Time to take a back seat?

01/11/14 -

I have just read the latest issue of Just Jazz Magazine and as usual found it interesting and sad at the same time. In particular the article written by Mike Taylor about Chris Barber. He naturally gives him a glowing career report as one would expect but it was his observations at a recent concert 13th September at Kettering Northamptonshire which saddened me. The concert hall less than 25% full and "Only in the band's introduction to The Saints did anything appear to go amiss. Chris' trombone was only slightly less agile and assertive than it used to be now that he is 84". His concert at Bury St. Edmunds earlier on April 10th was a sell out and he gained rapturous applause. The question to ask is do you think he is going to play until he drops or should he at 84 years plus consider managing only and taking a back (and clearly well deserved) back seat? What do your other contributors think?

Gerry Travers.

02/11/14 -  

Reading the letter from Gerry Travers got me thinking. How long should musicians carry on playing until they call it a day ?  If they play occasionally in a pub it probably doesn't matter but when they are a well known name playing bigger venues it can be different. It must be difficult when they are nationally known and have played all their lives to realize their playing is not what it was. I remember hearing Humph in his final years and quite frankly it was  tragic to hear him. This was a man who had led some great bands and was very good player and it was upsetting to hear him playing so badly.  Jazz has many examples of this reluctance to stop playing. J.C.Higginbotham is an example. I think Barber should adopt the role of M.C. at his concerts and maybe play a couple of numbers. It must be hard to take a back seat but better to be remembered for what you were rather than what you now are. 

Moe Green

02/11/14 -

Well, the verdict is one-all on Chris Barber at the moment. I don't know when Moe Green last heard Chris Barber, but I saw the band a few weeks ago in Buxton, and I thought it was a great night. He had a broken ankle and was playing from a wheelchair which can't have been easy - I'm sure horn players will agree it's easier to breathe standing up. I didn't notice his playing being any different to previous gigs.

I also saw Elkie Brooks recently, performing to a full house of 900+. Nearly seventy, still got a powerful voice and technically brilliant. Even more impressive, around ten years ago, was seeing Jimmy Smith aged about 75 playing Hammond Organ with one arm in plaster!  On the other hand, about three years ago I saw Acker Bilk at a "Three B's" night and I thought he was an embarrassment.

Certainly, a difficult decision, even harder when you're the named band-leader. For the rest of us, the phone just stops ringing - mine has!

Sam Wood

(NB this was written before news of Acker's death was announced, and no disrespect was intended)

02/11/14 -

Regarding the debate about Chris Barber and 'sell by dates', it's a sad irony that we have just learned today of the death of Acker Bilk at the age of 85. Acker carried on playing almost to the end, and he certainly didn't need to apologise for that. He was always a much under-rated musician who was a huge and benevolent influence on British Traditional Jazz. He was a wonderful player, and a diamond geezer. Thank you for the music, Acker.

For me, there was one man who has been even more important than Acker in the growth of British Traditional Jazz, and that man is Chris Barber. His was the Band that encouraged a generation (or maybe two) of teenage Brits to try and play the music themselves. Chris Barber has been one of my heroes for more than sixty years. One of the Gods, in fact. (O.K. there have been a few. Alex Welsh is another. and he died at the age of 52, obviously still with so much left to give.) We must be grateful for the pleasure which these heroes have given us over the years.

As to whether Chris should go on and on - well there's only one thing I can say about that. As mere mortals, we have no business telling the Gods what to do. Chris has earned the right to do precisely and exactly whatever he wants. Any time his brilliant Band plays within striking distance of the Cumbrian hills where I live, then I'll be there to listen, love and applaud. Of course he isn't as robust and accurate a player as he once was. But his Band is terrific, and he made the shrewd move some years ago of duplicating each of his three front line instrumentalists (trumpet, trombone, and reeds) which has had the effect of prolonging the life of the Band for many more years than otherwise would have been the case. He might be getting on a bit, but he's not daft. Thank goodness we've still got the records going back sixty years and more. But his present Band is fresh, and exciting. It's difficult to imagine the big Chris Barber Band on stage without Chris. Unthinkable in fact. For me Chris, keep blowing till YOU decide when it's time to hang up your horn. It's been a hugely pleasurable journey, and it's not quite over yet.

Lez Bull

03/11/14 -

Blimey!! with friends like Gary Travers, who needs enemies? On the strength of a comment made by a.n.other, Chris Barber, who allegedly wasn’t up to expectations on one number, should consider packing in. Well, I can guarantee that Chris is playing a damn-sight better than others who are half his age, and who seem content with churning out the same old stuff, without feeling the urge or inspiration that Chris does in exploring and trying out new things. It’s a good job Mr Travers wasn’t around to comment on Louis’ first recording of “Drop That Sack”: He’d have given Louis the heave-ho straight away! Let’s not have a discussion on who should and who shouldn’t pack it in. It’s bound not to get anywhere and won’t help the music one jot.

Cheers, Jon Critchley

04/11/14 -

On the subject of how long should you keep playing: my mind was made up for me because of my health and while I have the odd session with a practice pad it doesn't fill the void. I admire anyone with the courage to decide that it is time to quit at the same time I salute those who keep on at whatever level. Good on yer!

Don Bridgewood

04/11/14 -

I think that John Critchley and Lez Bull have got it absolutely right in their responses to Gary Travers' ill-chosen, and I think offensive, comments. Who on earth does he think he is to make such statements/enquiry? Who does what and when, is absolutely none of his business. He has the right to absent himself from the audience of any performance which he considers to be performed by seniles. The rest of us can continue to enjoy the work of the last of the great "3 Bs" and many others who like the late Graeme Bell went on to "90, Not Out".

John Westwood

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