New Orleans Jazz Man and Raconteur
As Trevor Richards observes in his opening comments to this two-disc retrospective of Danny Barker's recordings, "Danny Barker was a Renaissance man, a man of many unexpected facets."He was a rhythm guitarist or banjo player, musical entertainer or vocalist, composer of notable songs, a raconteur, and even a movie actor. Barker was also a jazz researcher and historian, and even a university lecturer.
He left his native New Orleans for New York, where he made an initial switch to guitar from banjo, and his fat chords made him in demand as he worked for Lucky Millinder, Benny Carter, and most famously Cab Calloway. He was on numerous Calloway recordings. He also recorded with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic, and bunk Johnson as well as helped launch the recording career of his wife, Bu Lu Barker. Barker would serve as the guitarist for Rudi Blesh's weekly radio broadcasts, "This Is Jazz." It was around this time resumed playing the banjo, buy playing a 6-string guitar-banjo.
Barker formed a record label King Zulu to make recordings of Mardi Gras music to sell to bars, but his timing was unfortunate as recordings issued on 78s came out with the transition to 45s in full force. In the mid-sixties, he returned to the Crescent City to become assistant curator of the New Orleans Jazz Museum. He would also write extensively, including his own "A Life in Jazz," written with Alan Shipton, and available in a superb new edition from the New Orleans Historic Collection. Barker would also form the Fairview Baptist Church Christian Band that linked the Brass Bands' heritage, such as that of his uncle Paul Barbarin's Onward Brass Band. It served as a launching pad for many celebrated New Orleans musicians of today and such Brass Bands as The Dirty dozen and Rebirth.
While the two CDs contain a generous sampling of 34 songs and two interviews, they do not cover the entire spectrum of recordings Barker was on. In fact, on many of these, he is often a band member contributing his percussive guitar and/or banjo along with an occasional vocal. The music spans a Jonah Jones session with members of Calloway's orchestra to "Palm Court Strut" with an unidentified New Orleans band that he sang on. There are two selections with Nick and His Creole Serenaders, a group led by clarinetist Albert Nicholas, with pianist James P. Johnson, that Barker sang in Creole French. There are 13 selections from the "This Is Jazz" radio program, including a guitar-bass duet with Pops Foster. Other tracks include him as part of a band that included Muggsy Spanier, Wild bill Davidson, Albert Nicholas, George Brunies, James P. Johnson, Art Hodes, Ralph Sutton, Pops Foster, and Baby Dodds. Selections of note include "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans," with Louis Armstrong, "Sweet Lorraine" with Sidney Bechet, and "Some of These Days" with vocalist Chippier Hill.
Barker is more prominent as a vocalist on the second disc, including the exuberant Mardi Gras number, "Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing" that he issued on his King Zulu label. There are boisterous performances by Paul Barbarin's Jazz Band of "The Second Line" and "Royal Garden Blues." Barker's humorous songwriting is evident on "Save the Bones For Henry Jones," while he leads the backing behind Blue Lu Barker's rendition of "Gulf Coast Blues." He provides a delightful performance of 'Eh La Bas" and charming interpretations of "Heart of My Heart" and "Hard Hearted Hannah." Even more outstanding is a rendition of "Saint James Infirmary," full of his vibrant personality that displays his storytelling ability.
The two interview tracks provide insights into the differences between white and black New Orleans jazz as well as his early days and his moving to New York. There are several previously unissued performances included as well. These two discs make available several excellent traditional jazz performances. While this might not be an essential release, for fans of traditional (especially New Orleans) jazz, this is a very welcome collection.
I purchased this. Here is Danny Barker in performance.