I've been sitting at the typewriter for more than an hour, trying to think up an intro to this piece. What hasn't been said about Chris Barber? What new and startling things can one say? That he's this country's most successful and consistent jazz band leader is old hat, that his band is regarded as "The Best Jazz Band In The World" throughout Europe is known. However, the fact remains that on the trad scene Barber is tops. The band's records have outsold all others. And it would almost be true to say that Chris Barber started the whole shebang off with "Petite Fleur" and "Rock Island Line" back in '59. As I can't do very much about the fame, I'd better stick to fact.
The Barber band was formed on March 1, 1954. Its first jobs were at the Humphrey Lyttelton Club at 100 Oxford Street – now Jazzshows – and the National Jazz Federation's London Jazz Centre in Soho. During 1955, jazz singer Ottilie Patterson joined Chris and the band went on the road. Enormous mileages were covered. Club after club after hall after hall resounded to the Barber sound. In 1956 Sunday Concert work started. In 1957 the band concentrated on concerts. Overseas touring became a major feature of the band's programme. Film work started. The commercial demand was beginning.
In 1959, 29 weeks of the year were spent abroad. The band visited Germany, Holland, Denmark and America. The Barber band was the first British trad jazz band to receive American acclaim. During its visit – repeated in 1961 and probably again in 1962 – Chris played to packed houses in New York, to capacity crowds at the Monterey Jazz Festival, in New Orleans, in Chicago. At the Hollywood Bowl Dixieland Concerts, Chris played to tens of thousands and received wild acclaim.
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The secret? It could be that of as little changing around of personnel as possible – a system which has helped develop understanding, musical compatibility and stability. Couple this with outstanding musical ability, showmanship and sincerity and you've got the Barber band.
- CHRIS BARBER (leader/trombone), was born in Welwyn Garden City 31 years ago. He trained to be an actuary, then dropped this career to study music at the Guildhall School. He led his first jazz band in July 1949, and formed the present band in 1954. Known in motor racing circles for his fast competition equipped Lotus Elite.
- PAT HALCOX (trumpet), was born in Chelsea 31 years ago. He trained to be a chemist, but turned to music when he joined the Barber band in 1954.
- IAN WHEELER (clarinet), has been in the Merchant Navy, has trained as a draughtsman. Joined Ken Colyer as a pro musician in 1954. Has led 2 bands under his own name, and once played guitar.
- GRAHAM BURBIDGE (drums), can outdraw Wyatt Earp (he collects antique guns). He played drums in the RAF, turned pro when he joined Sandy Brown in 1955. Played with modernists before this.
- EDDIE SMITH (banjo), was a professional racing motor-cyclist, but preferred jazz. He took up banjo in 1953 and played with Mike Daniels before joining Chris in 1956.
- DICK SMITH (bass), trained in the RAF to be a wireless mechanic, but took up bass when he became interested in jazz. Turned pro in 1954 when he joined Ken Colyer.
- OTTILIE PATTERSON (vocalist), trained to be an art teacher but fell in love with the blues and came to London to sing them in 1954. She joined Chris in 1955. Strident voiced Ottilie is regarded by many as Britain's top jazz singer. In private life she's Mrs Chris Barber.
Music: Trad Tavern, theme music for the BBC radio programme of the same name, recodred in Budapest, July 1962 (personnel as listed above).