Book Review: Bob Barnard’s Jazz Scrapbook

Bob Barnard’s Jazz Scrapbook by Bob Barnard with Loretta Barnard (Sonnet)

Review by John Shand

It turns out that a picture is actually worth about 300 words rather than a thousand. The proof is in this book assembled by Bob Barnard and his daughter Loretta Barnard. Rather than undertake the arduous task of penning a 90,000-word biography they have assembled a ‘scrapbook’ of over 300 photographs and pieces of memorabilia covering his life, with explanatory captions and an occasional slab of text. The tone of the writing is conversational, which suits the easy informality of the whole project.

Bob Barnard’s Jazz Scrapbook

Barnard, of course, is among the finest jazz trumpeters Australia has produced. I know some people who consider Barnard the greatest Australian jazz musician of all, and I can see their point. Certainly for sweetness of tone and beauty of line he has few, if any, peers. Above all he plays his cornet with glorious lyricism and a complete absence of self-consciousness.

This book takes us from Barnard’s beginnings as a trumpeter in the 1940s through the bands of his brother Len, Ray Price and Graeme Bell, and on to his own projects and his extensive international career as a freelancer. It would seem that there was someone handy with a camera along the way more often than not, so his life has been documented pictorially with extraordinary thoroughness.

Many of the photographs are mere happy snaps featuring Barnard’s chirpy grin in endlessly diverse contexts. But when the happy snaps in question feature such luminaries as Ronnie Scott, Warren Mitchell, Gerry Mulligan, Clark Terry, Ruby Braff, Snooky Young, John Sangster, Stewie Speer, Graham Bell and so many more they are both fun and usually of interest. Generally more compelling, however, are the shots of Barnard and his colleagues in action, and perhaps it is a shame that these did not outnumber the posed photographs. They include evocative shots of Ade Monsbourgh, Keith Stirling, Bud Freeman, and there are dozens that, with typical selflessness, do not even feature Barnard.

The images also extend to albums, billboards, tickets, sheet music (including transcriptions of some Barnard solos) and posters. The latter have their own interest, documenting the evolution of jazz poster art across six decades.

Amid the entertaining anecdotes we pick up on Barnard’s perspectives on his colleagues, his recordings and his idols, including Louis Armstrong, the first encounter with whom he describes as ‘possibly the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me’. The writing is straightforward, understated and unassuming, but gradually and quite painlessly it adds up to a worthy history of not just Barnard’s career, but Australia’s classic jazz scene.

That his work should be documented is undeniable. That it should come in the guise of essentially a picture book with extended captions plugs a hole – and will hold immense appeal for Barnard’s many fans – while still leaving room for Bob, Loretta or someone else to do the heavy lifting of those 90,000 words some time in the future…

Purchasing details

The book has been published independently by Bob and his daughter Loretta and is available by emailing or phoning 0410 608 956