Danny Barker—New Orleans Jazz Man and Raconteur stands as a wonderful musical portrait of the legendary guitarist, banjoist and composer through five decades of his recording career. The two-disc package includes a 24-page booklet complete with a comprehensive biography of Barker and vintage photos—including the first of him taken as a musician. The music was compiled by drummer Trevor Richards and pianist Lars Edegran, who acted as producer and executive producer, respectively. It’s obvious from the care and attention paid to the sound quality of the recordings, some dating back to the 1940s, and the complete listings of artists on each of the 34 tracks, that producing this set was a labor of love. The lagniappe of the package are two interviews with Barker, which are historically informative and offer a peek into his great wit and style.
Disc one primarily highlights Barker’s adeptness as a rhythm guitarist and sideman with a variety of groups, starting with a 1944 version of “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” It’s wonderful that the solid rhythmic base that he brings to the swinging classic can be experienced so clearly. It speaks to why Barker’s prowess on rhythm guitar was utilized by bandleader Cab Calloway. Barker does have the opportunity to show off some of his intriguing fingerwork when soloing on “Squeeze Me,” which was recorded in 1947 in New York with an all-star band.
The second disc, which presents selections from the 1950s to 1991, features Barker more as leader, as a banjoist (though he’s still heard on guitar), as a vocalist and as a composer. It starts out with one of his classics, Mardi Gras Indian–influenced “Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing,” which was recorded in New York circa 1955. He’s also heard playing in his uncle Paul Barbarin’s band on the drummer’s “Second Line.”
His wife, the marvelous Blue Lu Barker, turns up to sing several numbers, including a slippery version of “Gulf Coast Blues” and the humorous “It’s Right Here,” recorded in 1965 in New Orleans.
Lots of familiar names from New Orleans start turning up on disc two, with Barker performing with band leaders like clarinetist Pud Brown, trombonist Louis Nelson and fellow sidemen such as trumpeter John Brunious and pianist Jeanette Kimball.
Danny Barker—New Orleans Jazz Man and Raconteur is set for release just in time to celebrate his 107th birthday on January 13. It’s a fitting tribute to a great man and musician and a gift to all those who loved him and generations to come.