Jazz trombonist Chris Barber formed his first band in the late 1940s, but it is the band that he formed in 1952 and has led continuously from 1954, after parting company with trumpeter Ken Colyer, that has established all kinds of records for success and longevity. His 54 year partnership with trumpeter Pat Halcox is the longest such association in jazz history. The Barber band achieved chart success on both sides of the Atlantic, with ‘Petite Fleur’, and from the middle to late 1950s it was the most popular music act in the UK. The band was one of the first British jazz groups to tour extensively in the United States. It has remained one of the most popular and widely imitated jazz bands in Europe for over half a century.
In this candid account of his life and music, Barber tells the story of his band, but also of his many other contributions to music in Britain. He and his guitarist and singer Lonnie Donegan began the skiffle movement. His band pioneered touring with authentic American blues and gospel musicians, including Big Bill Broonzy, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. There were also tours with American jazz soloists, including John Lewis, Trummy Young, Ray Nance and many others. Barber and his colleague Harold Pendleton also launched the Marquee Club in London, which became a legendary jazz and rock venue, as well as becoming the launchpad for the Richmond and Reading Festivals. Barber’s band has always been devoted to both jazz and blues, touring for many years with the charismatic Northern Irish singer Ottilie Patterson, (who became Barber’s wife) and also including the blues guitarist John Slaughter in the line-up. In 2001, the band became the Big Chris Barber Band, allowing him to continue to play the New Orleans jazz he has always loved, but also to play the big band repertoire of musicians such as Duke Ellington. The Big Chris Barber Band continues to play a full schedule of concerts, confirming Barber’s commitment to bringing live jazz to audiences in Britain and on the continent. The book covers the highs and lows of his career and that of the band, as well as his passionate commitment to the cause of spreading the word about jazz and blues to the widest possible public.