Three words come to mind, when I think of Dan Barnett‘s music: relaxed, cool, fun. That doesn’t mean that the trombonist/ singer does not take his art seriously. His easygoing approach to jazz is the result of meticulous study and tremendous respect for the material, but also for the audience, something clearly demonstrated in his discography. Now he has a new album out – his 8th – titled Through her eyes and he’s launching it with a South coast tour, which includes stops atManly Jazz and Melbourne’s Paris Cat. Here’s what he had to say about the album, his music, his mentors and his idea of jazz.
What would you say to people to invite them to the Paris Cat?
If you are coming you will hear some great swingin music played by people who love playing together and love good songs. There will be a laugh or two, no doubt – it’s a bit hard not to, with George Washingmachine on the gig – Washo and I have done hundreds of gigs together and we are great mates; if you get a chance, you can have a chat with 87 years young UK drummer Cyril Bevan, who has some great stories and is a great friend to me and my family, a true old school swinger.
What is Through her eyes?
Through her eyes is an album I did to remember my mum by; I picked musicians and tunes she loved and I am donating the profits to Macular Degeneration research. My mother suffered from macular degeneration; she was able to get treatment, but it’s very expensive, so if I can help improve someone elses life just a little, it would make me – and I know my late mother Joan – very happy.
The album is probably the follow-up from the one I did for my dad in 2009, similar in some ways, but with a few different players that bring their own magic to the recording.
How would you describe your sound?
My sound is best described as a melange of all the styles I’ve played over the years, not just Jazz, but all types of music. I’ve been very lucky. I developed my sound through listening and playing with my mentors, two of which are on Through her eyes – I’m speaking of Paul Furniss and the late great Chuck Morgan. I guess anyone I’ve played with has been a mentor in one way or another.
You’re a trombone player, a singer and a bandleader; which is the first thing that comes to mind, when you think about yourself?
I started on trombone, but fell in love with singing. The band leading thing I guess has come fairly naturally to me.
When did you became aware of your own voice as an artist?
Well, if you want to talk singing voice, I sung a little in the choir at school and then my mother took me to hear Sarah Vaughan and I know I had to sing – she blew my mind. I then went on to study classical singing, something I still love today, as well as studying jazz and plenty of stuff in between. As far as my overall voice as an artist, I just keep doing things I love and playing with musicians I love and my voice shapes itself; if you are an artist, it is part of who you are, I think you are always aware of it.
What do you consider to be the highlight of your career so far?
I would say singing in front of 100,000 people is pretty good, but to be honest I felt most blessed when one of my all time heros, Mark Murphy, invited me up to sing at his gig in London. That guy changed my life and my approach to singing and music and teaching as well, he was very special. Four tours of Brazil werent bad either.
What has been the greatest challenge?
Musically, its probably myself and my own mind; if we are talking about my greatest challenge in life, it’s probably my children.
Who are your heroes?
Well, firstly my mum and dad. Mum because she took me to gigs and theatre and art and Dad because he was a professional musician, a bass player. As for others, well, Louis Armstrong has to be one; I love Sarah Vaughan, Mark Murphy, Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Steve Turre and locals – I’ve mentioned Paul Furniss and Chuck Morgan, who have been amazing to me; Billy Burton, who is on the album and in his 80s and still playing some incredible trumpet – I keep saying if I sound even a 1/4 as good as Bill when I’m that age, I will be happy. I also love Frank Rosolino, Jack Teagarden, Trummy Young, Dan Barrett (note the spelling, its not me), John Allred – I guess anyone who has the guts to pursue music as a career and release music and put themselves on the line,gets into my hero bag somehow.
Who would your ‘dream-featured-guest-artist’ for your big band be?
Gotta be Louis Armstrong, if I could only pick one; Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan would be pretty good too.
Your music has a particular swing feel to it; how do you explain the perennial appeal of swinging jazz?
It’s incredible how much Jazz and swing gets kicked but it just won’t go away. It’s really hard to put my finger on it but each generation has a new throng of performers and listeners.
What does jazz mean to you?
For me it’s a means of expression. The wonderful thing now is that anyone in the world can use it; it’s played and loved universally. I travel and play a lot abroad and people are crazy for it. Its also something that has been great to me – I have had so many great life experiences because I chose music in general, but particularly Jazz.
Which tune best describes your current state of mind?
I think at the moment its Skylark by Hoagy Carmichael which I recorded on the new CD.
I’ve always loved this tune and the lyric is just sublime.