INTERVIEW: Richard Pite's Jazz Repertory Company presents a A Tribute To Paul Whiteman - Bix, Bing and Rhapsody In Blue'

Guy Barker

Trumpeter and composer Guy Barker is appearing at the EFG London Jazz Festival in his habitual role directing the opening Jazz Voice gala, but is also involved this year on the last day too. On November 22nd at Cadogan Hall in SW1 he will be performing the role of Bix Beiderbecke for the Jazz Repertory Company production, “A Tribute To Paul Whiteman – Bix, Bing and Rhapsody In Blue”.

The show is directed by vintage jazz maestro Keith Nichols who worked with Guy back in the late 80’s on their collaboration “The Bix Beiderbecke Project”. Bix was one of the first big stars of jazz but he died tragically young at 28. He joined Whiteman in 1927 and stayed for a little under two years until ill health caused by bootleg liquor got the better of him. His soloing with the Whiteman Orchestra alongside such stars as Bing Crosby and Frankie Trumbauer are amongst some of the greatest moments in early jazz.

Richard Pite spoke to Guy about his role as Bix.


LondonJazz News: Guy, we’ve seen you in previous years at the London Jazz Festival in the role of conductor, composer and arranger – is this concert a rare chance to see you playing again?

Guy Barker: Yes, at one time trumpet playing was my whole life but over the last few years the writing has taken over. I’ve been playing quite a bit more lately and when the opportunity to do this concert came along it gave me the chance to dust down the old 1927 Conn Victor cornet.

LJN: Ah, now this is the same model instrument as played by Bix? I believe that this instrument has a quite distinctive sound and is mellower than the trumpet.

GB: Yes, when I told the great classical trumpet player John Wilbraham that I was involved in a Bix project many years ago he kindly gave me his Conn Victor. Mainly it’s the musician and not the instrument that makes the sound but having the same instrument as Bix certainly helps me to get closer to the spirit of his playing.

LJN: Tell me about hearing Bix for the first time and what you thought of him.

GB: Well, I first heard recordings of him when I was a teenager. The first trumpet players I heard that made me feel that this was the kind of music I wanted to play were Louis Armstrong and Rex Stewart. I came to Bix’s recordings a little after this.

LJN: Oh, I’d assumed that you’d started with the more modern players and worked backwards.

GB: No, I pretty much listened to the great jazz trumpeters in almost chronological order but when I was fourteen I was playing in the Crouch End All Stars and got sacked for being too modern. Later I heard that they wanted someone to play more like Bix so that inspired me to get hold of an album of his playing and when I listened to that sound I got pretty hooked on it.

LJN: Guy, your association with the Whiteman show’s musical director Keith Nichols goes back a long way doesn’t it?

GB: In the late eighties I got a call from Keith asking if I’d be interested in being involved with his Bix Beiderbecke project. I told him I was surprised that he had asked me but he said he didn’t want to use a vintage jazz specialist as they would already have their own voice – whereas he could mould me from scratch or, in other words, sit there and do as I was told! So I bought every Bix record I could find and paid regular visits to Keith who worked with me on getting the correct phrasing and nuances of the Bix style. I remember him telling me that Bix was the first cool trumpet player and the forerunner of players such as Bobby Hackett and Chet Baker.

LJN: Do you have any favourite Bix recordings?

GB: There are certain things of his that have a really emotional effect on me – his playing on I’m Coming Virginia in particular and the solo on From Monday On is very beautiful. Sometimes there is a kind of nostalgia which I find very touching. I also love Bix’s piano piece In A Mist which I recorded as a duet with bassist Alec Dankworth.

LJN: As an experienced arranger what do you make of the sound of the huge Whiteman orchestra that Bix was a part of?

GB: I think it’s a glorious sound. Very intelligent and entertaining and full of beautiful, subtle moments, particularly in his use of strings.

LJN: Thanks Guy. I very much look forward to sharing the stage with you on the 22nd November, to recreate this glorious music.

Richard Pite is Director of the Jazz Repertory Company

“A Tribute to Paul Whiteman – Bix, Bing and Rhapsody In Blue” is at the Cadogan Hall SW1 (one minute from Sloane Square tube) at 3pm and 7pm on Sunday November 22nd. TICKETS

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