by Jeff Shucard
Leader of Sweet Papa Lowdown
In 2000 and 2002 Chris Barber travelled to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to perform and record with the Vancouver band Sweet Papa Lowdown. These sessions culminated in the excellent CD, One Of Your Smiles. On this page Jeff Shucard, leader of Sweet Papa Lowdown, tells how the collaboration came about.
Oddly enough, it was Jimmy Durante who brought Chris Barber and me together. I was constantly on the lookout for new (old) recordings to learn from. Luckily I came across a remarkable collection of now obscure early jazz recordings on the Timeless Records label titled Ragtime to Jazz. Most remarkably, for myself, personally, the collection included a few tunes by a band I'd never heard of called, The Syncopating Skeeters, whose pianist, the liner notes stated, is believed to be have been Durante. Looking at the liner notes that made good sense to me as I knew from my own research that Durante had written a number of tunes with someone named Billy McGill. Mr. McGill, I now learned, was the clarinet player in this band. Ah, ha!

I listened to the entire collection several times with great interest and decided to write an e-mail letter of appreciation to Timeless Records simply to thank them for presenting such a treasure to those of us keenly interested in the earliest jazz recordings. I concluded the letter by saying that as a musician I learned a great deal about the idiom from such recordings and that I'd post them a cassette of a few unknown Durante tunes I had recently recorded myself.

I don't think I was really expecting to hear back from Timeless, and, as it turned out, I didn’t. Then, one Sunday morning relaxing at home, several months after writing to Timeless, I received a most wonderful phone call out of the blue. It was from Chris Barber in England. At first I thought a prank was being played on me. I just couldn’t imagine why on earth he would be calling me. But, as he explained it, Timeless had passed on to him that cassette of Durante songs I had sent them, thinking, I suppose, that he might enjoy it. Now he was phoning me to tell me how much he enjoyed the music and to find out something about me.

Chris told me that he very rarely ever put on a recording he wished he had made himself, but he had with my little tape. This was a remarkable thing for me to hear. I hardly knew what to say. I told Chris that I laboured in obscurity on the very edge of the music profession, that I had had very little success playing this music and that it meant the world to me to have him now reassure me that I was in fact producing some interesting music.

We had a lovely chat that day and it became immediately evident that musically we had a lot in common. We talked about all the things I love in music that seem to be so lacking today: things like space and nuance, understatement and dynamics. It was a great talk. Chris suggested we might try to do something together, and before signing off we arranged to speak again soon. We spoke again at length several times. We decided the easiest thing would be for Chris to come to Vancouver and play with us. I was able to interest a local producer, Kevin Mooney, in taking on the project and he in turn was able to interest CBC Radio Canada to record us live.

It was easy as pie working with Chris. He is a most generous and gracious man to know and share music with. His playing is bright, confident, and always on the money. If you listen to our recording the high level of energy is tangible. For me, personally, it was an electrifying experience, as it was for us all. We had such a good time, we knew we had to do it again. Chris returned for another series of concerts and CBC again recorded us before a live studio audience. We then listened through the tapes and selected ten that we felt would make a good recording: One Of Your Smiles. The hope is that Chris's fans worldwide will be pleased to hear him in a different setting, playing at the top of his form, some interesting jazz and blues, music I know is close to his heart and mine.

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