or country rock piece he was pounding out.

He also traveled to Sulawesi, Indonesia with a group of local stalwarts to save a little chicken-like bird and its habitat. The Alliance for Tompatika (AlTo) is still saving Indonesian habitat, thanks in part to Jack’s persistence. He regularly supported 300 other conservation organizations! Jack walked his talk.

He had a boyish enthusiasm for everything he cared about — the earth, music, and his beloved wife. She traveled a lot for her work, and we could tell when she was in town because Jack’s otherwise constant beard was shaved.

Several years after my show had come and gone, we learned that Jack had liver cancer.

Ah, but Jack was young, tough, and his spirit indomitable. He beat that monster back several times over the years, and it never stopped him from playing his keys at every opportunity.

Ultimately, his weakness started showing despite his determination to enjoy every last minute. His various bandmates got him to all the performances he wanted, and his playing never faltered.

So, about seven years after he made my show a musical, Jack crossed the rainbow bridge. His last words addressed his only regret in life — that he wanted more time with his wife.

Otherwise, it could be said that Jack Barbash lived a life filled with enough talent, joy, commitment, and pure love for three men.

Thanks to some recordings of his performances, we still have Jack’s music. My spouse and some musicians, both those who played with Jack live and some who are new to his magic, are re-recording his work on an upcoming album lovingly dubbed “Jack’s Tracks.”

I am one of many who will cherish those recordings and replay fond memories of the late great Jack Barbash as I close my eyes and listen with my right foot tapping out the beat.

Susan McCabe is a Vashon writer. Follow her work on Substack, under the banner of “Hot Flashes Cold Showers.” Support a fundraiser to finish “Jack’s Tracks” at