There are some shows which immediately fall on to the must-see radar for me and the scheduled appearance of legendary jazz star Chris Barber and his Big Band at Newport Riverfront was certainly one of those.
“I am frequently greeted by people at my concerts who say “I last saw your band in 1955”” Barber informed the Newport Riverfront audience on Friday evening before continuing, “What can I say? But thank you for coming again!”
Barber and his smartly attired ten-strong band may have been recalling the fabulous New Orleans inspired tunes of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong in their set list as they did back in 1955, but it was clear the energy and enthusiasm was still there as the cool jazz sounds of Take Me Back To New Orleans and Down On Blue Street reverberated through the Riverfront theatre.
Much of Barber’s class of the 1950s are no longer with us, including Monty Sunshine, Lonnie Donegan and Pat Halcox, but there spirit in music truly lived on through wonderful renditions of Going Home, Wild Cat and Bourbon Street Parade.
Each band member gave a sparkling performance through a variety of instruments as solo spots were given to bass, double bass, banjo, clarinet and trombone. This was particularly highlighted on their rendition of Petite Fleur which featured a virtually stripped back performance that was ultimately owned by the clarinet until the whole band joined in again to bring it to a climax. “That is what we call in our trade a medley of our hit,” Barber joked referring to the fact it was the Barber band’s only chart entry in 1959.
If the first half featured traditional jazz numbers, most of the second half was given over to the Blues, much of which Barber helped bring to the UK from America in the 1950s. One particular highlight was the band rendition of Corn Bread Peas and Black Molasses which had a classic pop feel to it.
The concert drew to a close with When The Saints Go Marching In followed by favourites Ice Cream and Rock My Baby Roll. A fabulous evening comprising the best in jazz and blues it was an evening of music I will remember and treasure for a very long time to come.
- A shorter version of this review by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus on July 14, 2015