[Dixielandjazz] Barney Bigard

ROBERT R. CALDER serapion at btinternet.com
Wed Jan 23 21:14:00 PST 2013

The much to be revered Bill Haesler (whom God preserve) is of course entirely correct about Bigard with Ellington. 

I was remembering some material from my reading up on Albert Nicholas, related to the CD of Delmark recordings with Art Hodes) and his working with Barney on clarinet. Barney's concentration on clarinet was preliminary to his joining Ellington, for whom he later did play the occasional somewhat stodgy-sounding tenor solo. His career as a tenorist was largely in Chicago with King Oliver, whose band he left for the then less prominent one in which he became such a feature, Ellington at first competing with Oliver, and with the sometime very much Oliver personnel of Luis Russell's band.  

Such files as I have are not in an orderly state, but the young Barney's tenor-playing was I read admired for what would be regarded now as novelty effects, and was at a musical dead end. Working out what to do with saxophones was a problem ninety years ago, and Bigard's model on tenor might have been David Jones, whose initial approach was from French horn. Coleman Hawkins seems to have been following Jones on some 1920s recordings, and he did work with Jack Teagarden and Jimmie Harrison on their management of trombone, though at some point his earlier expertise on cello started to improve his own phrasing and bring things together (see John Chilton). 

There was certainly a lack of brilliance at the top end of Ellington (and other east coast bands) pre-Bigard. I suspect what was required was a fresh approach to clarinet, since the habits of a formal legit teqhnique were liable to hamper expression. Ravel was fascinated by Jimmie Noone's ability to do the impossible, which was probably based on an initially non-legit approach. 
Barney had less to un-think than many others. It should be remembered that even though there were clarinets before there were saxophones, clarinet was for many earlier reedmen a second and only ensemble instrument. 

And it should also be remembered that a legit training ninety years ago took place without the wider context of some wonderful, and not just weird sounds. This is not to say that mass media etc. grant any very informed context about anything ... 


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