When you think of New Orleans’ most important jazz musicians, who do you think of? Buddy Bolden, perhaps. Often credited as the inventor of jazz, many believe Bolden was the first to merge ragtime and blues.
Or there’s Jelly Roll Morton, who took the the city’s growing music style from the red light district of New Orleans’ Storyville to music lovers across the country. And, of course, you have to include Louis Armstrong. Satchmo’s massive talent and affable personality made him a leading figure in introducing jazz to the world.
But as jazz became increasingly popular across the country and globe, it fell on hard times in New Orleans. Jim Crow laws pushed many African Americans out of the South and into northern cities. As they left, NOLA’s musicians brought jazz with them to places like Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.
One of these musicians you may not have included on your list of influential jazzers is Danny Barker.
Barker was born in the French Quarter in 1909, into a Creole family of color that embraced music education and loved brass bands. Barker played banjo and, by the 1920s, he was touring the Gulf Coast, known as the “Banjo King of New Orleans.”
Like so many others at the time, he moved to New York City in the 1930s. He began playing the guitar and worked for decades with greats like Cab Calloway, Charlie Parker, and others.
But here’s why Danny Barker should be on your list. When he returned to New Orleans in the 1960s, he leaned on his childhood love for music education and started a church brass band, the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band. Barker went door to door, recruiting neighborhood children to join the group.
One of those children, Joe Torregano, explained, “That group saved jazz for a generation in New Orleans.”
Some of the talented musicians whose careers took off under his mentorship in that Fairview band include Leroy Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Kirch Joseph, Nicholas Payton, Shannon Powell, Lucien Barbarin, Dr. Michael White, as well as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who are beloved by audiences in New Orleans and the country to this day.
Danny Barker passed away in 1994, but his name is one we should remember and celebrate here in the Crescent City. That’s why The Danny Barker Banjo & Guitar Festival will kick off its fifth annual festival next month, from Jan. 8 -13.
There’s tons going on each day – from performances and parties to discussions and education events – and you can check out a full schedule here. See below for our top insider’s picks for each day of the fest.
There’ll be food, there’ll be drinks, and there’ll be music by the Detroit and Kanako Brooks Trio! The event is at the home of Dr. Sidney and Mrs. Vaughn Fauria (2924 St. Bernard Ave.) from 6-8:30 p.m., and tickets are $50 for one (or $75 for two) and can be purchased at the event. Attending this opening night party will help ensure the festival can continue to offer the ambitious programming worthy of the man it’s honoring.
Local legend Brian Seeger is going to be putting on a show at the Prime Example Jazz Club at 1907 Broad St. He’ll be jamming out on guitar, joined by special guests like Carl LeBlanc, Claude Carré, Steve Masakowski, and Detroit A Brooks. The venue’s great, the musicians are spectacular, and the show will go from 8 p.m. until midnight, with just a $20 entry fee.
If you come out to celebrate Barker’s birthday at Snug Harbor Jazz Club (626 Frenchmen St.), you definitely won’t be alone. You’ll be joined by performers like Dr. Michael White who played under the tutelage of Barker in the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band, as well as Gregg Stafford, Freddy Lonzo, Mari Watanabe, Glenn David Andrews, Kerry Lewis, and Topsy Chapman. Shows begin at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., and entry is just $20.
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, attendees will have the opportunity to learn about the outsized influence Danny Barker’s life had on jazz music. The first of the three days of lectures is packed with interesting topics. Beginning at 2 p.m., musicians Leroy Jones and Chris Sylvain will talk with award-winning WWNO radio producer, Fred Kasten, about Barker’s impact on their lives and music in NOLA.
Talks will continue throughout the afternoon, ending with a performance by the Arrowhead Brass Band at 5 p.m. The discussions will take place on the third floor of the New Orleans Jazz Museum (400 Esplanade Ave.), and the entire programming for the afternoon only costs $10. Click here for a full list of Friday’s presenters.
The Saturday Night Spotlight at Bullet’s Sports Bar in Tremé is going to be a fun one, but we – as Barker was called the “Banjo King of New Orleans” – decided to go with this afternoon show on the second floor of the New Orleans Jazz Museum (400 Esplanade Ave.). The performance begins at 2 p.m., admission is only $10, and will include 40-minute sets from banjoists Carl LeBlanc, Seva Venet, and Don Vappie. Come check out present-day masters on the versatile instrument that started Barker’s legend. And the good news is the show ends with plenty of time for you to get over to Bullet’s for that nighttime show.
The festival’s final day is one of its biggest! You can attend a lecture about the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band, join a second-line to Barker’s birthplace with the Hot 8 Brass Band, and enjoy more talks about Barker’s life. Our pick for the day is the Festival Finale at the Ellis Marsalis Center at 1901 Bartholomew St.
The event goes from 6 until 9 p.m. and will include tons of great music, including the Dr. Michael White Quartet, a trombone quartet – Play Them ‘Bones – featuring Delfeayo Marsalis, Craig Klein, Corey Henry and Big Sam Williams, a jam session, and much more. Tickets are just $25 and there’s no better way to say goodbye to what is sure to be a special week-long tribute to such an important New Orleanian. Whether you come for a night or the entire festival, you’re sure to leave with Danny Barker on your list of influential New Orleans musicians. There is no doubt he belongs there.
This is just a sampling of the programming set for the festival. You can check out the full schedule here, and click here to learn more about the talented musicians that will be performing throughout the week.