Music first, then a story. Several stories.
The composition is Maurice Ravel’s PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS, transformed into popular song under the title THE LAMP IS LOW, performed by Bob Barnard, cornet; Julian Lee, electric piano here.
(A note to pedants: I may be wrong about both identifications: Bob may be playing trumpet; Julian, synthesizer. I will correct them if so.)
Years ago, perhaps 1969, John S. Wilson, the New York Times‘ jazz critic had a weekly radio program, and he told this story. Steve Smith, who created the Hot Record Society series of recordings, felt that only Louis Armstrong had the majesty to properly interpret Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto, and he took this novel idea to the major record companies, who turned him down without a thought.
Now, in our lifetimes, we can hear Bob Barnard honor and embellish classical themes.
Bob Barnard was a true hero to everyone who heard him. In his playing, there was an unassuming casualness — he went against Louis’ advice to Erskine Hawkins, “Make it look hard!” — as he scaled mountains with the greatest of ease, his tone always golden, his harmonic sense always dazzling. A solo of his was like a series of small jewels, amazing to hear as they happened, even more so when considered at leisure. He never fell back on cliche, his own or anyone else’s, and he trusted the melody so deeply that he stood back from it and reverently allowed it to gleam. In this, he was a true successor to Louis, Bobby, Bix, Buck — with his own wondrous swing and dash.
I encountered him a half-dozen times on his visits to New York, Denver, and Chautauqua, alongside Kenny Davern, Bobby Gordon, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, Scott Robinson, and others, and in person he was just as rewarding: witty, friendly, and warm. I was first “a fan,” then someone with a video camera, but Bob never viewed me from a height or at a distance.
As a player, he was utterly courageous — play thirty-two bars of his work for any brass player if you think I overstate — with a certain gentle audacity when it came to his colleagues on the stand. I am thrilled that the CD includes BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS, because it is one of my favorite Barnard moments. He appeared a few times at Jazz at Chautauqua over a decade or so of my being there. The creator of that jazz weekend, Joe Boughton, deplored what he saw as musicians’ lazy reliance on over-familiar repertoire, and encouraged people to bring and perform lesser-known gems. Bob was on stage once with a band of true professionals, and called BOULEVARD as the next tune, told everyone the key, set a tempo, turned to the pianist for a four-bar introduction, and led the way. It was not an easy tune nor a familiar one, but Bob led the way, clearly establishing the melody and harmonies for the players who might have only remembered it dimly. By the end of his second chorus the musicians were playing it as if it had been SWEET GEORGIA BROWN: he was that compelling and assured a leader as well as everything else.
Now, if someone can find a recording of Bob performing (perhaps singing also?) A BROWN SLOUCH HAT, my life will be even more complete. (He performed it at Chautauqua also.)
I had known nothing of Julian Lee, but here you can find out about this amazing man, who died in 2020 at 97. Bob had always wanted to record with him, and his inventive intuitive playing, in solo and accompaniment, says it all.
The CD that is the subject of this post, DUETS, captured Bob and Julian in 1989 in Sydney, Australia, and is now issued for the first time on Bandcamp by Bob’s son Tony, himself a stellar guitarist. The fourteen tracks are divided equally between “classical” and “popular,” although as Bob’s Louis-inflected improvisations on the Ravel theme show, those boundaries are completely artificial and tissue-thin.
They are PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS / GYMNOPEDIES / THE GIRL WITH THE FLAXEN HAIR / Adagio from CONCERTO DE ARANJUEZ / PATHETIQUE Sonata / PAVANE FOR A SLEEPING WOOD NYMPH / MY MAN / NUAGES / BORSALINO / BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS / THE WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND / GIGI / AUTUMN LEAVES.
I think this is thrilling music, and I am so glad that it was recorded for all of us.
Listen and purchase here.