Sunday, August 28, 2011

Barney Bigard on tenor sax

Barney Bigard is one of my absolute favourite clarinettists. His warm, woody tone enhances hundreds of recordings by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and others. However, his tenor sax playing was also excellent - he initially made his name on that instrument, increasingly turning away from it in favour of the clarinet during his time with Ellington. Back in April 1937, Metronome magazine reported that he 'hates playing tenor but dotes on clarinet' and 'wants Duke to get a straight tenor man.'

Here are two recordings by Luis Russell's Hot Six in 1926. Plantation Joys in particular 'all but [leaps] off the grooves with energy and powerful, on-the-beat rhythm', to quote Richard Sudhalter in his excellent Lost Chords.

Here Bigard features with a typical 'slap-tongued' solo in King Oliver's band. The group abounds with fellow New Orleanians such as Albert Nicholas, Kid Ory, Paul Barbarin, Bud Scott and Oliver himself.

Ellington's band lacked a specialist tenor soloist before Ben Webster's arrival in the late 1930s. Until then, Bigard was called upon to contribute occasional sax solos. His efforts are first rate:

Thereafter, Bigard seems to have focused exclusively on clarinet. We are blessed and also deprived by his choice.

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