Donald Christopher Barber OBE (17 April 1930 – 2 March 2021) was an English jazz musician, best known as a bandleader and trombonist. As well as scoring a UK top twenty trad jazz hit with “Petite Fleur” in 1959, he helped the careers of many musicians. These included the blues singer Ottilie Patterson, who was at one time his wife, and Lonnie Donegan, whose appearances with Barber triggered the skiffle craze of the mid-1950s and who had his first transatlantic hit, “Rock Island Line”, while with Barber’s band. He provided an audience for Donegan and, later, Alexis Korner, and sponsored African-American blues musicians to visit Britain, making Barber a significant figure in launching the British rhythm and blues and “beat boom” of the 1960s.
Barber was born in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, on 17 April 1930. His father, Donald Barber, was an insurance statistician who a few years later became secretary of the Socialist League, while his mother was a headmistress. His parents were left-leaning, his father having been taught by John Maynard Keynes, while his mother became, in Barber’s words, “the only socialist mayor of Canterbury”. Barber started learning the violin when he was seven years old. He was educated at Hanley Castle Grammar School, near Malvern, Worcestershire, to the age of 15, and started to develop an interest in jazz. After the end of the war, he attended St Paul’s School in London, and began visiting clubs to hear jazz groups. He then spent three years at the Guildhall School of Music, and started playing music with friends he met there, including Alexis Korner.
In 1950, Barber formed the New Orleans Jazz Band, a non-professional group of up to eight musicians, including Korner on guitar and Barber on double bass, to play both trad jazz and blues tunes. He had trained as an actuary, but decided to leave his job in an insurance office in 1951, and the following year became a professional musician.
Barber and clarinetist Monty Sunshine formed a band in late 1952, with trumpeter Pat Halcox among others, began playing in London clubs, and accepted an offer to play in Denmark in early 1953. Simultaneously, it was found that Halcox would be unable to travel but that Ken Colyer, who had been visiting New Orleans, was available. Colyer joined the band, which then took the name Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen. The group also included Donegan, Jim Bray (bass), Ron Bowden (drums) and Barber on trombone. In April 1953 the band made its debut in Copenhagen, Denmark.
There Chris Albertson recorded several sides for the new Danish Storyville label, including some featuring only Sunshine (clarinet), Donegan (banjo) and Barber (bass) as the Monty Sunshine Trio. The bands played Dixieland jazz, and later ragtime, swing, blues and R&B. Pat Halcox returned on trumpet in 1954 when Colyer moved on after musical and personal differences with both Barber and Donegan, and the band became “The Chris Barber Band”.
The band’s first recording session in 1954 produced the LP New Orleans Joys, and included “Rock Island Line”, performed by Donegan. When released as a single under Donegan’s name, it became a hit, launching Donegan’s solo career and the British skiffle boom. The Barber band recorded several In Concert LPs during the 1950s, regarded by critic Richie Unterberger as “captur[ing] the early Barber band in its prime…. [T]here’s a certain crispness and liveliness to both the acoustics and the performances that make this in some ways preferable to their rather starchier studio recordings of the same era.”
In 1959, the band’s October 1956 recording of Sidney Bechet’s “Petite Fleur”, a clarinet solo by Monty Sunshine with Dick Smith on bass, Ron Bowden on drums and Dick Bishop on guitar, spent twenty-four weeks in the UK Singles Charts, making it to No. 3 and selling over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. After 1959, Barber toured the United States several times (where “Petite Fleur” charted at #5).
Barber was married four times. His second marriage, to Ottilie Patterson, lasted from 1959 until their divorce in 1983. He subsequently had two children during his third marriage.
Barber died on 2 March 2021. He was 90 and had suffered from dementia (wikipedia)
And are two songs from his very early days … two songs (taken from a German single) that are among his early classics … and they are still pretty good … till today !
Chris Barber (trombone, bass on 02.)
Monty Sunshine (clarinet)
Dick Bishop (guitar on 01.)
Ron Bowden (drums on 01.)
Lonnie Donegan (banjo on 02.)
Dick Smith (bass on 01.)
The US edition:
01. A Petite Fleur (recorded 1956) (Little Flower) (Bechet) 2.44
02. Wild Cat Blues (recorded 1955) (Williams/Waller) 2.58