Taken from the liner notes of the historical album Save The Bones by Danny Barker.
Happily, the issuance of this solo album will - at last - assure the preservation of a unique segment of the musical, compositional, and vocal skills of the New Orleans Jazz guitarist-banjoist Danny Barker.
Over the years, Danny Barker, the Jazz historian, has published a wondrous trove of valuable material dredged from his memories of six decades as an active and influential musician. Considering the thousands of Jazz musicians, only Danny and his fellow Cab Calloway sideman, bassist Milt Hinton, have been deeply concerned with the historical importance of the music they played. Hinton views the Jazz scene through a camera lens - while Barker uses words.
Danny has performed on more than 1000 recordings, but he has not previously had an opportunity to display these brilliant facets of his talent - they glimmer brightly from every selection. This material will certainly be analyzed by Jazz students and historians for years to come. They surely will consider Barker's "St. James Infirmary" as the definitive version of the familiar song.
By just casually listening to Danny's performance, it is possible to overlook what the octogenarian Jazzman is really telling us. But, when the sounds that reach our ears are filtered through our hearts and our minds, we begin to grasp the significance of his musical motives.
As we listen, a revealing rhythmic portrait of a charming troubadour slowly appears. He is an exceptional musician-entertainer. His humor is pathos - his Blues are autobiographical. Many of his numbers are saloon songs - you can almost smell the sawdust on the floor! A few of his songs became big hits and were performed by major artists, but some are only heard when Danny Barker performs. He approaches them all with the same relaxed assurance - an indication that he is fully aware of the great contribution he has made to our music...but are we?
Danny Barker's long career spans much of the history of Jazz. He has actively participated in the thrilling phenomenon that catapulted his New Orleans music to worldwide acclaim.
On records, he has accompanied vocalists Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Billie Holliday, and his talented wife Blu Lu Barker. Also included among his many recordings are sessions with such diverse artists as James P. Johnson, Wingy Manone, Lionel Hampton, Matt Carey, Conrad Janis, and Louis Armstrong. In 1945, an important record date helped bring Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon to prominence. The leader pianist told Sir Charles Thompson told Barker, "They want a beat and big fat chords. You can do that." He did - and the rest is history!
Danny rose to prominence during the thirties and forties as rhythm guitarist with famous bands led by Luck Millinder, Cab Calloway, and Benny Carter. Despite the fact that almost thirty-five years of his career were spent away from his roots, Danny Barker never relinquished his firm grip on the New Orleans idiom. He is very proud of his thirty-eight relatives who have played Jazz in New Orleans - his grandfather, Isidore Barbarin, played alto horn in The Onward Brass Band before the turn of the century.
Barker's earliest Jazz memories include hearing Joe Oliver in Manuel Perez's Imperial Band; he listened to twenty-year-old Sidney Bechet playing clarinet with The Young Olympia Band. Danny also heard The Tuxedo Band, Sam Morgan, Chris Kelly, and the legendary drummer Black Benny.
He still remembers The Boozan Kings, the New Orleans street band he led as a child. He also recalls the one-nighter he spent with Jelly Roll Morton and a Broadway theater appearance with Mae West. Although he has achieved fame and success, Danny Barker has never forgotten the arduous travel conditions, the dingy hotels, and the heartless visages of segregation.
He returned to his native New Orleans in 1965 armed with a flush of success and a degree of urban sophistication. By combining these qualities with a rich "downhome" philosophy and a love for New Orleans music, he quickly assumed a role of leadership in the southern city.
During his tenure as curator of The New Orleans Jazz Museum, Barker's abiding respect for the past and his vast knowledge of Jazz history helped the museum obtain a lofty position in the archival world.
Sensing the need for a youth-oriented Jazz workshop, Danny's energy and lofty ideals became an inspiration for The Fairview Baptist Church Christian Band. Under his guidance, scores of underprivileged black children, armed with a musical knowledge, were given an opportunity to provide for their future. Many graduates of the Fairview Band, now successful professionals, will usher the sounds of New Orleans Jazz into the next century.
It was Danny Barker's suggestion and encouragement that resulted in the statue of Louis Armstrong that now stands tall in Louis Armstrong Park on the fringe of the New Orleans French Quarter. Danny's Jazz Hounds provided the music in Jackson Square when the bronze statue was unveiled on July 4, 1976 - our nation's bi-centennial and Armstrong's 76th birthday.
Producer Carlo Ditta has contributed far more to this recording than his alarm clock effects and vocal response on Danny's gospel handclapper "Ham and Eggs." Ditta has very astutely provided an ideal forum of Barker's glib conversation and the intimate setting rarely heard on record. Not since 1938, when the great Jelly Roll Morton left a rich legacy on a series of Library of Congress recordings, has a New Orleans Jazzman been allowed this form of expression.
From his very successful novelty "Save The Bones" to the tongue-in-cheek "I'm A Cowboy," we hear Danny Barker, alone with his Gibson guitar. This is how he would sound playing for you in the living room of his modest home on Sere Street in New Orleans - or on a prestigious concert stage in front of thousands of fans. I know - I have seen him in both settings over a forty-year period.
Danny Barker's flowing narrative style and effective phrasing give fresh meaning to lyrics we have heard for years. His personal imprint on "Bill Bailey" and "Hard Hearted Hannah" will come to mind whenever you hear these standards performed.
It is fitting that "When You're Smiling" is the last number on the record. The job of a troubadour is to entertain. Danny has been aware of this maxim since he was fourteen years old, and his Boozan Kings played for tips at The Frans Amis Hall in New Orleans. Each of these eleven tunes certainly should have provoked a smile. If you're smiling, then Danny Barker's goal has been achieved.
If you are not smiling - then you haven't been listening.
Written by Floyd Levin
Floyd Levin founded The Southern California Hot Jazz Society in 1949 (the second-oldest jazz club in the U.S.) His articles about Jazz have been published throughout the world for more than forty years.
*A Life In Jazz by Danny Barker, Edited by Alyn Shipton; Oxford University Press - 1986
*Bourbon Street Black - The New Orleans Black Jazzmen by Jack V. Buerkle and Danny Barker; Oxford University Press - 1973
*Bassline - The Stories and Photographs of Milt Hinton by Milt Hinton and David G. Berger, Foreward by Dan Morgenstern; Temple University Press 1988