The more I hear Jeff Barnhart — pianist, singer, improviser — the more I admire him. He has an ebullient spirit, whether he is striding or playing a rag, but there’s a soulful vein of sweet melancholy that underlies his work — a tenderness that never disappears in the humor and hot music. See and hear for yourself.
HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (from the 2010 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — with Michel Bastide, Paul Munnery, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Jacob Ullberger, Josh Duffee, with leader Bent Persson standing off to the side, admiring) comes from a Red Allen tribute, and it is notable for those of us who revere Vic Dickenson as his first real appearance on record — as a singer — with a song that is a little unpredictable. Thus, Jeff’s looking at the lyrics is the act of a wise man, not an unprepared one. And you’ll hear, fore and aft, his glistening piano coming through the ensemble in a wonderful Hines manner:
Let’s move things up a little bit — a video created by Tom Warner — something I adore, for its dancing comedy and incredible swing. Ladies and gentlemen, the duo of Messrs. Barnhart and Danny Coots, performing Uncle Fred Coots’ A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE — a small theatrical romp, whatever the tempo.
But first! You need to hear the song as originally performed — with absolute mastery — by Jan Peerce in a 1935 radio airshot (wait for the final cymbal crash!) . . . to get the full flavor of the Barnhart-Coots spectacular.
Jeff and Danny:
(I can’t comment on Jan Peerce’s showmanship — it’s all there in his passionate voice — but Jeff wins the prize for me for one gesture, the way he lifts his right hand while playing at a violent tempo to point to his heart. That’s the best old-school stride piano Method acting you’ll ever see.)
And one more. Why not? It’s a favorite of mine, one of the half-dozen videos I would self-prescribe if I got up feeling gloomy. A proven spiritual panacea — variations on the 1933 Crosby hit YOUNG AND HEALTHY, with a true Cast of Characters: John Reynolds (guitar); Ralf Reynolds (washboard); Katie Cavera (bass); Marc Caparone (cornet); Dan Barrett (trombone); Bryan Shaw (trumpet). I recorded this at Dixieland Monterey — the Jazz Bash by the Bay, nearly two years ago — March 5, 2011 — and it still delights me. Jeff does honor to Fats and to Putney Dandridge while remaining himself.
Convinced? I should think so.
But experiencing Jeff and his music in person is even better. He travels the country with wife Anne, a classically trained flautist, in their own duo or trio IVORY AND GOLD (with Danny Coots), and he shows up everywhere, spreading joy and mirth and swing.
I am happily going to see him at least three times this year — at the March 1-2-3 Jazz Bash, at the April 20-21 Jeff and Joel’s House Party, and at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, turning the corner from October into November).
You can find out more about his peregrinations and recordings here. And you can hear samples of his music as well — I’ve picked out a particular favorite, an excerpt from a CD I love, called THUMP! FIRST WHACK — Down in Honky Tonk Town.
The title of that recording should say something about its delightful individuality. The performers are Jeff (piano, vocal, co-leader); SherriLynn Colby (vocal, co-leader); Clint Baker (trumpet, trombone, vocal); Matty Bottel (banjo, tenor guitar); Otis Mourning (clarinet, soprano, alto sax); Marty Eggers (string bass); Lauri Lyster (drums); Simon Stribling (cornet, trombone). JAZZ LIVES readers will know how much I admire Clint, Marty, Simon, and now Jeff — but the other musicians are quite wonderful as well.
The scope of this recording comes through in its repertoire: GOT NO TIME / TANK TOWN BUMP / AM I BLUE? / LINA BLUES / KITCHEN MAN / I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU / A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON / DOWN WHERE THE SUN GOES DOWN / EGYPTIAN FANTASY / DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / DADDY DO / CHATTANOOGA STOMP / DELTA BOUND / EXACTLY LIKE YOU.
Its character can best explained metaphorically. THUMP sounds the way the food of our childhood tasted: succulent, multi-layered, perhaps a little drippy (the tomato eaten in the garden) or a bit greasy (real chicken on the barbecue), rather than the sanitized modern version — neat but flavorless. After you listen to THUMP, you might have to wipe your hands on a napkin, but your ears will be full of savory large musical flavors. Hot horn solos, beautiful interplay in the ensembles, a rocking rhythm section, and delightful vocals — this is my first introduction to SherriLynn Colby, whose sweet-tart approach to her material suggests that she is really a Thirties film star who Warner Brothers never had the sense to hire — and that is a very large compliment.
And Jeff has recorded many other CDs — while keeping a busy traveling schedule. We are very lucky to have him, whichever of his many joyous visages he turns to the audience.
May your happiness increase.