Wikipedia, where almost-cooked facts are arranged for our pleasure, tells me today that Bob Barnard, “an Australian trumpet and cornet player,” born November 24, 1933, died yesterday, May 7, 2022. I heard the news yesterday from the very fine friend of the music John Trudinger. My first reaction was double: I felt as if I’d been pierced right through my chest, but at the same time I heard a great golden sound, that of Bob’s glowing horn. And I thought of what Bobby Hackett had said of Louis Armstrong’s “death,” that Louis was alive as long as we could hear him.
I was fortunate to see and hear and even chat with Bob on his visits to New York and to Jazz at Chautauqua, which is why I start with his rare character. He had his own center, a sweet equanimity. He was ready to find the world both welcoming and amusing, and although I never heard him tell a joke (or be mean at someone’s expense), he always looked as if he was ready to start laughing — of course, not when the horn was at his lips, when he was completely serious. I think of him with a gentle amiability, head slightly cocked at the latest absurdity but ready to make everything right through music.
Along with that ease in the world, and perhaps its foundation, was a lovely mature courage. When he led groups at Chautauqua and elsewhere — musicians who didn’t usually play together or who (let me whisper this) always know more obscure repertoire, he was beautifully unflappable. He called tunes that he knew everyone would enjoy, but when he announced BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS or GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE I could see the faintest looks of “What the hell is this? How does the bridge go?” among the very experienced musicians on the stand. Bob called a medium tempo and started playing the melody . . . wordlessly teaching by example, “THIS is how it goes. Follow me and I won’t let you get lost.” And no one did.
I hope that my readers know what an unforgiving instrument the trumpet (or cornet) is, how demanding . . . and if they don’t know, they pick one up sometime and attempt a clear tone, held notes, the barest semblance of agility.
Bob is — not was — an absolutely spectacular brass virtuoso. But one with deep-seated taste and grace. He came out of Louis and Bix, but with a keen sense of their songful lyricism: the only one who approached his mastery in this is Connie Jones. He was also fearlessly agile all over the range of the horn. I think of Bob’s limber, audaciously sweet playing as skywriting or acrobatics on the highest diving board.
Here’s a sample from Bob’s visit to The Ear Inn, September 26, 2010, with Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass:
and also in sweetly Louis-inspired mode, performances with John Sheridan, piano; Arnie Kinsella, drums, at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 16, 2010.
I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA (from High Society):
LYIN’ TO MYSELF (from the glorious Deccas):
and, finally, THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET. Originally I thought that bringing this performance forward to mark Bob’s moving on would seem a failure of taste, but I think he would laugh at the juxtaposition, never one to take himself too seriously:
And a beautiful interlude from Bob’s last recording session, JUST MY LUCK, with guitarist Ian Date in March 2016:
Bob made his first recordings in 1949, and readers who know him will have their own favorites. But you can hear his style, his joy, his lyrical exuberance in these performances. And if you knew him, even glancingly, as I did, you hear the friendly singular man, in love with melodies, in every note.
He lives on and will live on in those sounds.
May your happiness increase!