Danny Barker: Remembering a New Orleans Jazz Mentor


News | May, 22nd 2019

On May 31–June 1, the sound of New Orleans comes to The Appel Room in a celebration of jazz raconteur and banjoist Danny Barker. Having spent most of his career in New York City, Barker is known for playing with perhaps the widest range of jazz luminaries in history, from New Orleans legends Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton to swing era musicians Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday to bebop sensations Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Later in his career, Danny Barker returned to New Orleans to mentor the next generation of jazz stars, many of whom will appear in The Appel Room to perform in honor of their teacher. In advance of the performances, we asked a few of them to share their memories of the man who helped give them their start in jazz.


Dr. Michael White

I'll never forget the time I played with Danny Barker at a jazz festival in New Jersey during the late 1980s. He asked me to do a clarinet solo number, but his banjo rhythm was so swinging and powerful behind me that a spirit took over the entire place, and we couldn't stop playing, with mounting intensity on each chorus. The crowd went completely wild, and he later joked that I was trying to upstage him. The truth is that his timing was like a large train that forced the band to ride along with it. We all learned a lesson about the power of rhythm that day!


Don Vappie

In the early 1990s, I was the bassist with Wynton Marsalis and Dr. Michael White for a concert in New Orleans. During the break, I complimented Danny Barker on his six-string Vega banjo. He looked up, handed it to me and said, “Check it out.” I held and admired it for a moment. As I handed it back to him, he commanded, “Play it!” I did and then handed it back to him. He asked, “What do you think?” That moment is with me every time I play the banjo.

Lucien Barbarin

Danny Barker was a true man of character. In the early '70s, I remember playing a private party with Danny at the Preservation Hall. I turned and asked Danny why no one was listening to us playing. He turned to me and said, “The more they drink, the better we sound.” Such true words! Danny would always tell me, "You will never go wrong when you learn the melody to a song." Danny taught me how to be a bandleader. He said to me, “People don’t know who’s the bandleader if you don’t stand on your two feet and direct your attention to the audience.”

Be sure to join us forDanny Barker: A New Orleans Life in Jazz May 31-June 1 in The Appel Roomorwatch the Livestream (May 31st only).


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