Chris Barber – A Trailblazer’s Legacy
(Last Music Co LMCD227. Album review by Denny Ilett)
Serving as a fitting memorial to trombonist Chris Barber’s extraordinary career, A Trailblazer’s Legacy is a beautifully packaged 4-CD boxed set containing 69 tracks covering the entirety of his nearly 70 years as a bandleader. An 18,000-word biography/discography by Alyn Shipton accompanies the set along with countless archive photos chronicling an exceptional life.
Seventy years! That feat alone should be enough to secure Barber’s place at the top of the jazz tree; a career longer than those of his heroes, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Indeed, probably longer than any other bandleader in jazz history. But, there was more to Chris Barber than mere longevity. Trailblazer, yes but, also pioneer! There isn’t a single rock, pop or blues musician in Europe that doesn’t owe Barber a huge debt of gratitude and many have been vocal in pointing out just how important Chris Barber’s influence was.
The tours that Chris organised in the 1950s into the ’60s featuring artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, Muddy Waters and many others were tours witnessed by the young Jagger, Richards, Clapton, Mayall and Green, thus kickstarting the British ‘blues boom’ that changed the face of music forever. Coupled with the classic Rock Island Line released under Lonnie Donegan’s name one could argue that without Chris Barber there’d be no Led Zeppelin. The scene that allowed Jimi Hendrix to find fame in Britain before his native US has Chris Barber as its cornerstone.
These 4 CDs offer a treasure trove of music highlighting a vibrant series of ensembles under the Barber name covering the years 1951, the date of his first recording to 2018, the date of his last. On the journey we meet a plethora of classic jazz and blues artists guesting with the band such as Louis Jordan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sammy Price, Edmond Hall, Albert Nicholas, Van Morrison and Dr John among many others.
Special mention should be given to Bazza Farmer who has done a wonderful job in remastering the whole set with Alyn Shipton’s words offering a heartfelt, personal and concise summary of Chris’s life and work.
Chris was at the forefront of what was known as the ‘trad boom’ in the 1950s along with Humphrey Lyttleton and, later, Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk. In that pre-Beatles world they had records at the top of the charts; sold out venues wherever they went and had the musical world in the palms of their hands. Despite the arrival of the Beatles, Stones and Yardbirds Chris maintained his audience and appeal throughout and to the very end, travelling all over the world, but he was much more than the traditional jazz musician he may simply have been labeled. When he added blues guitarist John Slaughter to his group in 1964 the howls of derision were akin to those which accompanied Bob Dylan ‘going electric’. Chris Barber was deeply knowledgeable in the history of jazz and blues and strove to reflect that in his live shows which, in his last few years, included Ellington, Miles Davis and Joe Zawinul compositions which sat perfectly with his patent blend of traditional jazz, blues and gospel songs, many of which he helped to make famous.
This new compilation is an absolute joy to immerse oneself and get lost in. It represents the birth of British pop music and the era when jazz in Britain was the go-to for young people across the nation. Most effectively though, it demonstrates that, despite changing tastes, cultural shifts and political upheaval in the ensuing 70 years, good music will always prevail.
Chris Barber – A Trailblazer’s Legacy is released on 23 July 2021. UK distributor is Proper